Nowadays of course we take tyres for granted. But for those who would like to know a little more about how the modern tyre evolved, here at Kwik-Fit we’ve prepared a brief potted history of the key moments in tyre development.
Thankfully tyres have come a long way since a craftsman, know as a wheelwright, would forge bands of steel to the wooden wheels of wagons and carts! This steel band literally ‘tied’ the spokes of the wheel together and so was called a tyre - and the name just stuck.
In the early 1800s, Charles Mcintosh was experimenting with latex, the sap from a tree found in the Amazon basin of South America. The latex was brought to this country after explorers had seen Indians using sheets of ‘rubber’ as waterproofing. Unfortunately, these ‘rubber’ sheets showed undesirable qualities. In cold weather the sheets became brittle; in hot weather they became very sticky. Rubber experimentation was widespread both in Europe and America to try to stabilise its properties.
It was in 1839 that Charles Goodyear discovered that by adding sulphur to 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:
Like so many inventions, the modern pneumatic tyre was born out of a need to solve an individual problem, rather than for a desire for fame and fortune. So in 1888, when Scotsman John Boyd Dunlop was looking for a way to make his son’s bicycle journeys more comfortable, he could hardly have guessed the lasting impact his light bulb moment would have.
However Dunlop's discovery was not without its controversy. Unbeknown to him another Scot, Robert William Thomson, had already patented a pneumatic rubber tyre in 1845. Dunlop quickly established what became the Dunlop Rubber Company and fought and won a legal battle with Thomson.
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 veterinary surgeon by trade, sold the patent and the company early on and so didn't benefit much, financially, from his invention.
In late 1891 the first detachable pneumatic tyre was invented by two agricultural engineers in Clermont-Ferrand in Central France. These brothers Michelin marketed their ideas strongly and successfully. Their tyre consisted of a separate tube with an outer cover bolted onto the rim by means of a huge washer type flange.
Within a few years W.E. Barlett had invented an improved detachable tyre and rim. The rim incorporated a curled edge under which the hard rubber ‘clincher’ or beads expanded when the tyre was inflated. 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.
At the same time, a Mr Welch, in conjunction with the newly-formed Dunlop company invented inextensible steel bead wires and drop centre rims reminiscent of modem wheels and tyres.
It was in 1915 that 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, It was all warp and no weft. 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 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 crossply truck tyre manufacture. It should be remembered that right up to the beginning of the Second World War, many trucks 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.