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History and Evolution of Car Tyres

Tyre ImageWe all rely on our cars on a day to day basis, but how much thought do we actually put in to how they work and how they’ve changed over the years? To many people, a car is a box on wheels and it’s those four wheels, and specifically the tyres, that have been crucial in the development of the car through the ages.


There’s no denying that tyres have come a long way. The tyre began as literally a ‘tie-er’ – a craftsman would forge bands of iron and steel, manually tying the wheel segments together as the metal contracted around the wheel, with the completed tyres being placed on the wooden wheels of carts and wagons.

In the 1840s, a certain Charles Goodyear made the discovery that by adding sulphur to melted latex, the latex was given elasticity and strength. This was the invention of vulcanised rubber, and while Goodyear’s invention was initially used to help cushion tyres for bicycles, it was eventually used on larger vehicles too.

In fact, cars have a lot to thank bicycles for. It was while attempting to make his son’s bicycle more comfortable for him to ride, in the 1880s, that John Dunlop managed to invent the pneumatic tyre. His son had been getting regular headaches from cycling on numerous rough Belfast roads and Mr Dunlop was determined to rectify the situation.

But it was at the beginning of the 20th century when car tyres began to develop into what we know now. From Frank Selberling’s 1908 invention of grooved tyres, allowing all vehicles to have better road traction when they travelled, through to B. F. Goodrich realising in 1910 that adding carbon to tyres meant they lasted longer.

But all of these developments mostly benefitted bicycles and wagons. It wasn’t until 1911 that the first successful attempt at a car tyre took place, when Philip Strauss successfully combined a tyre with an air-filled inner tube. The tyre as we know it was born.

Many small changes occurred as the twentieth century progressed, such as Goodrich inventing the first synthetic rubber tyre in 1937 and Michelin’s patenting the radial tyre just after the war in 1948. Pirelli introduced their iconic wide radial tyre in 1974.

Modern day

Modern car tyres have, of course, come a long way since Strauss’ 1911 tyre. While tyres used to be the browny colour of latex, we all know tyres are now black. This began with the addition of carbon, as mentioned above, but it is now silica which is added, helping to preserve a tyre’s life for a number of years as well as giving better grip in wet conditions.

Modern car tyres aren’t simply rubber and silica though: most modern manufacturers use around 30 components in each tyre, such as synthetic rubber, oils and a variety of chemicals which help to preserve the rubber. Manufacturers now all have very modern laboratories, with technicians constantly on the look out for ways to improve the car tyre.

Most drivers take their tyres for granted – and it’s not surprising considering maintenance usually consists of a bit of air now and then. But the reality is that car tyres have evolved a huge amount over the years into something that can be relied upon to perform for a number of years with minimal maintenance.

Offbeat  09/08/2013 17:00:00

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