Original Location

Often ITRA receives phone calls, faxes, and e-mail requesting information on the history of retreading. It is unbelievable the number of calls received from university students and even primary age children preparing research on tire retreading and recycling. 

The following is the first chapter in the ITRA publication, Half-soles, Kettles, and Cures. It may help anyone needing information in this area. The publication is available from ITRA for $16.95 and includes 116 pages filled with milestones in the tire retreading and repairing industry. The book features photos dating from a bicycle repair in 1897 to 1987 Facts.

The Early Years of Tire Retreading

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the search through the history of the tire retreading and repairing industry is the quest for the "first" of the industry. To whom should credit go for the first tire repair, the first attempt at vulcanizing a repair, or the first successful retread?

It is fairly safe to assume that repairing began as soon as the first tire was placed upon the wheel of a vehicle; that it coincides with the history of the tire itself. Goodrich, Tew and Company (later reorganized as B.F. Goodrich) made solid rubber tires for high bicycles and by 1884, several companies had patented solid bicycle tires. A few years later, in the 1890's, Charles Miller patented a bicycle tire section mold reputed to be the first patent granted to the tire repair industry. In 1890, North British Rubber Company, Ltd. manufactured the first clincher tires.

In America, one of the most current sources of information about inventions and patents is the Scientific American magazine. Issues in the late nineteenth century featured photographs, articles, notes, and comments on the progress of the tire industry -- both bicycle and automobile; solid and pneumatic.

By the 1890's, each of the volumes in the magazine contained a list of patents for repairing compounds, tire rubber, inflatable and/or pneumatic tires, tire tighteners, tire covers, and puncture repairs of all kinds. Advertisements and articles were devoted to various aspects of the automobile and tire industries.

Concern for the protection of tires even reached city governments. In 1895, for example, Chicopee, Massachusetts, passed an ordinance whereby anyone found guilty of putting or placing any article that could injure or damage tires was subject to a fine of between $2 and $20 dollars. Horse drawn wagons caused damage accidentally when either a horseshoe or a wagon lost a nail along the road for the next unsuspecting motorist.

With an increased awareness of the road dangers to tires, there was an increase in the number of comments about repairing punctures. In one issue, an actual formula for puncture repairs was printed.

The recipe from a Mr. Zeitschrift reads as follows:

160 parts bisulphide of carbon 

20 parts guttapercha 

40 parts caoutchouc 

10 parts isinglass

The compound or "cement" was dropped into crevices after they had been properly cleaned. If the tear was large, the cement was applied in layers. The tire was bound lightly with thread and left to dry for 24 to 26 hours. When it was dry, the thread was cut-off and any protruding cement was trimmed away with a knife that had been dipped in water.

This recipe and the detailed instructions for executing the tire repair appeared in the same September 14, 1895 issue as a series on the "smallest inventions" that had the greatest impact on society. Goodyear's discovery of vulcanization in 1839 and the pneumatic principle were both listed among the great discoveries. (Most sources agree that Goodyear and Thomas Hancock of England made simultaneous discoveries of vulcanization.) Goodyear's patent in 1844 was quickly followed by a number of patents for different forms of rubber including blankets, overshoes, and bands.

Back to Top

The pneumatic principle is usually credited to John Boyd Dunlop of Belfast, whose experimentation with his son's tricycle tires in 1888 led to the discovery. As early as 1845, however, there was a brougham owned by an engineer of Middlesex, which had "noiseless tires" and created quite a sensation. Robert William Thomson patented these tires vulcanized with "sulphurized belts."

In the later part of the nineteenth century, there was a tremendous interest in rubber, rubber compounds, and inventions and a search for numerous applications. Rubber-tired wheels on ambulances began as an experiment in New York and proved to be advantageous over the iron wheel for the comfort of the patient and the horse drawing the ambulance wagon. This experiment in 1895 was to determine the value of rubber-tired wheels on ambulances. Two ambulances were used in the test, one with pneumatic tires and the other with solid rubber ones. Although both seemed to provide a smoother ride for patients than wooden or iron tires, there was no conclusion about which was more advantageous. The principle obstacle seemed to be the fact that the ambulances were extremely heavy vehicles designed to prevent easy jolting of patients. The pneumatic tires frequently collapsed from the weight while solid ones were torn from the wheels because of the strain. Nevertheless, the experiment received coverage in the magazine and the article suggested that they were going to continue using rubber in some form because of the smooth ride, in spite of all the disadvantages.

India Rubber Review magazine reported that credit for the first rubber tires actually belonged to J.G. Kellogg in 1863 who worked in the marble business. Apparently, A.T. Stewart (of dry goods fame and the President of Bank of America) was disturbed that the wheels of the trucks carrying rolled coins in the bank were causing severe damage to the marble floors. Stewart appealed to Kellogg to help save the floors. Kellogg vulcanized bands of rubber to the metal tires. The process was so successful that the same tires were still in use when the Review issue was published in 1902.

Back to Top

The tremendous interest in rubber and pneumatic principles brought about a great deal of flexibility in the bicycle and, eventually, automobile industries. It is safe to assume that these same advances -- whereby a layer of vulcanized rubber surrounds a cushion of air led directly to the development of that layer of rubber incised into a tread and eventually to the very notion of "retreading" a tire.

But before retreading became an issue, there was increased concern about the safety of pneumatic tires and the prevention of punctures. In the 1890's, Scientific American published numerous patents and comments or descriptions for remedies to the dilemma. Examples included:

Patent No. 553,698 J.W. Mix. Mending punctures in pneumatic tires. No. 565,313 C.L. Pepper. Implement for repairing pneumatic tires. No. 566,772 G. Kirkegaard. Repair tool for pneumatic tires. No. 569,737 Hunt and Hostetter. Means for closing punctures in pneumatic tires.

Zebilon Foster of Chicago patented a "Protector for Pneumatic Tires" and explained it thus:

To prevent the puncture and damage of tires, the inventor provides a protective rim whose contiguous ends are enlarged and curved around the sides of the tire, being arranged one within the other and having their flat sides snugly engaged with each other. Each side of each end has an inwardly extending ear, the ears being longitudinally aligned, and being respectively engaged by threaded bolts and nuts to cause the rim to bind the tire.

The tire industry was experimenting, the bicycle and automobile industries were trying new ideas, and the turn of the century was fast approaching. Pneumatic tires for automobiles were first produced by Michelin in France. B.F. Goodrich was responsible for the first pneumatic tire in the U.S. in 1896 on a Winton automobile in Cleveland, Ohio. The age of the pneumatic tire was secure and the need for more efficient methods of increasing mileage, making repairs, and, as roads improved, retreading the tires had to be met.

By 1898, every issue of Scientific American magazine mentioned an entirely new set of patents pertaining to the tire industry, repairs, and puncture-protection. Numerous compounds, compositions, and cements were being used for repairing pneumatic tires. Christian Mathisen of Fredericksburg, Texas, patented a "tire-setting machine whereby a tire can be quickly set cold upon a rim." And, by 1899, an entire issue was devoted to the bicycle and automobile. That issue focused upon the fact that "Great strides have been made in the world of automobiles within the last eight years."

Back to Top

The turn of the century brought about even more changes and "strides" in the automobile and tire industries. India Rubber Review was published for the first time in Chicago in November 1901 and contained a fascinating look at the tire industry of the early 1900's. (The Review was the predecessor of today's Tire Review, first published in September 1925 in Akron, Ohio.) Besides a variety of patents for pneumatic tires, valves, and inner tubes, there was a patent for "molding and vulcanizing India-rubber" applied for in Paris. An "airless" tire produced by Brooks Airless of Denver, Colorado had an interior core of India rubber which prevented punctures but still produced smooth riding qualities similar to pneumatic tires.

Edward Brice Killen of Belfast held a British patent (#19,321) for a non-puncturing pneumatic tire which had a continuous unwearable tread. But the puncture problems still had most people convinced that the solid rubber tire was the only real option. King Edward of England had solid rubber tires on his automobile and B.F. Goodrich Company received an order for a set of solid rubber tires to be shipped to the Shah of Persia. Solid rubber truck tires were used in World War II and at least one electric-powered solid-tired truck was still in use in Pittsburgh as late as the 1950's.

According to Scientific American, solid rubber tires were secured to the wheels by a steel tape or pair of wires which ran through the tire. If the rubber was torn in a section, it could easily be removed and replaced with a section of a new or used tire and secured by the retaining wires. This seemed to have been the easiest and fastest method of tire repair.

Back to Top

In October 1901, the National Retail Carriage and Harness Dealer's Protective Association held its twelfth annual meeting in New York. One of the features of the show was a rubber tire show. There were wired-on solid tires, cushions, and pneumatics, and exhibitors included, among others:

Brooke Airless Pneumatic Tire Company, Denver, Colorado 

Calumet Tire Rubber Company, Chicago, Illinois

Consolidated Rubber/Kelly-Springfield 

Diamond Rubber Company, Akron Firestone, Akron Goodyear Rubber Company, Victor Rubber Tire Company, Springfield

At the same time that there was an increased concern for the safety of tires and protection from blow-outs, there was a small group of independent entrepreneurs who were moving into the business of repairing tires using vulcanization. One of the earliest vulcanizers for repairing was patented in 1904 and the original Bacon electric steam vulcanizer was patented in 1908.

According to the reflections of Thomas Bacon, the electric steam vulcanizer came about while he was working with puncture and blowout repairs. Bacon was often frustrated by the fact that while repairing tubes he sometimes would forget about them for a few minutes while he was putting carbide in the lamp tank. By the time he remembered the tube, it had often melted into two pieces. Bacon decided that steam generated by electricity and held at a proper temperature would prevent this burning through. His invention was somewhat crude at first, but the regulator would automatically disconnect the current when it reached a certain pressure.

By 1910, India Rubber Review was printing regular advertisements for retreading and repairing equipment to the extent that the practices seemed commonplace. In 1903, the straight-sided tire replaced the need to have clinchers to lock over the rim, and by 1908, clinchers were virtually eliminated. The new tire was called the Quick-Detachable tire.

Where, in 1902, an appeal in Scientific American lamented the fact that automobile storage and repair facilities were too few and not yet satisfactory, by 1910 equipment was readily available for the entrepreneur to begin providing these much-needed services. In 1905, Henry Ford agreed to use Firestone tires on the Model T as original equipment when Firestone agreed to establish "field branches" to repair and sell replacement tires to Ford car owners. Since the earliest tires only averaged about 1,000 miles, these first service stations stood to be very successful. In the first decade of the new century, several companies were founded and the industry was beginning to change technologically. In 1898, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company was incorporated; in 1900, Firestone Tire and Rubber Company was organized; in 1900 the Rubber Manufacturers Association was founded; in 1901, Goodyear produced its first tire; in 1904, Seiberling-Stevens registered a patent for a tire-building machine; in 1907, the first taxicab was introduced in the U.S. and the Model T was marketed; in 1908, Goodyear adopted a diamond-shaped design in its tread and called it the "All Weather Tread." It became the symbol of the company for years.

* In the history of the English language, one often notes spelling variations in words that become associated with new industries. The tire industry is no exception. The word tire is spelled tyre in the British Commonwealth. Thomson's patent, however, even though it was English, was spelled with an i. See also, the appendix.

Back to Top

Contact ITRA at 502-968-8900, 800-426-8835

Fax 502-964-7859

Shipping address: 
3332 Gilmore Industrial Blvd. Louisville, Kentucky 40213-4113 USA

PO Box 37203, Louisville, Kentucky 40233-7203 USA

Send e-mail to jean@itra.com

This Site constructed and maintained by Jami Frank, ITRA
Copyright © 1997 by the International Tire and Rubber Association. 
All rights reserved.
Revised: 13 Oct 2000 14:56:41 -0400.

Back to List