Continuing our series of posts based on a museum exhibition from a few years ago entitled “The History of Motoring in 10 Objects”, this post gives a brief summary of the contributions made by John Boyd Dunlop, Charles Goodyear and the Michelin brothers. Yes, it’s tyres and the global demand today is approaching 3 billion every year.
It seems plausible that the word “tyre” derives from the wheelwright’s habit of referring to the steel rim around a wooden spoked wheel as the item that ‘tied’ the wheel together. Or perhaps it derives from ‘attire’ meaning a covering. Nevertheless, it is a method of construction that can be traced back over 2000 years.
In 1844 Charles Goodyear invented a means of stabilising natural rubber making it strong, flexible and suitable for solid tyres. In 1888 John Dunlop had the idea of wrapping an inflated tube of canvas around the wheel rim to create a more comfortable ride for his son’s cycle. But he was not the first to come up with this idea, 43 years earlier fellow Scot, Robert Thomson, patented and demonstrated a pneumatic tyre for use on carriages and bicycles, but it was expensive and the market was not receptive. The Michelin brothers demonstrated how this technology could be used on cars and Dunlop was able to sell his tyre to the growing automobile industry. By the mid ’50s, Dunlop had almost half of the market share in Britain and remains, along with Goodyear and Michelin, a leading brand today.
The composite image below shows just some of the enamel signage relating to tyres that is scattered around the museum.
If you would like to read more about the history, construction and possible future of the humble tyre, you might be interested to download “The Direction of Travel: Motoring from The Past to The Future – Part 3 – Technological” from the museum website.