The History And Evolution Of Tire Technology

The History And Evolution Of Tire Technology

We can consider ourselves lucky for the modern technologies we have today. They greatly facilitate our everyday life. If we refer to the car manufacturing industry, cars have reached the peak of comfort and stability precisely due to the evolution and modern technologies. But, it wasn't always like that. Only a few decades ago, the population had a completely different reality.

Today, we change tires whenever we want to improve traction and grip on the road, or when they wear out completely. But, in the past, the industry was not able to offer alternatives so easily. First of all, there weren't that many factories offering car spare parts. And secondly, the tires were not exactly made of rubber to wear out the way modern tires do.

How did drivers manage without pressure monitoring systems? What alternatives did they have for off-road tires? And in general, how did they ensure the comfort of the rides, considering the limited possibilities?

Today, I want to dig deeper into the history of tires. I'm very curious to find out what tires were like in the early days and how they evolved to be what they are today. If you are just as curious, all you have to do is read this article.


We have to understand that we cannot talk about the history of tires without also covering something from the history of wheels in general. These are closely related to each other because the evolution of wheels generated the appearance and subsequent evolution of tires. Of course, tires appeared much later than wheels. The latter seems to have appeared around 3500 BC as a fierce necessity to facilitate agriculture.

Gradually, they evolved into chariots, being later assigned to more sophisticated transport units such as carriages. Today, they are part of our daily lives without even realizing how necessary they are. Can you imagine a life without wheels? I would accept this reality only if I lived in Venice where gondolas replace cars. Either way, life without wheels and tires does not sound exciting at all. And being so indispensable, I want to know more about them.

Brief retrospective on wheels

According to historical data, ancient people managed to invent the wheel during the Neolithic period, making it one of the most important human inventions. Even though the construction of wheels was different from what we know today, people have always faced issues of tires' wear and tear. Both the continuous rotation and the center axis were always equivalent to a later or earlier wear.

Considering that in ancient times the wheels were subjected to massive efforts and heavy loads, they were not exactly resistant over time. In the same context, replacing the wheels was quite difficult because there weren't many factories to produce them, and they weren't cheap either. Thus, tires were seen as a method of protecting the wheels. These served as portable layers that could be easily replaced once they wore out, without having to replace the entire wheel system. As the proverb says: necessity is the mother of invention.

The first appearances of tires in history

The chronological distance between the invention of the wheel and that of tires is quite large. Unlike wheels, we can say that tires are a fairly new invention. They appeared for the first time when wheels were still made of wood. Wood was a fairly resistant material, but with a high load, it was prone to break. To keep the wheels' circumference stable under the weight stress, the first tires were leather strips that wrapped them along their circumference.

These solved the wooden wheel issue to some extent, but they did not last in time because they gnawed on the road. Somewhat later, tire manufacturers switched from leather to metal to make tires more durable. These really have become much more resistant, but at the same time extremely unpleasant. The wagons were the ones that used such tires on a large scale due to the low purchase and maintenance costs. Along with the development of railway networks, trains evolved from metal tires to solid ones and then to pneumatic ones.

Until 1888, all tires were non-inflatable. Thus, this year the first inflatable tire appeared. The invention belongs to a Scottish veterinarian named John Boyd Dunlop. Many tried to invent inflatable tires before him, but no one succeeded.

Tire vulcanization

One of the most important processes related to tires is the vulcanization process. Ironically, it was discovered before John Boyd Dunlop invented the pneumatic tire.

The vulcanization process is the result of the investigations of the American inventor Charles Goodyear. I'm sure you know this name because it is extremely popular in the automotive industry. Initially, Goodyear laid the foundations of the vulcanization process in 1839. A little later, in 1845, he received the rubber vulcanization patent. Just a few weeks later, another famous personality in the industry also received a patent for rubber vulcanization. It is about none other than Thomas Hancock.

The purpose and benefits of vulcanized materials lie in the superiority of their mechanical properties. If we talk directly about rubber, it becomes more flexible and stiffer. At the same time, vulcanization strengthens its flexible properties, which makes it perfect for tires.

Solid tires

With the invention of the vulcanization process, the tire industry has seen only constant progress. Thus, the solid tires appeared in 1888 and came with a set of phenomenal properties due to the vulcanization process they had gone through. Among the most intriguing benefits, these tires proposed a strong structure and resistance to different types of road barriers and abrasions. Considering such properties, these tires found their purpose mainly in off-road circumstances.

Respectively, the entire tire industry switched to rubber as a raw material. The vulcanization process basically opened a new era in the industry. However, the primary disadvantage of solid tires is the lack of comfort that these provide. Today, some manufacturers still make solid tires. But they address certain types of vehicles with special purposes.

Pneumatic tires

As I mentioned before, pneumatic tires appeared in 1888. Curiously, their inventor John Boyd Dunlop created them following the complaint of his son. His son had a bicycle with solid wheels. These being extremely uncomfortable, made the boy complain to his father about the severe discomfort. As a result, Dunlop invented pneumatic tires to solve the main problem of solid ones. The idea was immediately taken up by the manufacturers and adapted to large and very large vehicles. This type of tire has received a lot of support and attention from experts in the field. Thus, Hanckok and other inventors contributed a lot to the continuous improvement of pneumatic tires.

Bias Plies and Radial Tires

I'm sure you're familiar with these terms because most likely your tire is a Radial one. Bias-ply tires were much more common a few decades ago; now, manufacturers mainly produce radial tires.

The construction of bias-ply tires involved 2 parts: an inflated and pressurized inner tube and an outside casing of the wheel, which protects the inner tube simultaneously.

Michelin was the company that greatly promoted the development of Radial tires. This happened mainly after World War II. Currently, Radial tires are the No.1 industry standard and not just in the United States. All tire manufacturers are looking for ideas, concepts, and solutions to improve their performance and stability at high speeds.

Run-Flat Tires

Run-flat tires refer to those tires that allow you to continue the ride even if the tire suffered a puncture. The idea is, of course, brilliant, because it saves you from unpleasantness in the context of a flat tire or a blowout. However, these tires are not exactly the first choice because they are a bit stiff.
Either way, they appeared for the first time in the 70s, shaking things up among car owners. In those years, the roads were not very good and tire punctures were an extremely common phenomenon. In this context, run-flat tires have even become a standard for certain areas.
Today, these tires are still available. They enjoy promising capabilities in relatively wet and dry conditions and a fairly decent rolling resistance. Still, it offers poor comfort and too much noise, being eclipsed by modern alternatives.

Run-flat tires are the option of choice for those who live in areas with poorly surfaced roadways or who want a safe drive even at the price of comfort. They allow the driver to reach a safe place, including a technical service center even if the tire is severely damaged. However, the high costs for these tires and their stiffness remain their most eminent disadvantages.

What's next?

At the moment, it may seem to us that the automotive industry, including the tire industry, has reached its peak performance. Tires are more and more efficient and offer more and more safety and stability. Often, we wonder what's next and how the tires will evolve.

I don't have an exact answer to this question. But I am sure that they will adapt to technological and automotive trends. A good example of this idea is electric vehicles. Tire manufacturers had to adapt to the needs. Consequently, they have created more stable and more vibration and shock-inhibiting tires for EVs. In the same context, self-driving cars will need tires that are even more sensitive to barriers than before.

The evolution is just following. Manufacturers find alternative components to reduce rolling resistance even more, improve grip even more, and prolong tire wear even more. Braking systems undergo consistent improvement through the use of hydraulic pressure.

The term "airless tires" is used more and more often in the automotive industry, which implies glass-fiber reinforced plastic vanes instead of the regular air pressure in them. Moreover, 3-D tires are already in the testing phase and are no longer a myth, as they were 10 years ago. We are going to see technological tires as we have never imagined.

Final thoughts

I think that the future of tires and cars, in general, is not as far as it seems. Just as the evolution of tires has never stopped, so their technology will not stop either. One gratifying thing is that, unlike in the past, manufacturers are focusing on eliminating fuel consumption and minimizing environmental pollution. So beyond the commercial goals, the car manufacturing industry also proposes environmental goals.

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