History & Legacy

The Gates Family, the Foundation, and State of Colorado

Colorado offered Charles Gates, Sr. a place to establish a business and raise his family. In return, family members have given and continue to give to the state through the Gates Family Foundation. The Foundation’s emphasis on advancing excellence, innovation and self-sufficiency in education, and promoting healthy lifestyles originally came from the Gates family’s interest in the well-being of company employees. Through the Foundation, the family’s philanthropy expanded into helping Coloradans of every age lead more productive lives. It was Charles C. Gates, Sr., John G. Gates, and Hazel R. Gates, who created the Gates Foundation in 1946 as a formal organization through which their family would make philanthropic investments. In December 1995, the name of the Foundation was changed to the Gates Family Foundation. Since inception through 2016, this private foundation and its affiliated family funds have awarded grants totaling $352.6 million. On December 31, 2016, the Foundation’s endowment, including Family Funds, was valued at $422.5 million. The Foundation and its associated family funds will invest more than $19.7 million in grants in 2017.

The Legacy Begins

Charles C. Gates Sr. was a recent honors graduate of the Michigan College of Mining and Technology when he arrived in Tincup, Colorado in 1904 to work in the gold mines. He moved on to Nevada, working as a nomad engineer for several years before returning to Denver in 1910. Upon his return, he used his life savings of $700, and borrowed $2,800 more, to purchase the Colorado Tire and Leather Company, which made leather bands that were attached to bald tires to extend tire life. His wife, Hazel, and brother, John, joined him in 1911. In the beginning, the company consisted of a small inventory of leather and rivets, a few rented machines, and a mail order office used to distribute leather tire covers. They considered it “an opportunity in work clothes,” and with courage and a fresh approach, a prosperous enterprise was born. The company gradually replaced leather in its products with a new material – rubber. Rubber’s corrosion resistance and its flexibility, adhesion, temperature stability, and resilience made it ideal for tires, belts, hoses, and many other products. The company was renamed The Gates Rubber Company in 1918.

In addition to product innovation, the company launched a strong corporate culture that featured one of the first comprehensive health care programs, employee Christmas and summer outings, and tuition and career development assistance.

The Company Expands

Following World War I, the company expanded its product line to encompass a broad range of rubber products, all manufactured in Denver. From the 1950s onward, the company expanded domestic and international sales and production facilities. By the time Charles Gates Sr. transferred the presidency of the company to his son, Charles C. Gates in 1961, the Gates Corporation had annual sales totaling $136 million. In the following decades, the business diversified, adding ventures such as cattle ranches, real estate development, a trucking company, lead-acid batteries, electronics, aircraft, and mutual funds. One venture was Gates Learjet which was remarkably successful for many years until it was sold in 1987.

The Company Evolves

In August 1996, the Gates family merged the Gates Corporation into Tomkins, PLC, a British firm. The merger was accomplished through an exchange of stock, valued at $1.16 billion, thus ending 85 years of 100% family ownership. At the time of the sale, the Gates Corporation employed over 14,000 people, manufactured products in 21 plants scattered across every continent, and served customers from a total of 170 Original Equipment Manufacturer and distributor locations worldwide. The family retained its non-rubber businesses and consolidated them under the Cody Resources banner. In the 1990s, Charles Gates, Jr. initiated a transfer of family leadership to the next generation, a process that was completed well in advance of his death in August 2005.

High ethical standards and a strong entrepreneurial spirit continue to characterize the Gates family’s approach to business and their personal lives.

Colorado offered Charles Gates, Sr. a place to establish a business and raise his family. In return, the Gates Family Foundation has been the vehicle through which the family has given back to the state.