A Brief History of the Automobile Tire
March 14th, 2016
Tires have come a long, long way even since the radial tires of the 1990s. As automobile design has matured and evolved, tires have improved greatly over the decades as well…they last longer, ride smoother, are quieter, handle better and generally continue to improve. Here’s a brief timeline of major innovations in tire design.
· The first rubber tires were developed in the mid-19th century. These solid rubber strips were fitted to wagon or coach wheels to soften the bone-rattling ride a little. Air-filled tires were patented as early as 1845, but these early pneumatic tires failed easily and fell into disuse.
· 1888: Belfast veterinary surgeon John Boyd Dunlop patented the pneumatic tire for bicycles, after watching his young son struggling to ride a tricycle on cobblestones
· 1895: Andre and Edouard Michelin used a set of pneumatic tires for the car in the Paris-Bordeaux road race
· 1898: Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company – named after George Goodyear, the inventor of the vulcanizing process for rubber – opens its doors.
· 1900: Firestone Tire & Rubber Company founded
· 1905: Experimentation with tread patterns for tire surfaces
· 1931: Synthetic rubber is successfully developed by DuPont, revolutionizing tire manufacturing processes.
· 1941: American automobile tire manufacturing halts as all production is shifted to WWII war effort
· 1900-1948: Tires are manufactured using overlapping layers of fabric cord. These layers ran at alternating 55 degree angles to the wheel rim; along with a rubber tread area, they served to protect the inner tube and cushion the ride.
· 1948: Michelin introduces the first radial tires in Europe, with the plies at a 90 degree angle from the wheel rim and a layer of steel belts at the circumference, under the tread. Radials soon proved to have a longer tread life, better handling and less rolling resistance, but were also considerably more expensive to make.
· 1965: BF Goodrich introduces the Silvertown Radial 900…which doesn’t catch on with consumers
· 1967: Goodyear’s answer to radial tires is the bias-belted Custom Superwide Polyglas, with a fiberglass belt added to conventional bias-ply construction
· 1973: The Arab oil embargo and hike in gas prices suddenly made a better case for the improved fuel economy that came with radial tires. In addition, sales of economical foreign cars spiked, and these imported cars came with radial tires. Michelin and Bridgestone started to make major inroads in the American tire market with their radials.
· 1977: Firestone introduces the Firestone 500, a notorious failure; they were forced to recall 9 million tires, laying off 25,000 workers and nearly bankrupting the company.
· 1977: Goodyear introduces their own radial design
· 1983: All new American cars come standard with radial tires
· 2000s: Manufacturers all introduce low-rolling-resistance tires, with rubber materials and tread compounds that are enhanced to reduce friction and improve gas mileage
As tire technology evolved, automotive suspensions and steering had to change as well; cars that were designed for the bias-ply tires of the 1940s and 50s generally do not perform well with modern radial tires. Today, tire technology continues to advance with new designs of all-terrain, touring, winter and performance tires, all of which represent big improvements over previous generations of tires from a decade or two ago.