The History in Your Tires
Many times when referring to a spare tire, you’ll hear it referred to as a donut. This is most likely because spare tires actually look like donuts, plain donuts. They lack defining features and don’t have any advanced tread patterns. They’re pretty much just a circular piece of vulcanized rubber, designed to get your car where it needs to go — far less effectively than the modern tires you typically rely on. Ever since pre-history, the wheel has been making a major difference in the way we do things. But the wheel has come a long way since then. So if you’re going to refer to your average car tire as a donut today, you better make it a sprinkled and frosted jelly donut or a Boston Cream.
Still, automobiles remain a relatively new invention when you think about it. Because of that, tires are still undergoing a great deal of innovation, even today. In the early days of the automobile, such as when the model T began rolling out of the Ford factory, car tires were little more than glorified bicycle tires that lasted extended use. Compared to today’s tires that can withstand high speed, heat, and cold — the technology used back then had a seriously long way to go. The first big development for modern tires came around 1844, when Charles Goodyear introduced vulcanized rubber. Vulcanized rubber is made more durable by a chemical process where the rubber is cured (usually with sulfar) and heated under pressure. This makes the rubber tougher, more stable, and resistant to heat. This radically changed the tire industry, making tires (and automobiles) a viable tool for transportation. Because of vulcanization, the heat and friction generated by a tires constant high speed contact with the road could break an older tire down faster than you can say hevea brasiliensis, the scientific name for a rubber tree — the natural (and somewhat inferior) source of rubber.
While we will focus primarily on tire design, and not how the tire was attached to the car or how it was filled with air — the genesis of the metal tire rim in 1890 and the pneumatic tire in 1895 set the stage for tire design to move forward at an even more accelerated pace. However, up until the early 1900′s, tires remained slick and ungrooved. There was no such thing as “siping” or water evacuation.
However, in 1908, Frank Seiberling invented a tire with actual traction, which caused chain reaction of innovation in tire technology and tire materials (with the advent of the synthetic tire). As tire technology advanced, cars became more practical, and the industry continued to grow. Naturally, this called for more tires and the tire industry continued to keep pace with demand, improving traction, durability, and fuel efficiency.
So next time you take tires for advantage, consider all of the technology, science, and innovation that’s gone into what keeps you moving on the road.