Karl Benz did not invent tires themselves but he invented the first solid rubber tires for motor cars. J.B. Dunlop invented the first pneumatic tire for bicycles in 1888 and went on to found a company which produced both bike and car tires. André and Edouard Michelin invented the first removable pneumatic tires in 1891.
If you want to know who invented tires for cars, then this article is for you. A number of people contributed to the invention of the modern car tire as we know it. We tell you who they were, what they created, and give you other interesting car tire history facts.
Who invented tires for cars?
Tires are a means of dressing or covering a wheel to make travel easier and more comfortable in a wheeled vehicle. They have been around hundreds of years in the form of leather or solid rubber wrapping for the wheels on horse drawn carriages, barrows and other vehicles.
Karl Benz, inventor of the the world’s first motor car, also invented a car tire for his vehicles in 1888. In contrast to the pneumatic tires which came later and are still in use today, Benz’s tires were formed from solid vulcanized rubber fixed to the metal spoked wheel.
Solid rubber tires are very robust and resilient to damage with no risk from puncture. Unfortunately these advantages are off-set by by the fact that solid tires give a rougher ride than pneumatic equivalents and can also damage road surfaces.
Pneumatic tires contain air in a wheel-shaped rubber tube and were invented in two forms. In 1845 Robert Thomson patented tires of vulcanized rubber for use with horse-drawn carriages. (While successful trialled, the invention was not commercially viable at this point in time.)
J. B. Dunlop independently developed another pneumatic tire in 1888, as an enhancement for his son’s bicycle. (With the success of this experiment, Dunlop went into partnership with financier, Harvey du Cros. While their Dunlop Rubber company originally focused on bicycles, they made their first pneumatic tire for motor cars in 1900.)
It is also worth mentioning that pneumatic tires for cars or other vehicles could not have come about without Charles Goodyear who invented the vulcanization process in 1844. Vulcanization of rubber involves treating it with sulfur to create a form of rubber which is harder, non-sticky and more weatherproof.
How did modern car tires evolve?
Numerous innovations and developments have taken place since tires were first invented to bring us the advanced tires we see in modern cars. Important progressions and tire types include:
The earliest car tires were made from rubber glued to the metallic wheel rim, a structure which meant that repairs or replacement would take several hours. Brothers André and Edouard Michelin developed a removable pneumatic car tire in 1891, subsequently attracting high public interest with their drive on the tires in the 1895 Paris-to-Bordeaux motor car race.
In 1910, the Goodrich Company created tires with a a longer lifespan by adding carbon (from soot) to the rubber. The carbonized tire proved more durable, more stable, and better at shedding heat.
The first tires were white in color, similar to their source material of natural rubber latex. Today all tires are black due to addition of carbon black (a byproduct of the combustion of various hydrocarbons) during the manufacturing process.
The first tread tire appeared in 1905, featuring a thick tread block which helped to grip the road in wet or muddy conditions and protected the inner carcass around the pneumatic tube.
The first snow tire for domestic vehicles was invented by the Finnish company Hakkapeliitta (now Nokian Tyres) in 1936. Always a well-respected product, this tire is still in production today.
Artificial rubber tires
The DuPont Company commercialized production of synthetic rubber in 1931, breaking tire production reliance on natural rubber resources.
The Goodrich Company announced development of a tubeless tire in May 1947. This innovation eliminated the inner tube and trapped pressured air within the reinforced tire walls, making car use safer and less subject to breakdowns. After successful testing, Goodrich was awarded a number of patents and the tubeless tire became a standard feature on most new cars by 1953.
Radial tires have separate rubber plies for sidewalls and tread. This puts more of the tread in contact with the road surface at all times, increasing grip. Tread life is also improved with radial tires. The Michelin company designed, developed, patented and commercialized the radial tire, with their first radial tire developed in 1946 by researcher Marius Mignol. Radial tires are now the global tire standard.
Runflat tires arrived in the late 1970s. They feature several technologies which allow vehicles to continue running with a flat tire in order to reach a safe stopping point. Self-supporting runflat tires are internally reinforced in order to support a car’s weight for a set period after a blow out. Self-sealing runlet tires possess a special liner that automatically and permanently seals any small puncture.
What was the first commercial production of a car with tires?
The first production of motor cars for sale was by Karl Benz in 1888 and these cars possessed tires. The vehicles were produced by Benz in Germany or under license from Benz, by Emile Roger in France.
What was the first car tire selling company?
It’s hard to say exactly which company went into tire production first as there were several operating at around the same time. Some existed earlier but did not make car tires until a later date. Others developed and launched a prototype but it may not be clear when this was commercially produced. For example:
The Michelin company was producing pneumatic car tires by the mid-1890s, having originally begun making tires for bicycles and horse-drawn carriages.
The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company was founded in Ohio in 1898 by Frank Seiberling. It became the largest rubber company in the world by 1928.
The Dunlop Rubber Company started out with bicycle tires but made their first pneumatic car tire in 1900.
A final word…
Who invented tires for cars? Looking at modern tires, the answer is probably a whole chain of inventors. The chain begins with Karl Benz and runs through numerous 20th century innovations. It also links back even further to those who invented the vulcanization of rubber and the pneumatic tire. Names like Goodyear, Dunlop and Michelin remain much part of the popular consciousness and important parts of car history.