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Celebrating 60 years: From Uniroyal Tire to Royal Credit Union

The financial institution looks back on six decades of growth

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March 18, 2024

EAU CLAIRE – Six decades ago, employees of the Uniroyal Tire Company, a rubber tire manufacturing plant that started in the late 1910s, decided to start Royal Credit Union.

At its inception, the credit union had 100 members – Uniroyal employees and their families. 

Now, 60 years later, Jennifer McHugh, vice president of community engagement, said Royal Credit Union serves more than 300,000 members across West Central Wisconsin – including rural areas, such as Colby, Somerset and Medford, and parts of Minnesota. 

“We’ve grown from those beginnings in the Uniroyal Tire Company,” she said. 

The biggest change the credit union saw over the years, McHugh said, is the “evolution of financial services.”

“Today, we’re doing a lot of our financial services and banking online,” she said.

McHugh said what’s remained the same, however, is “the core of who we are.”

“Giving the best service to our members, low loan rates and the best savings rates we can give them – that hasn’t changed over the years,” she said. 

A bit of history

While well-known as a financial institution today, the history behind the credit union may be surprising for some.

According to historical documents from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Uniroyal’s Eau Claire plant was originally the Gillette Safety Tire Company, which was founded in 1916 specializing in safety shoes for tires.

A year later, the company produced its first experimental tire, and the name was soon changed to Gillette Tire Company.

By 1931, United States Rubber Company purchased interest in Gillette to have a greater share of the automobile tire market, though, it did not acquire controlling interest in Gillette until 1940 (at this time, Gillette had become the largest industrial employer in Eau Claire and was in the top five for the state of Wisconsin).

During World War II (1939-45), historical documents said the tire manufacturing company experienced a big change when rubber supplies diminished and civilian uses of rubber were restricted.

At this time, the company had to pivot, and the U.S. Rubber Company sold the Gillette plant to the U.S. government, and converted the facility into an ordnance plant to create ammunition for the U.S. military.

However, within a year of the conversion, the military’s needs for ammunition were already met, and the plant was released in 1943 to reconvert back to tire production, and U.S. Rubber bought the facility back. 

Production of synthetic rubber tires resumed in 1944. 

By the early 1960s, the tire manufacturing company continued to expand, and U.S. Rubber unified all its trademarks and subsidiaries under the Uniroyal name.

Royal Credit Union was established in 1964.  

And though Uniroyal officially closed its doors for good in the early 1990s, the credit union has remained.

Royal services

At Royal Credit Union, McHugh said the team is there to help with a variety of financial services, such as setting up traditional savings and checking accounts and helping with home, business and consumer loans.

“If you have a favorite hobby, and you need a new boat or snowmobile… whatever your financial goals include, we can help you with that,” she said. 

McHugh said Royal also offers different educational resources for its members, as well as financial wellness support and mortgage calculators.

Care at the core

If it wasn’t for its members, McHugh said, Royal Credit Union would not have seen the growth and continuous success it has  over the last 60 years.

That’s why, she said, Royal is guided by a core purpose of creating “a positive impact in the lives we touch.”

“(We do that) in every way we can, from offering financial services that help our members achieve their goals but also by a true commitment to the communities we serve,” she said.

Brandon Riechers, Royal’s president/CEO, echoed McHugh’s sentiment.

“This year, we will reflect on six remarkable decades of creating a positive impact in the lives we touch and pay tribute to our history of shared member values, financial cooperation and community support,” he said.

Ready for six more decades

McHugh said Royal Credit Union celebrating 60 years of business is quite the accomplishment.

“When you look back to how we started, and now we’ve grown to be such a large credit union serving so many different people from all different walks of life, with different goals and different hopes and dreams,” she said. “We’ve stayed true to our roots, and that is to form lasting relationships and be that trusted source of financial knowledge of empowerment for our members.”

Throughout this year, McHugh said Royal is planning a series of events and celebrations for its 60th anniversary, such as social media cash giveaways, limited-edition commemorative items available at Royal offices and anniversary events. 

“We want people to be able to take part in (these events),” she said. 

As Royal Credit Union looks to another six decades of business, McHugh said the Royal team plans to stay true to that core purpose.

“While (also) being on the cutting edge of financial services, anticipating member needs and making sure we have the products and the services that help them meet their goals,” she said. 

To learn more about the credit union’s 60th anniversary festivities, visit rcu.org.

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