The History of Tires You Won't Believe
February 23rd, 2011
President Harry S Truman once said, “The only thing new in the world is the history you do not know.” With that in mind, here at Boyd’s Tire & Service Center, we thought we’d bring you up to speed on a few fun facts about tires you may not have heard before.
- Everyone tends to think of tires as being round and black…but black is not the natural color of tires. The zinc oxide in early tire tread compounds resulted in a grayish-white color; it wasn’t until years later that carbon black was added to tread formulations. Carbon black enhances wear and durability, and conducts heat away from the tire’s internal structure. Early tires only had carbon black in the tread area, hence the first whitewall tires. Today, whitewalls and white-letter tires are made the same way, with the manufacturing mold excluding carbon black from the letters or whitewall area.
- The first radial tire was introduced by Michelin in 1946 – it wasn’t until the 70s or early 80s that radials became standard equipment on American cars.
- In the 1920s, one synthetic rubber compound was discovered strictly by accident. Two chemical engineers, working on an antifreeze compound, mixed ethylene dichloride and sodium polysulfide. The result was a terrible-smelling gum which soon clogged a lab sink, and none of the solvents they used could dissolve the clog. They soon realized that the resistance to solvents was a feature, not a bug, and their new compound took its place alongside neoprene and other early synthetic rubber products of the time.
- Part of the information on your tire’s sidewall is the speed rating, expressed as a letter of the alphabet. The speed rating is determined by U.S. Government testing and standards, and means that a tire meets minimum requirements for “reaching and sustaining a specified speed.” Higher speed ratings generally correspond to better handling and stability. Speed ratings can range from “B” (31 mph) all the way up to “Y” (186 mph).
- Spare tires in new cars are quickly becoming a thing of the past. As manufacturers move to cut curb weight and boost fuel economy, most new cars are sold with a can of flat sealer and a can of compressed air or an electric compressor. That’s a great idea…unless your flat is shredded or has a sidewall puncture.
- The World’s Largest Tire lives by I-94 in Allen Park, Michigan. The giant tire was built by Uniroyal for the New York World’s Fair of 1964; it’s an 80-foot-tall structure that weighs 12 tons and was originally designed as a Ferris wheel. It was moved to Michigan in 1966; since then, it’s been modified with a more modern-looking wheel cover to replace the 60s-style hubcap and now features “uniroyal.com” on the sidewall. In 1998, Uniroyal promoted their Nailgard tire by poking an 11-foot-long, 250-pound nail through the tread. The nail was removed a few years later and sold on eBay for $3,000, which went to a local historical society.
- Worn-out tires can be a real problem. They’re environmentally hazardous, they provide a breeding ground for rodents and mosquitos, and fires in tire dumps are notoriously hard to extinguish, sometimes burning for as long as 15 years. Americans dispose of about 290 million tires yearly (or one tire per person per year), of which about 80 percent are recovered or recycled. The uses for scrap tires keep growing, too. They are often shredded and used for modifiers in cement or asphalt, they can be used as raw material for new tires, bark mulch for landscaping and even used to make entire “green” buildings. Scrap tires are also used for fuel through pyrolysis, which heats the rubber in an oxygen-free vessel and breaks down its molecular structure. Other uses include carpet backing, flooring, bumpers for ships or docks, patio deck material, mats for playgrounds, speed bumps, railroad ties, pallets and much more.
Posted in: Tire 101