Scottish veterinarian John Boyd Dunlop invented the first air-filled or pneumatic tires in 1888. He attached rubber hoses to wooden wheels and covered the contact patches with thick canvas. He placed these first tires on a tricycle and took a test run. Finding no problems, Dunlop then attached rubber pieces to the canvas in order to prevent skidding and tested these tires on a bicycle. The result was a success and this marked the beginning of pneumatic tires.
The bead wire tire invented by C.K. Welch in 1891 marks an important breakthrough in tire history. That same year, the Michelin brothers patented tires that could be mounted or demounted by hand. In 1904, Firestone and Goodyear Tire Company developed straight sided wire bead tires and almost all the tire manufacturers in the US were following their manufacturing techniques by 1908.
Meanwhile in 1913, Britain developed the radial ply method which broke from the previous bias ply method which used tire code fabric. However, the radial ply method only came into wide use some 35 years later, in 1948, when it was adopted by Michelin. The code fabric was made from a weave of thick cotton thread. Due to high prices, the stronger silk thread could not be used in manufacturing tire code fabric. However, in 1928, US firm Dupont created the basic theory of synthetic reactions which resulted in rapid developments in the 1930’s. Prior to 1948, rayon code fabric improved upon the heat-susceptive cotton code fabric and took 75% of the market share.
1948 saw the invention of nylon code fabric which competed with rayon until 1959. Nylon eventually won the price competition in 1960 and began to dominate the market. A new polyester code fabric debuted in 1962. In the 1970’s, steel codes took the lead and swept the European and US markets in the 1980’s. In 1972, Dupont invented a polyamide fiber called Kevlar, five times stronger that steel with good dimensional stability, but it was so expensive that its use was limited to tires for select passenger cars.
In this way, the development of materials and manufacturing technology along with the increase in automobile performance together set the stage for a focus on the dynamic capabilities of tires. In particular, to parallel the development of roads and cars, passenger car tires have been designed to deliver enhanced speed, control and safety. New economic, high performance tires continue to be developed. Along with cars, tires have shown outstanding development in aspect ratios and top driving speeds.