The History of Tyres
How tyres got their name
Tyres have come a long way since a tradesman, know as a wheelwright, would create steel bands that went around the wooden wheels of wagons and carts! This steel band ‘tied’ the spokes of the wheel together and so was called a “tire”, the name stuck and in Australia we dropped the “i” and replaced with a “y” ending up with “tyre”.
In the early 1800s, Charles McIntosh was experimenting with latex, it’s a sap from a tree that is found in the Amazon, South America. The latex was brought to the UK after explorers had seen the locals using sheets of ‘rubber’ as waterproofing. Unfortunately, these ‘rubber’ sheets had the undesirable qualities of becoming brittle in cold weather and sticky in the heat. The race was on to overcome these characteristics.
In 1839 Charles Goodyear discovered that by adding sulphur to the melted latex the much sought-after attributes of elasticity and strength were attainable. This new vulcanised rubber was used initially as ‘cushioning tyres’ for carriages and cycles:
The pneumatic tyre
In 1888, out of sheer need to increase comfort of the son’s ride on his bike, John Boyd Dunlop (a Scotsman). However Dunlop’s discovery was full of controversy. Unbeknown to him, Robert William Thomson, had already patented a pneumatic rubber tyre in 1845. Dunlop quickly established what became the Dunlop Rubber Company and fought a long legal battle with Thomson, he eventually won.
Despite Thomson getting there quicker, it was Dunlop’s tyre design that caught on giving him greater claim to have invented the pneumatic tyre. But sadly Dunlop, a vet by trade, sold the patent and the company early on and so didn’t benefit much, financially, from his invention (or Thomson’s).
In late 1891, the French Michelin brothers invented the first detachable pneumatic tyre was invented. Their tyre consisted of a separate tube with an outer cover bolted onto the rim by means of a huge washer type flange.
Detachable pneumatic tyre
Within a few years W.E. Barlett had invented an improved detachable tyre and rim similar to what you would expect to see on a modern day car. The tyre had to be stretched when fitting to enable the bead to slide over the curled flange. This led to difficulties of seating when the tyre was subjected to hard cornering forces.
In 1915, the Palmer Tyre Company of Detroit made a great stride forward. They pioneered the first rubberised ‘cord’ fabric and made the first ‘Cord Tyre’. The fabric they used was not woven. All the strands of cord were laid parallel to each other and pressed into sheet rubber. The tyre casings were built using sheets of cord material, cut on the bias and laid across each other – each ply completely separated from the next by its rubber coating. The cross-ply tyre had come into being.
Experimentation continued and the search for stronger and cooler running cord materials was ceaseless. By 1937 steel cords were being used in cross-ply truck tyre manufacture. It should be remembered that right up to the beginning of the Second World War, many vehicles were still to be found on solid tyres.
Then, in 1947 came the first radial tyre, a tyre that has revolutionised the transport industry, It was hailed as the first major innovation in tyre technology since John Boyd Dunlop’s first practical pneumatic tyre and the blueprint for the tyres we use today.
Modern day tyres
The model day tyres wear much better and provide a much more comfortable ride than their predecessors. Tyre Manufactures spend millions of pounds in research each year and are constantly improving tread patterns, longevity, comfort as well as cost.