Who Invented the Pneumatic Tire?
John Boyd Dunlop (1840-1921) was a Scottish veterinarian, and the recognized inventor of the first pneumatic or inflatable tire. His patent was for a bicycle tire, granted in 1888.
However, Robert William Thomson (1822-1873) invented the first vulcanized rubber pneumatic tire. Thomson patented his pneumatic tire in 1845. His invention worked well, but was too costly to succeed. Dunlop’s tire patented in 1888 did, and so he received the most recognition.
The invention of the pneumatic tire is attributed to Robert William Thomson, who invented a hollow rubber tire filled with air in London in 1845. His version of the pneumatic tire consisted of an inner tube inflated with air and encased within a heavy rubber tire stretched around rims. Thomson received a patent for his invention.
His pneumatic tire proved to be quite a substantial improvement over the solid rubber tires that had been around for some time, because it reduced vibration and provided for a much smoother ride and better traction control. Though Thomson’s invention of the pneumatic tire was successful, having traveled some 1,200 miles (1,931 km) attached to an English brougham, the use of pneumatic tires was curtailed for almost half a century due to the popularity of solid rubber tires.
In 1888, the popularity of bicycles revived an active interest in tire design. John Boyd Dunlop, a veterinary surgeon in Belfast, obtained a patent for a reinvented version of a pneumatic tire made for bicycles. Dunlop claimed that he had no prior knowledge of Thomson’s pneumatic tire.
This time, the pneumatic tire did catch on with the public and it was quickly applied to motor vehicles, with the first application being initiated by French rubber manufacturer Michelen & Cie. Dunlop’s version of the pneumatic tire remained the industry standard for close to half a century until it was eclipsed by bias ply tires.
Most free-moving vehicles today use pneumatic tires because they provide unparalleled cushioning ability as well as other advantages.
In fact, about 200 million motor vehicles each year, 90 percent automobiles and 10 percent trucks, are now manufactured with pneumatic tires. The use of solid rubber tires is reserved mostly now to farming, industrial and military vehicles and other applications where tires experience a higher rate of exposure to cutting, abrasion, and piercing.