What do you think the most important part of your car is? Is it the engine that revs and roars your car along the freeway? Is it the steering which moves you left and right across the open road? Is it the air conditioning which keeps you chill on a hot day? Is it the cup holder that keeps your coffee safe on the commute or is it the seat that holds you comfortable while you control the car.
In a way, all of the above are important. But they aren’t as important as the tire. It might be true that a car can’t be propelled without an engine, but without tires, the car isn’t going anywhere. The tire keeps your car on the road; it is responsible for responding to your instructions relayed via the steering wheel along with the axles and wheels. A tire keeps your car gripped to the road – it keeps you safe, and it might stop you from getting into a car accident. Tires are mostly underrated, but are so valuable to our car.
The tire is a ring or circle shape that protects the rim of the car’s wheel. It also enhances the grip of the wheel to the road. The earliest tires were not deployed on automobiles, but on horse-drawn carts and railway carriages. This work was carried out by a wheelwright who saw the clear gap in the market as wooden wheels became destroyed via use. Leather and iron wraps were applied to the wheel to ensure that they gripped the road better and lasted longer. The word tire comes from this practice and is a play on the spelling – it refers to the metal bands that tied the ‘tire’ to the wheels.
The first actual tire to be made was manufactured in Northern Ireland by John Boyd Dunlop (you might recognize that last name!). Dunlop made the tire to prevent the headaches of his child, who rode a trike over rough cobbled pave stone. The rubber tire was to soften the blow of these stones against the wheel. Dunlop’s idea took off, although he found difficulty at the start due to patents of the idea dating from years before Dunlop developed the first actual tire. This tire was pneumatic, but Dunlop sought to develop rubber tires so that the tire could be mass produced and would be harder wearing than the air tires. Dunlop found success due to the discoveries made by American Charles Goodyear who developed vulcanized rubber.
It would be the Michelin company who took the next step in tire development. Producing the method of radial tire construction in 1946 – this would become the gold standard of tire construction and close to the tires we see today. American developers would refuse to latch onto this technique and only joined the gold standard in 1968.
The tire industry is now worth over one hundred and forty billion and we owe our safety on the road to the many developments in this industry!