In the era of thermal power, the speed of vehicle travel greatly increased compared to animal power. Traditional metal wheels were facing elimination due to poor shock absorption and severe vibrations. The emergence of hard rubber allowed wheels to wear "shoes." Rubber tires with excellent elasticity, wear resistance, pressure resistance, and easy molding properties enabled a historical leap in wheel performance, ultimately laying the foundation for the arrival of the automobile era.
Although the birth of the wheel has gone through thousands of years, the wheel's connection with rubber still dates back to the mid-19th century. In just one and a half centuries, the wheel has undergone revolutionary improvement due to the addition of rubber, with an increase in variety, performance, and adaptability, thereby greatly popularizing its application.
A long time ago, wheels were made of stone or wood. After entering the metallurgical age, people used iron to produce wheels on a large scale for a long time. However, in the era of thermal power, this kind of iron wheel was challenged. The iron wheel had fatal flaws. It was hard and had no elasticity. Its shock absorption performance was particularly poor. During the early animal-powered era, as the speed of vehicles was slow, the bumps of iron wheels were acceptable. But in the "automobile era," the degree of bumps became unbearable under high-speed conditions. Therefore, the invention of shock-absorbing wheels became urgent. Among many materials, people finally chose rubber.
When we talk about rubber, we naturally think of the father of rubber, American Charles Goodyear. In 1834, inspired by coke steelmaking, he began experimenting with the hardening of soft rubber. After countless failures, he found that vulcanized rubber was not sticky when heated and had good elasticity, so hardened rubber was born. This provided a new idea for tire manufacturing.
In 1842, Goodyear used hardened rubber to make the first rubber tire. However, the tire was solid, so the ride was still bumpy for passenger cars. Later, manufacturers filled various materials in the inner tube for shock absorption. By 1900, solid tires were also widely used, but their shock absorption effect was still not ideal. Although solid tires are puncture-resistant and wear-resistant and are still used on vehicles that operate under extreme conditions at low speeds, they are ultimately limited. Therefore, people turned their attention to hollow tires.
In fact, as early as 1845, a British blacksmith named Robert Thomson obtained the patent for the first rubber inflatable tire. He used rubber-coated canvas to make the inner tube, wrapped it with leather to resist its wear on rough roads, and then inflated it with compressed air. This tire opened up the idea of inflatable rubber tire. In 1888, veterinarian John Boyd Dunlop also produced a hollow rubber tyre, and then Thomas made a rubber hollow tire with an air valve switch. These tire structures were relatively simple, with poor practicality, so they did not become popular on a large scale. However, they provided useful references for the manufacture of rubber tires. In 1895, the French improved the 1888 invention to install the bicycle inflatable tire on a car to participate in the race from Paris to Bordeaux, which was the first car to use this type of tire. This was a single-tube tire made of plain canvas and had a tire face glue but no pattern. That year, the tire was mounted on a French Peugeot car.
Rubber became the best choice for tires not only because of its good elasticity and wear resistance but also because it is easy to mold and can be easily combined with other materials, which is a prerequisite for the invention of even more superior rubber tyres. From 1908 to 1912, rubber tires had significant changes. Firstly, British Bertram Mills invented curtain cloth for production, and then the quality of the curtain cloth improved, and synthetic silk started to be used. The tire surface glue also began to have anti-slip patterns, and carbon black materials began to be added to the tire surface.
In 1948, France's invention of the radial tire became a revolution in rubber tyre. This tire was highly praised for its significant improvement in service life and performance, especially for saving fuel during driving, and became a revolution in the tire industry. Subsequently, radial tires quickly became popular on cars and eventually became the mainstream for passenger car tires today.
Some people analogize rubber to "shoes" for tires. Just as shoes on our feet not only improve our walking efficiency and running speed, but also allow us to trek through mountains and water to adapt to the environment, tires also make it possible to manufacture various cars such as sports cars, off-road vehicles, and engineering vehicles to overcome more environmental limitations and achieve optimal performance.