The Evolution of Tires

To be number one, train like you’re number two

From the early day’s pneumatic tires to the modern day ultra-high performance tires, the tire industry has undergone quite an incredible evolution. We are not going to cover the history of the wheel; instead, we will take a walk through time and look at some of the most significant innovations that have seen us from the use iron-clad wooden rims to the fantastic tire products we have in the market today.

Prior to the invention of pneumatic tires, most automobiles used to roll on wooden wheels or metal bands. These wooden rims were wrapped with leather bands to protect them from rapid wear and tear. Robert William Thomson was the first person to bring up the concept of pneumatic tires in 1847. His design involved the use of several thin tubes inside a leather cover which were meant act as should absorbers. This design did not, however, make it into production due to severe limitations. It was not until 1888 when the first practical pneumatic tire was invented by Carl Benz as he attempted to find a matching tire for his conveyance. The invention of this tire was facilitated by the vulcanization process which made it possible for the production of rubber with enough durability to survive road use. The Carl Benz tire comprised of a metal rim, that was covered with rubber and inflated with air. They were skinny and tall and resembled today’s bicycle tires but lacked treads.

First Treaded Tires In 1905

In 1905, the first treaded tires were developed. The tread, made from thick rubber, was meant to make automobiles stronger by enabling them to handle wet and muddy roads and also to protect the carcass and breaker inside the tire from blowing out or getting damaged. Early tires were tall and thin until 1923 when Firestone introduced the balloon tires. These tires featured enhanced handling and performance and marked a significant turning point in the tire industry. The balloon tires have since then been the ultimate ancestors of the modern tires used on cars and planes.

Before 1931, tire industries relied upon natural rubber for the production of rubber car tires. The natural rubber was not only expensive to acquire but also presented various durability issues. However, in 1931, Du Pont Company patented and industrialized synthetic rubber. Synthetic rubber helped to deal with the issues of availability and focused on improving the quality of tire rubber.

Another significant step in the tire industry was marked by the introduction of radial tires by Michelin in 1946 which later became the standard of the modern tires. Unlike old bias-ply tires which were strengthened with fabric bands, radial tires were strengthened and stiffened with steel radial bands that enhanced their durability. Radial tire cords were slanted slightly to the driving direction which offered less rolling resistance thus boosting the mileage of a vehicle and helping to save on fuel.

Radial tires were later improved into tubeless radial tires. Initially, tires were composed of a durable outer tire and an inner tire. The inner tube was responsible for holding the air, and this brought about inconveniences because whenever it developed a leak, the whole tire would blow out. The tubeless radial manufacturing technology however successfully eliminated the inner tube by sealing the outer tire directly to the rim. This made the tires more reliable and boosted the tire life.

Introduction of tubeless radial tires gave rise to the modern day tire industries and ushered it into an innovative hyper-drive. More invention followed after that in an attempt to increase tire safety. This can be characterized by the development of run-flat tires in 1979 that were capable of maintaining a vehicle at a speed of up to 80km/h without having to change the flat tire. The run-flat tires were categorized into three: self-supporting tires, self-sealing tires, and auxiliary-supported tires.

Self-supporting tires were internally reinforced to support the weight of a car in case of a blow out for a given period; enough to allow you make your entry into a service station. Self-sealing tires, on the other hand, employs a unique liner that permanently seals any given puncture to the tire provided that it’s not too large.

We owe the success of the tire industry to the early innovators who never settled for the status quo and who always strived to come up with new ways of improving their products. This motivation has been maintained by the modern industries that seek to develop eco-tuning tires to be used in eco-friendly cars and production of better non-pneumatic tires that can be reused and recycled.