Bird Corporation Company History
With a founding that dates back to George Washington’s second term as president, Bird, Inc. was one of the ten oldest existing companies in the U.S. before it was recently sold. The company got its start in 1795, when George Bird got a license to build waterwheels on the Charles River near Boston to power a small paper mill. In 1880, the company – which was then known as Bird & Son – suffered a fire, followed by one of the worst floods Massachusetts had ever seen. The only equipment that survived the tragedies were designed to produce coarse paper, rather than the fine writing paper that Bird had become known for. Luckily, the company’s president at the time, Charles Sumner Bird, was a bit of an eccentric and an inventor. He retreated into his kitchen/laboratory and within a few months had developed a new product line: tarred paper, made of salvaged wood resins and discarded ship rope from Boston’s harbor. The paper, the first felt-based asphalt roofing product, quickly became popular for covering New England barns.
The product remained unchanged and widely used for a century, as Bird & Son expanded its reach throughout the eastern United States and into Canada. During World War II, the company adapted its roofing- and paper-making skills to develop shell casings and shipping cartons for the military. When the war ended, Bird became active in the postwar housing boom, and in 1964, it introduced a new product that would change the face of modern-day housing: vinyl siding. Vinyl siding was immensely popular, but Bird was still hit by hard times when the oil embargo of the 1970s sent asphalt prices skyrocketing.
In 1983, Bird & Son changed its name to Bird, Inc. in keeping with its new, modern image. The company made several acquisitions, including an environmental services company in Texas and vinyl building products company in Kentucky, though in the ‘90s it would sell these companies and others in a push to streamline. But the changes kept coming: In 1990, Bird, Inc. changed its name to Bird Corporation. And in 1998, Bird was purchased for $40 million by Pennsylvania-based CertainTeed Corporation, another building materials manufacturer owned by the French company Compagnie de Saint-Gobain.
Asbestos Exposure Risk at Bird Corporation
For many years, one of the materials used in Bird Corporation’s roofing products was asbestos, a mineral, made of long, thin, crystalline fibers, that is found in large deposits in nature. A natural insulator, fire proofer and binding agent, manufacturers of countless products began using asbestos starting in the late 1800s and lasting until the 1970s.
It would be decades until people began to realize the significant health risks associated with asbestos. In most products, asbestos fibers are encapsulated in another material, such as cement, which keeps the fibers from becoming airborne. But when asbestos products age and deteriorate, those fibers are released into the air and can be inhaled, causing serious – often deadly – diseases like mesothelioma cancer and asbestosis. The fibers are also hazardous during the manufacturing process, when raw asbestos fibers may fill the air, or when asbestos products, such as insulation or shingles, are cut down during the installation or demolition process.
Roofing parts manufactured by Bird Corporation are known to have contained asbestos, including roofing felt, a thick, paperboard-like product saturated with asphalt. Roofing felt is coated with mineral grit and comes in several weights, with 15-lb. being the most common. Roofing felt was sometimes made with asbestos paper to make the product resistant to moisture, pests and fire.
Specific products made by Bird Corporation that are thought to have contained asbestos include, but are not limited to:
- Bird 15 Lb. Base Sheet
- Bird 45 Lb. Base Sheet
- Asbestos Felts
- “Pacific” Roofing Asbestos Cap Sheets
Occupations at Risk for Asbestos Exposure
Anyone who came into contact with Bird Corporation’s asbestos-laden products could, sadly, be at risk of being diagnosed with mesothelioma. These individuals include roofers, maintenance workers, hardware store employees or homeowners – virtually anyone who installed, maintained or demolished roofs covered with Bird Corporation’s asbestos roofing products. People who worked in Bird Corporation’s factories could also be at risk, as could truck drivers who transported the materials. And because asbestos particles tend to stick to workers’ clothing, shoes and hair, family members of any of these individuals are also at risk of secondhand exposure.
Decades can elapse between a person’s exposure to asbestos and the presentation of mesothelioma symptoms. If you think you could be at risk, or know someone who might have been exposed, educate yourself about the disease today.
As of March 2011, Bird Corporation, as well as its parent company, CertainTeed Corporation, has been named as a defendant in numerous lawsuits by plaintiffs who say they have been diagnosed with a disease because of exposure to the company’s products.
Author: Tara Strand
Senior Content WriterRead about Tara
Reviewer: Jennifer R. Lucarelli
Lawyer for Mesothelioma Victims and Their FamiliesRead about Jennifer
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Bird & Son History
Bird & Son Asbestos Built Up Roof Roofing Manual 1979
“CertainTeed to Acquire Bird Corporation”