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A Brief History of the Tyre

Rubber tyres are arguably the most crucial part of any vehicle and are now used globally as key features of all vehicles. Their use is so widespread that it’s difficult to imagine a world without them, and yet their development has been a long time in the making, undergoing many changes and adaptations over the years. So how did we create the rubber tyre that we know today, and when did it achieve its huge popularity? To answer these questions, read on to view our brief history of the tyre.


Wheels have been used by humanity for centuries, usually fixed to carts and wagons to transport people and goods. The very earliest tyres were nothing more than crude bands of leather or metal placed on the edges of wheels.

1839 – The creation of vulcanised rubber:

Prior to this date, rubber was easily meltable and did not hold its shape well. Charles Goodyear solved this problem by inventing the process of vulcanisation, which converted natural rubber into a more firm and durable form through the addition of sulphur.

1846 – The invention of the pneumatic tyre:

A Scotsman by the name of Robert William Thomson is credited with the invention of the first pneumatic (air/pressure filled) tyre, for which he was granted a patent for. Previously rubber tyres had been simple and solid, but his design increased traction and shock-absorbency, in addition to reducing vibrations. This was achieved by wrapping a cover around a collection of thin inflated rubber tubes, meaning that it was also more resistant to punctures. Unfortunately for Thomson, his design never went into production, possibly because it was too advanced for its time.

1888 – The success of the pneumatic tyre:

While Thomson did not achieve fame or success with his design, 40 years later another Scot had more luck. John Boyd Dunlop reinvented pneumatic tyres to improve the performance of his son’s tricycle. Unlike Thomson’s attempts, the tyres made by Dunlop attracted commercial and public attention, possibly because of the recent surge of interest in cycling. Dunlop went into partnership with financier, Harvey du Cros, and the company Dunlop Rubber was formed. Whilst initially focusing on bicycles, they made their first pneumatic tyre for motorcars in 1900.

1891 – The first removable pneumatic tyre is created:

Whereas before the tyre had been glued to the wheel rim, the French rubber factory owners, Edouard and Andre Michelin, took out a patent for a detachable pneumatic tyre in 1891.

1946 – The creation of the first radial tyre:

It took Michelin another 50 years before they created the first steel-belted radial rubber tyre. The steel belt increased the longevity of the tyre and strengthened it. The ply cords radiated at a 90 degrees angle from the wheel rim, giving it the name of a ‘radial’ tyre. Whereas this new technology became widespread outside of the USA, American car manufacturers were reluctant to adapt their cars to incorporate it. It was during the 1970s fuel crisis that a desire for better fuel economy was sought, prompting the surge in popularity of the radial tyre in the USA. Nowadays, this type of tyre is the norm for almost all vehicles.

The specialists at Tyres Northampton have over 25 years of experience providing our comprehensive services. Our professionals can install a huge range of branded tyres for cars and motorcycles, and we also offer pressure checks, wheel alignment and thorough vehicle servicing. If you want to find out more, simply contact our team of experts today, who are always happy to help.


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