If you ever get irate when you drive over a pothole, think for a moment – it could be a lot worse. You could be feeling every last bump in the road … and for a long time, everyone who drve had to deal with that, until John Boyd Dunlop came along.
Dunlop was a native of Scotland who grew up in Ayrshire. Ironically, his profession by trade had nothing to do with automobiles or vehicles of any sort – rather, Dunlop was a veterinarian. Occasionally, Dunlop moved to Belfast, Ireland, where he built up a thriving practice.
There was a problem, however. The only way to travel the roads of Ireland was by using iron or wood wagon wheels, or wheels that were entirely made of hard, solid rubber. These wheels did not easily absorb bumps and dips, meaning that passengers were due for an inconvenient, often painful ride.
Dunlop did not care for this, but he found himself put off even further when these tires began affecting his son. Dunlop's son had a tricycle, and riding around on the solid rubber was causing him an incredible amount of discomfort and pain. Dunlop could not stand to see his son in such agony, so he devised a plan.
Dunlop set about developing a tire that would employ a pneumatic, or air-based process. Dunlop worked and worked until he figured out a plan to create a tire that would use air to cushion the wheels … and the rider. He took two strips of rubber, then used glue to form each of them into thick tubes. Then, he wrapped the tubes around the inside of the main tricycle wheel. He wrapped the tubes in linen tape to make sure that they were treaded.
Then, Dunlop used an air pump for inflating soccer ***** to blow up the tubes. The result was a tire that had a cushion of air to absorb bumps and create a smoother ride.
Dunlop's tires proved a huge success, and in 1888, he patented his process. However, in an ironic twist, it turned out that he was not the first person to invent an inflatable tire. In 1845, Robert William Thomson had invented an inflatable tire, but his process had not become widespread because it was considered expensive and impractical for individual transportation. Thomson, who died in 1873, was a prolific inventor who mostly used his tires for steam engines. Dunlop's tires were mainly used in bicycles and tricycles, and gained widespread popularity where Thomson's had not.
In the end, both parties received some validation. Thomson absolutely received credit for patenting the rubber-tire process, but Dunlop's name was the one that passed on into history – mainly because the company he helped found, the Dunlop Rubber Company, is still in business. The company was purchased by Goodyear in 1999, but still operates as a separate entity in the UK
John Boyd Dunlop may not have invented the inflatable tire, but he was certainly responsible for it becoming part of everyday life. So the next time you're riding down the road, do not think of the bumps along the way – instead, think of all the ones you will not feel because of Dunlop's work.
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