How far have tires come over the years? From the wooden wheels of the 1800’s to winter tires with button-activated studs, tires have had an interesting and invaluable evolution over the last 200 years. Here is a history of tires presented in a timeline.
1839 – Weatherpoof rubber
Early, natural rubber had a big problem: it melted in the heat and hardened in the cold. Inventor Charles Goodyear, after five years of toiling with rubber, was in a general store touting his latest gum and sulphur formula when the strip fell from his fingers and landed on a piping hot stove. Instead of melting, the substance was surprisingly springy, and weatherproof. Perfect for automobile tires. (Source: Goodyear)
1888 – Air-filled tires
The first air-filled (pneumatic tire) was invented by Scottish veterinarian John Boyd Dunlop. By patching pieces of canvas and rubber for grip on a rubber hose, Dunlop had the first prototype of an air-filled tire, which he test-drove on a tricycle. (Source: Encyclopedia Brittanica)
1913 – Radial ply
Radial ply is developed in Britain. Bias ply uses multiple plies of fabric cord overlapped to form a thick layer that’s rigid and prone to overheating. Radial ply, which wraps the cord from sidewall to sidewall at a 90 degree angle, offers longer tread life, better steering and improved rolling resistance for fuel savings. The radial ply method wouldn’t be widely used in North America until it was adopted by Michelin in 1948. (Source: Oponeo)
1934 – First winter tire
In one of the coldest, windiest, snowiest corners of the world (Nokia, Finland), the world’s first winter tire for trucks hits the market. Until this time, even trucks and buses rarely traveled in winter in Finland. Two years later, in 1936, the Snow-Hakkaepeliitta is unveiled, the first winter tire for passenger vehicles. (Source: Nokian)
1953 – Kal Tire Opens
Tom Foord founded what would become Canada’s largest privately owned tire retailer in Vernon, BC. With a commitment to strong customer service and giving back to our communities, Kal Tire has grown from one to more than 250 retail stores in Canada.
1960’s – Tire speed rating, aka ‘performance rating’
After years of vehicles travelling at top speeds causing blowouts and accidents on highways like Germany’s Autobahn, Europe created speed ratings so drivers would know their tire’s limits. At first there, were only three ratings. Today, there are 14. Tires with higher speed ratings are better equipped to get rid of heat; they also offer better cornering and gripping, which is why they’ve become known as more of a performance rating. (Source: The Globe and Mail)
1961 – Studded Winter Tires
Once it became more common for roads to be ploughed in the winter, drivers had a new problem: ice. To combat slippery conditions, Nokian developed the first studded tire, the Kometa Hakkapeliitta, to provide grip on icy roads as well as soft snow. (Source: Nokian)
1999 – Winter Tire Symbol
After spending a few years looking for a way to help drivers identify tires that are safe for severe snow and cold weather conditions, the U.S. Rubber Manufacturers Association and the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada develop a snow traction test winter tires have to pass to earn the snowflake on the mountain snowflake winter tire symbol. (Source: Smithers Rapra)
2002 – All-weather tires
Nokian releases the first ‘all-weather tire’. The Nokian WR, now in its fourth generation, is a superior summer tire that doubles as a premium winter tire bearing the severe service mountain snowflake symbol. The all-weather category has become popular in Europe and North America because it offers drivers safety, savings and convenience. (Source: Nokian)
2008 – Winter tires in Quebec
Transport Quebec introduces a law making winter tires mandatory from December 15 to March 15. As of 2014, those winter tires have to bear the severe service mountain snowflake emblem. Fines for driving without winter tires can be as high as $300. (Source: Transport Quebec.)
2000’s – Environmentally friendly rubber ingredients
In the last decade, tire manufacturers have moved towards using more natural tire ingredients as a way to promote both sustainability and safety. Ingredients such as canola oil, sunflower oil, orange oil, dandelions, walnut shells (as natural studs) and silica (a sand-based filler) help make up more earth-friendly rubber compounds.
The future – Studs at the click of a button
In 2014, Nokian announces it’s working on something, a winter tire that releases its studs when the driver pushes a button. (Source: Nokian)
What do you imagine for the tires of the future? What do you think is the most interesting fact about the history of tires?