Men of Metal : John Boyd Dunlop

Joh Dunlop is the man responsible for making motoring a comfortable affair as he started the mass production of tube-tyres, prior to which tyres were made of solid rubber

John Boyd Dunlop inventor of tube tyres

As bizarre as one might think it is, a veterinary surgeon made travelling on wheels comfortable. The man was John Boyd Dunlop who invented the first practical pneumatic or inflatable tyre. He was born on 14 February 1840 at a farm in North Aryshire and practiced as a veterinary surgeon first in Edinburgh, Scotland, and then in Belfast, Ireland.

The invention of the pneumatic tyre was more or less by chance. His small son was prescribed cycling as a cure for his cold, but he was finding it difficult to cycle on the cobbled streets of Belfast owing to the solid rubber tyres of the tricycle. To help his son out, in 1887 Dunlop started thinking of ideas to make his ride comfortable. He felt by fitting inflated tubes inside the tyres it would make his ride smooth and for that he cut up an old garden hose, made it into a tube and pumped it with air - and thus he came up with the first practical pneumatic or inflatable tyre.


In 1888 he patented his design based on an inflated tyre and in the following year Dunlop Tyres began production of pneumatic tyres at a factory in Dublin. To promote his pneumatic tyres he asked Willi Fume to race on his bicycle equipped with pneumatic tyres and it was a successful strategy as he was able to win all the four cycling events at the Queens College Sports in Belfast and later in Liverpool. After its introduction in 1888, Dunlop’s pneumatic tyres became standard equipment for most bicycles.

Dunlop racing tyres

However in 1890 his patent was challenged by another Scot, Robert William Thomson, who had patented a pneumatic tyre in 1846 in France and the following year in the USA. However, Thompson's approach to production of tyres was completely different and expensive, and Dunlop was able to continue to manufacture tyres of his own design. His development of pneumatic tyres came at a crucial time since the first automobile was also produced by Karl Benz in the very same year. In 1891 Dunlop Tyres began production from its vast factory known as Fort Dunlop at Erdington near Birmingham. In 1896, Dunlop transferred control of the patent and the company to William Harvey Du Cros in exchange for 1500 shares for $3000 in the new company which still bore his name.

After retiring from his tyre business, Dunlop moved to Dublin, where he started manufacturing bicycle frames and he breathed his last on 23 October 1921 at the age of 81. In 1999, Dunlop Rubber became a subsidiary of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. Dunlop was inducted posthumously into the US Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006.

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