Tires Roll On Decades of Science, Innovation
Tires are easy to take for granted--you can’t see them when driving, they don’t make much noise and they perform admirably under a variety of conditions.
It wasn’t always that way.
From bands of leather on wooden wheels, tires have evolved into high-tech rubber and steel products designed for harsh conditions.
Here’s how it all began:
1844: Charles Goodyear in the US and Thomas Hancock in Britain each patent a rubber process called “vulcanization.” Named for Vulcan, the Greek god of fire, the process converts natural rubber into more durable materials by heating them with sulfur.
1847: The first patent for a pneumatic, or air-filled, tire was submitted in France by Scottish inventor Robert William Thomson. His rubberized canvas tubes were covered in a casing of leather and outfitted to the wheels of horse drawn carriages. Although they never achieved commercial success, the tires went 1,200 miles without signs of deterioration.
1888: Tires didn’t become practical until John Boyd Dunlop--another Scottish inventor and owner of a veterinary practice in Ireland--produced tires for his son’s tricycle so it could navigate rough pavement. That same year George Eastman (founder of the Eastman Kodak Company) patented the world’s first roll of film, and William Burroughs patented the adding machine.
1909: Scientists working for the Bayer Company invented synthetic rubber. A team lead by Fritz Hofmann in Elberfeld, Germany made the groundbreaking discover.
1934: The first winter tires are produced in Nokia, Finland. Winter tires are made with rubber that stays softer and more pliable in cold weather. Winter tires also have larger grooves between the tread blocks, enabling them to cut through snow.
1946: Michelin introduced the radial tire, a design which arranged the cords radially from the center of the tire. Radial tires have become ubiquitous, and now have 100 percent of the market share in North America.
1960s: Europe established speed ratings to educate drivers about a tire’s limits. Three ratings were established at first. Now there are 14. Tires with higher speed ratings are better at dispersing heat.
1999: U.S. Rubber Manufacturers Association--along with the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada--established a snow traction test for winter tires. Tires that pass may place a snowflake symbol on the tire itself.
2011: Market consolidation occurred during the first century of tire manufacturing. Sales are dominated by three major tire conglomerates--Bridgestone (190 million tires a year), Michelin (184 million tires a year) and Goodyear (181 million tires a year).
2017: More than 400 tire companies worldwide produced more than a billion tires.
Sources: Rubber Manufacturers Association, Dunlop, Continental, Britannica, Road & Track
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