Editor's Note: Rubber & Plastics News will celebrate its 50th Anniversary with a special issue Aug. 9. Leading up to that, we will be publishing a number of columns online by current and former staff members reflecting on their time with the publication.
The founding of Rubber & Plastics News 50 years ago was a labor of love for my father, Ernie Zielasko. He knew he wanted to be a journalist by the age of 16 and part of that dream was to run a publication of his own.
He achieved that goal in 1971 when he launched RPN on a shoestring budget and loads of confidence. In those early days, he was the entire editorial staff and also the publisher. That meant the brunt of the operation fell on his shoulders. My mom worked in the office along with my aunt, while my uncle handled sales and were minority co-owners early on.
To say my dad put his heart and soul into those initial years would be an understatement. He didn't take a vacation for seven years and often worked Saturdays and Sundays to make the publication a success. It must have killed him to miss his beloved Cincinnati Bengals football games on Sunday afternoons. But he chose instead to sit at our dining room table writing and editing stories for the next issue of RPN. He loved it that much.
In starting RPN, dad believed the rubber industry needed a news publication of its own. He previously had served as editor and publisher of Rubber World magazine, a mostly technical publication, and Modern Tire Dealer (MTD), a monthly magazine written for independent tire dealers. He felt so strongly about the need for a rubber industry news publication that he tried to get the owners of MTD to launch one in the late 1960s. You can look back in old MTD issues during that era and see samples of what would become RPN among the pages. The owners didn't bite, so at the age of 51, with three boys under 17, he mortgaged everything to make Rubber & Plastics News a reality.
Within six weeks, the dream nearly failed. Sales started slowly and the publication got down to $200 in the bank. A new investor came in as well as a new advertiser and the publication soon took off.
Before my dad sold RPN to Crain Communications Inc. in 1976, he talked with me about joining him in the business. Like many young sons, I rebuffed his requests, wanting instead to forge a career of my own. I tried lots of jobs and majors while in college but found nothing that I liked. Shortly after he sold the publication to Crain, I changed my major to journalism and followed him into the field. I interned twice at RPN, joined the publication full time in 1978 only to leave shortly thereafter for a couple of years to work at an independent boarding school. I rejoined Crain in 1985, working there for 35 years until I retired in 2019.
To show how things often come full circle, I became publisher of RPN in 2004 and found out why my dad loved the rubber industry so much. He became fascinated with the chemistry of rubber, how rubber could be manipulated to do things that made machines and products work. He loved rubber product manufacturing and companies that produced things. I learned to love it all too, and the importance of providing timely news and information to the industry.
I should have listened to my dad while I was still in school. As usual he was right, not only about his eldest son but about RPN, which is still proudly reporting on the rubber industry 50 years after his dream was fulfilled.
Dave Zielasko retired as publisher of Rubber & Plastics News and its sister publication Tire Business in 2019, and now is vice president of marketing and communications for the Tire Industry Association.