Who Invented The Pneumatic Tire? (Robert William Thomson)

Just riding our way to work, school, or the mall would make us appreciate the invention of tires. Whenever we use modern land transportation, we utilize various vehicles such as motorcycles, cars, trucks, and buses. Interestingly, all of these modes of transportation include the use of pneumatic tires, or simply called tires.

The pneumatic tire is what we typically see in our modern vehicles, whether it be a bicycle, motorcycle, car, truck, or bus. For starters, pneumatic tires are air-filled tires, which consist of pressurized inner rubber. The outer layer of the inner rubber is called the thread, which is responsible for having direct contact with the road – at the same time, protecting the inner rubber from various harsh elements outside, mainly on the road. This type of tire works best outdoors since it supports the inner metal tire, and avoids any potential deformation. A pneumatic tire could help in providing cushion to the vehicle while sustaining its weight, even when coming across some bumps on the road.

However, one disadvantage of the pneumatic tire is its vulnerability to punctures, and other elements that might damage an inflatable rubber. Despite the few flaws of the pneumatic tire, it proves to be an essential invention to our modern world, wherein we heavily utilize both private and public transportations. In this article, we are going to look into how exactly this brilliant invention originated. Mainly – who invented the pneumatic tires?

The History of the Pneumatic Tires

We can trace back the creation of tires to hundreds of years ago. However, the early versions of tires do not include rubber, but instead, mostly consist of wood, leather, iron, and steel. Similar to what we see in movies or vintage photos, tires were already present hundreds of years ago in the form of wood or metal. Furthermore, the first use of tires was not entirely for personal transportation, but instead, they used it for transporting food and supply.

Fast forward to the 19th century, when a Scottish inventor named Robert William Thomson patented the first standard pneumatic tire in 1847. His version of the pneumatic tire consists of a leather outer layer, supporting an inner rubber tire filled with air. However, the impractical design of Thomson’s tire made it cost-inefficient, making it not profitable in the market. This reason is why the early patent of the pneumatic tire was not yet the start of its popularity, but its creation sparked interests and ideas for future inventors. Because of this, the existence of pneumatic tires became unknown for a few decades, along with the gradual increase in bicycle sales.

During the late 19th century, the popularity of bicycles skyrocketed, which created interest for many bike enthusiasts to develop better tire designs. In 1888, a Scottish veterinarian named John Boyd Dunlop invented the first practical design of the pneumatic tire on May Street, Belfast. Dunlop is the owner of one of the most prosperous veterinary practices in Ireland.

Dunlop’s interest in the creation of pneumatic tires started when his 10-year-old son Johnnie keeps on suffering from headaches while riding a bicycle on rough pavements. Dunlop made a way to prevent the headaches of his son, through the help of his invented tire – instead of entirely not using the bicycle. It is because their family doctor, Sir John Fagan, prescribed cycling as a form of exercise to the boy, which led Dunlop to create better tires for the bike.

Fagan had his participation in the invention of the first pneumatic tire, wherein he helped in designing it. On October 31, 1889, Dunlop acquired his patent for the pneumatic tire. However, he lost his main patent after discovering that the early inventor, Thomson, used the same principles in creating the pneumatic tire, although some parts of his design were still valid for the patent.

Throughout the mid-1890s, Dunlop, along with Harvey du Cros, continued to develop their pneumatic tire business, despite their limited rights and patents. They acquired other patents related to the pneumatic tire, which help them maintain a good position in the industry with the help of the inventor, Charles Kingston Welch. Their business gradually grew and became Dunlop Rubber and Dunlop Tyres.