How Dunlop came to be a household name.

Submitted by Mike Dunlap, Clan Historian


A device that is used daily by hundreds of millions (if not billions) of people around the world was developed in the last century by Scotsman John Boyd Dunlop.


John was born on February 5, 1846 in Dreghorn, North Ayrshire. After his studies in Edinburgh, he came to Belfast where he set up his veterinarian  practice on May Street. John Dunlop was always very kind to animals and people, and it was his kindness which led him to invent something which is used by almost everyone in the world today.

 First of all, he noticed that horses had to pull very heavy loads, straining against solid leather collars. So he attempted to make an air cushion collar to ease their burden. While he was working on this idea, his young son, Johnnie, complained to him about the bumpy cobble stones of the Belfast streets which made it very uncomfortable for him to ride his tricycle. All the tyres on all tricycles and bicycles were made of solid rubber at that time. John Boyd Dunlop decided to do something about it.

He consulted his doctor, Sir John Fagan, who told him how he had been able to make his very sick patients comfortable by having them lie on air cushions in hospital. Dunlop wondered whether his son Johnnie would be more comfortable on his tricycle if he could make air cushion tyres for it instead of the solid ones.

So Dunlop had come up with an idea to smooth out the youngster's ride. He made a set of tires for the tricycle. He took two strips of rubber, and glued the edges together to make a tube. He wrapped the tube around the tricycle wheel, and wrapped the tube in linen tape to give the tire a tread. Then he did something which was unusual for the time. He filled the rubber tube with air using a pump made for filling soccer balls.

Dunlop's tires are pneumatic, that is they were inflatable. Until then most tires were made out of solid rubber. But pneumatic tires gives a much smoother ride.

He wasn't the first to do this. Another Scottish inventor named Robert Thompson had invented an inflatable tire back in 1845, but no one paid much attention to it. So it was left to Dunlop to reinvent the pneumatic tire forty-three years later.

It soon became very popular because it was discovered that as well as being more comfortable, a cyclist could travel faster and with less effort using pneumatic tyres.

It won't be long before carriages and then the new automobiles start using Dunlop's tires. In fact, practical automobiles wouldn't be possible without Dunlop's inflatable tires. Dunlop's company would grow and grow, not surprisingly, since everyone would want a car, and all cars need tires. At first tires were made by hand, with much difficulty, a process to make tires by machine will eventually speed things up. Now that tires were in demand, a lot of rubber was going to be needed. To make sure they would always have a good supply of rubber, the Dunlop Rubber Company eventually begin buying up rubber plantations in the British colonies in southeast Asia.

U.S rubber consumption, 1896Dunlop's tires were made of polyisoprene, natural rubber. But natural rubber has a big problem. Have you ever blown up a balloon, and then noticed how it slowly will get smaller as the days pass? This is because air can pass through natural rubber. It happens slowly, but it does happen. Eventually the air will leak out of the balloon, and it will deflate. Inner tubes made from natural rubber will suffer from the same problem, at least until the invention of a gas-impermeable synthetic rubber called butyl rubber. But that is still some years away.

Dunlop patented his design in 1888.  In 1889 the Pneumatic Tyre Company was set up and after more development the tyre was made suitable for all sorts of vehicles, especially cars. Within ten years of patenting the device, it had almost entirely replaced solid tires and had been implemented for use in automobiles by Andre and Edouard Michelin. John established what would become the Dunlop Rubber Company but had to fight and win a legal battle with Thomson. John Dunlop did not benefit much financially from his invention - he sold the patent and company name early onDespite Thomson's earlier work, Dunlop is credited with the invention of the modern rubber tyre.

Dunlop retired to Dublin and died there in 1921.


On February 28th, 1888, Scottish born John Boyd Dunlop, a prosperous Veterinary Surgeon in practice in Belfast Ireland, fits pneumatic tyres to his son's tricycle.

On July 23rd, 1888, Dunlop applies for a patent for his invention - Patent No. 10607 -, which reads in part: "An improvement in Tyres of Wheels for Bicycles, Tricycles or other Road Cars".

By December 1888, Edlin & Co., cycle makers of Belfast, Northern Ireland, begin making bicycles suitable for pneumatic tyres. The machines are called the Pneumatic Safety.

A Dublin, Ireland, syndicate purchases the rights to John Boyd Dunlop's patents and floats THE PNEUMATIC TYRE COMPANY AND BOOTH CYCLE AGENCY OF DUBLIN. Later, this company is named THE DUNLOP PNEUMATIC TYRE COMPANY, and the operation transferred to Coventry, England. The company evolves into the DUNLOP RUBBER COMPANY.


 The Tire tracks (footsteps) of our Clan can be seen on every road in every country due to John Dunlop’s Tyres.


Sources: internet