A tire is a ring-shaped, rubber material that covers a wheel rim. It serves as a protective and flexible cushion that absorbs shock and keeps the wheel in close contact with the ground.
Different etymologies account for the present form “tire”. Oxford English Dictionary suggests is a derivative of the word “attire”. Other sources, however, links the word to the verb “to tie”. However farfetched it may seem, these all made significant impact on the evokution of the tire industry.
The spelling was even more a matter of dispute. During the 15th to 17th century, there was a synchronic variation in spellings tyre and tire. By 1700 though, tyre had become and obsolete term, and tire became the standard spelling. However, during the 19th century, UK revived the spelling tyre after the invention of pneumatic tires. To this day, tyre is an established spelling in British English, while American English prefers the form tire.
The first tires were the ones used for carts and wagons. They were manufactured by wheelwrights, skilled workers who forged metals to contract and fit tightly on wooden wheels. Because the tire is made of metal, it was often subject to distortions due to pressure or road roughness. Generally however, tires were fortified to be able to sustain heavy pressures and long-term usage.
Later on, metal tires evolved to pneumatic tires. Pneumatic tires take the form of what we have today: air-filled and inflatable. First to be recognized for this pioneering invention was John Boyd Dunlop, who designed the tire that way in an attempt to keep his son away from headaches when riding the bicycle on rough roads. However, Dunlop’s patent was afterwards declared invalid because of his products similarity with an earlier work by fellow Robert William Thomson.
Pneumatic tires have two major parts: the tread and the body.
The basic function of the tread is to provide traction. It is the part that comes in contact with the ground. Made of thick rubber or composite compound, the tread is specially designed to give an appropriate level of traction that does not wear away too quickly. Treads are also specifically designed for the type of road or pavement the wheel will be travelling on.
The body of pneumatic tires on the other hand ensures overall tire support. Today, bodies are composed of cords and wires encased in rubber. The inside is filled up with compressed air to form its shape and function as an inflatable cushion.
Today, tires are made of synthetic rubber, natural rubber, fabric, wire, and other compound chemicals. Flexible elastomer materials, such as rubber, are the basic components of tires, providing durability.
Twentieth century has seen the rise of tire companies, the same time that automobile industry was booming. Today, in average, over 1 billion tires are produced in a year in over 400 tire factories. Three leading tire companies account for 60% of global market share. The top five manufacturing firms by revenue are Bridgestone, Michelin, Goodyear, Continental AG, and Pirelli.
Back in 2004, $80 billion of tires were sold globally, while 2010 had $140 billion total sales. And as the car manufacturing industry hasn’t reached its old age yet, the tire industry will also remain to flourish.