Avon began in Wiltshire, England, in 1885 when Messrs E G Browne and J C Margetson acquired a cloth mill, known as Avon Mill, on the banks of the River Avon at Limpley Stoke. The owners of the mill had been timber merchants, but had later diversified into the production of rubber goods.
By 1890 the business had transferred to the next town of Melksham and Avon established itself as a leader of rubber-based products. Products at this time included solid tyres, conveyor belts and components for railways.
By 1900 pneumatic tyres for bicycles were being produced, and by 1906 the first car tyres were advertised nationally. Golf balls went into manufacture and by
1914, sales amounted to £5,000 for the year. Some years later, this profitable business was sold on to Dunlop who still manufactures golf balls today.
In 1921 the first tennis ball was made at Melksham. Within a year thousands of dozens weekly were being sold through the famous House of Wisden. The Avon tennis ball was the first to be mass produced in stitchless form.
In 1915 the company acquired Greenland Mill in Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire.
1933 was a significant milestone for Avon as the company was floated on the London Stock Exchange. In the same year Avon tyres were chosen for the first time as original equipment for Rolls-Royce cars.
With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Avon, together with other rubber manufacturers, engaged its resources in a concerted war effort. The factory worked around the clock at full capacity to meet military demands and twenty million gas masks were produced at Melksham.
A Period of Rapid Growth
By 1954 1,000 people, over half of them women, were employed at the plant which, at the peak of production, could produce over 50,000 gas masks in a week.
In 1956 George Spencer Moulton was acquired, bringing with it Abbey Mills and Kingston Mills in Bradford on Avon, and a jointly owned plant in Paris. Automobile and aircraft products were developed.
In the six years 1958-63 every world solo motorcycle champion chose Avon tyres and many world records were broken by machines fitted with Avon tyres, including the Le Mans 24-hour race and the World Sports Car Championships won by Aston Martin.
In 1959 production started on a range of inflatable boats.
In 1994 the Llanelli-based marine business Avon Inflatables Ltd was sold and in 1997 the Avon Tyres business was sold to Cooper Tire & Rubber Company of Findlay, Ohio in the USA, leaving the company to concentrate on its core businesses of automotive components, technical products and protective equipment.
In 1998 Avon acquired Hi-Life Rubber L.L.C., based in Wisconsin, USA. This highly successful company was already a major manufacturer and distributor of rubber dairy liners and related products to the North American dairy industry. This move, when combined with existing dairy business in the UK, now positioned Avon as a leading manufacturer of rubber dairy liners in the world.
Avon consolidated its activities in March 2000 at a £19 million manufacturing and head office facility at Hampton Park West at Semington, near Melksham and a £13 million purpose-built polymer mixing centre at Westbury.
As of January 2008, around 350 people worked across the two sites.
In June 2005, Avon purchased International Safety Instruments, Inc. (ISI), based in Lawrenceville, GA USA. Avon-ISI is a manufacturer of SCBA, APR, and Thermal Imaging Systems for fire, law enforcement and industrial applications.
The Avon Automotive division was sold in August 2006 to a US-based management team and became a separate entity called Avon Automotive Holdings Inc. This was the largest single buy-out in the company's history.
Its aerosol division was sold to Crosslinks Ltd in March 2008, enabling the organisation to concentrate on its core respiratory protection equipment, dairy and extrusions markets.
In August 2008 Avon won a five year contract for the supply of 210,000 gallon fuel storage tanks to Applied Geo Technologies Inc. for onward supply to the US Army through its US based subsidiary Avon Engineered Fabrications, Inc. based in Mississippi and in December 2008 the protection business was awarded a $1.6 million Development contract with the US Army, Research Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) for the integration of an automated end of service life indicator (ESLI) into their M61 filter.
In February 2009 Avon Protection announced receipt of a second award from the US Government for 100,000 M50 mask systems in respect of year two of its ten year sole source contract, in March followed a contract worth £4.5m for its S10 and FM12 respirators from the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) and later that year Avon Protection received contract to supply its FM12 respirators and filters to Remploy as part of the £14.8, “Quick Don” project.
In September 2009 the DOD awarded a new five year contract award to Avon Protection for the M53 Protective Mask. The initial order under this contract was for $3.7m.
Milkrite's revolutionary mouthpiece vented liner (IP-MV) was launched in 2010 which achieved 8% market share in North America.
By the end of 2011 Avon was selected as the ‘International Company Turnaround’ winner for 2010 by the Institute for Turnaround (IFT). This success was followed by Avon’s Chief Executive, Peter Slabbert named 2011 ‘CEO of the Year’ at the 2011 Grant Thornton Quoted Company Awards.
In March 2011 Avon celebrated the opening of its new 16,000 square foot facility in Belcamp, Maryland and that Junes Avon Protection launched into a formal partnership with CamelBak the world-leading hydration equipment brand.
In February 2012, Avon Dairy Solutions opened its new Sales and Distribution facility in Shanghai, China and in 2013 the brand was awarded the Prince Phillip Award in recognition of the company's continued research, development and innovation in respect of the introduction of the new Ip20-AIR liner, which is aimed at bringing heath and productivity benefits to dairy cattle.
Avon Protection announced in 2012 that it had received its largest ever single non US Department of Defence order, worth £14.7m, from a Middle East customer. Further contract wins for this region were received the following year as well as an aircrew mask development contract with the US DOD.
Also in 2013, the company acquired VR Technology Holdings Ltd. a move which completed its military portfolio in offering rebreather technology to military markets.
In 2015 Avon acquired 3 companies. The first was Hudstar Systems Inc, a company designing and manufacturing heads-up displays for fire fighters.
The Dairy division acquired InterPuls, the Italian milking components company, to expand it's product portfolio.
And Protection acquired argus, the leading thermal imaging camera manufacturer.