John Dunlop - A Famous Scottish Inventor
John Boyd Dunlop (1840 - 1921) John Boyd Dunlop was born on February 5, 1840, on a farm at Dreghorn, Ayrshire. He studied to be a veterinary surgeon at Edinburgh Veterinary College (now part of Edinburgh University) and in 1867 he moved to Belfast, Ireland.
At this time the roads were in a poor state of repair and extremely rough by todays standards. Travellers were faced with an uncomforable journey as wheels were made of iron or even wood. In some cases the wheel would be protected by a rim of solid rubber but this did little to make any journey enjoyable.
The streets of Belfast were cobbled and it was while he was witnessing his son's discomfort riding his tricycle along these streets that John Boyd Dunlop realised that the solid rubber tyres of the bike were to blame.
How do you re-invent the wheel?
After some experimentation John Boyd Dunlop wrapped the wheels of his son's tricycle in thin sheets of rubber which he then glued together at the edges. He was then able to inflate the tubes with a football pump and create a cushion of air between the road surface and the wheel. John Boyd Dunlop had invented the pneumatic tyre! In 1888 Dunlop patented his pneumatic tyre and, in 1889, he set about production at his first tyre plant in Belfast. Two year later he opened a further factory in Birmingham.
As with many great ideas, the idea of a pneumatic tyre was not unique to Dunlop. In 1845 a Robert William Thompson had patented a similar idea but it had not been developed. Dunlop's company had a head start against all opposition and Thompson raised an objection but his system was slightly different (and more costly to produce) so Dunlop was able to continue production.
In 1896, after only a few years, he sold the company and transfered the patent (to William Harvey Du Cros). In return Dunlop was given 1500 shares in the new company and he retired to Dublin.
Within a decade virtually all wheels used pneumatic tyres and Dunlop's company continued to expand to become the multi-national Dunlop Tire and Rubber Corporation and the Dunlop Rubber Co. Ltd. Considering the importance and global uptake of the pneumatic tryre it is surprising that Dunlop made little money from the idea.
John Boyd Dunlop died in Dublin on October 23, 1921. Although Dunlop was not the first to develop the pneumatic tyre the global success of his company has led to the acceptance that he invented the first "practical pneumatic tyre" . However, if you ask most people who invented the pneumatic tyre they will, in nearly all cases, reply "Dunlop".