The pneumatic tyre

The pneumatic tyre was invented twice, since the second claimant was unaware of a patent registered in 1846 in France and 1847 in the USA that had lain undeveloped by the horse-drawn carriage industry for which it was intended. The two inventors were both Scotsmen ~ Robert William Thomson (1822-73) from Aberdeenshire and Dr. John Boyd Dunlop (1840-1921) from Ayrshire. Dunlop’s patent of 1889 was invalidated in 1890 but a shrewd, enthusiastic business partner overcame any difficulties and it is Dunlop’s name that became world famous.

Wheels had previously been trimmed in wood, then leather-clad wood, then solid rubber. These progressions aimed to soften the bumpy, noisy ride experienced on the new-fangled bicycle. In 1887 Dunlop, then working as a vet in Belfast, witnessed the discomfort of his young son riding a tricycle on cobbled streets, so made a rubber tube pumped full with air and held round the front wheel with sailcloth and later, for manufacturing purposes, with rubber cement.

Dunlop resigned from the ensuing Dunlop Rubber Company in 1895 and did not make much money from his idea. He was not to know that he was on the cusp of the motor car revolution which would see ‘Fort Dunlop’ built in Coventry to service a mushrooming sector.

Image of the enormous Fort Dunlop: David Dixon at / CC BY-SA 2.0

(Top images LtoR of Dunlop racing tyre: Peter Taylor at Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0 and of Dr. Dunlop: / Public domain)

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