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The History of the Tyre

The very first tyres were bands of iron placed on the wooden wheels of carts and wagons. Luckily, with the discovery of rubber things changed. It was in the mid 1800’s that the first tyres made using rubber appeared. They were simple tyres; the rubber carried the load entirely.

History of the Tyre 1It was in 1845 that the pneumatic or air-filled tyre - which works by air within the tyre absorbing the shocks of the road – was invented and patented by RW Thomson. His design used a number of thin inflated tubes inside a leather cover (see illustrated). This meant that it would take more than one puncture before the tyre deflated. However, despite this new breakthrough in tyres, the old solid rubber variety was still favoured by the public, leaving the pneumatic tyre out in the wilderness.

It wasn’t until 1888 that John Boyd Dunlop, unbeknownst to him, reinvented the pneumatic tyre whilst trying to improve his son’s bike.  Dunlop’s tyre, like Thomson’s, didn’t seem to sell at first - until a bike race in Belfast was won by a rider using his tyres. With that victory, people began to take notice of the pneumatic tyre. 

History of the Tyre 2In 1895 the pneumatic tyre was first used on automobiles, by Andre and Edouard Michelin. It was also around this time that legislation was put into effect that discouraged the use of solid rubber tyres. All over the world companies sprang up to meet the new demand for the new tyres. The age of the pneumatic tyre has begun!


Tyres remained fundamentally unchanged throughout the 20’s and 30’s until Michelin introduced steel-belted radial tyres in 1948. This new type of pneumatic tyre meant that they would have a longer life thanks to ply cords that radiate from a 90 degree angle from the wheel rim. It also meant that the tyre had less rolling resistance – increasing the mileage of a vehicle. One drawback was that these tyres required a different suspension system on the vehicle.

This new radial tyre was very successful outside of the US, with companies in Italy, France, Japan and Germany producing them in large numbers. In the US however, a battle commenced. American car manufacturers were afraid that the cost to redesign their cars in order to use these radial tyres was too much and so stuck to the older bias ply tyres.

It wasn’t until the 70’s – when there was a fuel crisis – that the American public, because of the rising cost of petrol, demanded more economical cars. This led to the introduction of cars that could easily fit the high mileage radial tyres. By 1983 all new American cars came fitted with radial tyres.


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