John Dunlop

Inducted 2005

1840 - 1921

The word “pioneer” is frequently used when considering the thousands of minds who put the world on wheels, but John Boyd Dunlop of Scotland truly deserves that moniker. Dunlop is credited with developing the modern pneumatic, or air-filled tire.  

The solid rubber tire was developed soon after American Charles Goodyear, who, quite by accident, discovered vulcanization in 1839, a way of combining rubber, sulfur and heat to create a rubbery substance that was flexible yet would hold its shape in hot or cold weather. While it was an improvement over a bare wooden or iron wheels, solid rubber tires could still rattle the bones of carriage passengers. 

In 1845, Englishman Robert Thomson first conceived of an air-filled tube to provide a cushion between a carriage and the road, but his invention was rather crude – a rubber tube wrapped in leather – and was soon forgotten. Forty-three years would pass before the idea of a pneumatic tire would again be tested. 

In 1887, Dunlop a practicing veterinary surgeon, watched as his 9-yearold son Johnny struggled with his tricycle mounted with solid rubber wheels. Using a big wooden disk as a wheel, he formed a tube using sheet rubber. He inserted a one-way valve, filling the tire with air until it was hard enough to support the weight of his son. To keep the air from escaping, Dunlop simply bent the valve and tied it off, not unlike tying off a balloon. To attach the “tire” to the wheel, he wrapped the tube in Irish linen and fastened it to the wooden disk with nails. 

After testing his invention for several months, he applied for a patent for his pneumatic tire which he received on December 7, 1888 in Great Britain. Dunlop also applied for patents in France and America but was unable to secure patents in either country because it was felt that he had not sufficiently advanced the idea beyond that of Robert Thomson 43 years earlier. Nevertheless, automotive historians universally look at John Dunlop as the father of the modern pneumatic tire. 

Dunlop’s tire was an immediate commercial success, initially used for bicycles, and was well proven and further developed in time for the birth of the automobile industry. Within 10 years, the air-filled tire had virtually replaced solid rubber models.

Dunlop joined the board of the newlyformed The Pneumatic Tyre and Booth’s Cycle Agency Limited which first manufactured Dunlop’s patented tires in Dublin on December 71889. In 1892, the Company moved to England, first to Coventry as the Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Company, then in 1900 to Birmingham as the Dunlop Rubber Company Limited. Eventually, Dunlop was building tires around the globe.

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John Boyd Dunlop was born in Scotland


The first ever air-filled tire design was invented


Dunlop moved to Belfast, Northern Ireland to work as a veterinarian


Dunlop first had the idea for a better air-filled tire design


Received a patent on his pneumatic tire design


Dunlop’s tire design was first manufactured in Dublin


The manufacturer moved to England under the name Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Company


The company moved once again to Birmingham, England and changed its name to Dunlop Rubber Company Limited


John Dunlop passed away in Dublin, Ireland at the age of 81


Inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame

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Class of 2005

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