May 11

This Day in History

Automotive

May 11, 1947:

B.F. Goodrich Co. announces development of tubeless tire

On this day in 1947, the B.F. Goodrich Company of Akron, Ohio, announces it has developed a tubeless tire, a technological innovation that would make automobiles safer and more efficient.

Pneumatic tires--or tires filled with pressurized air--were used on motor vehicles beginning in the late 1800s, when the French rubber manufacturer Michelin & Cie became the first company to develop them. For the first 60 years of their use, pneumatic tires generally relied on an inner tube containing the compressed air and an outer casing that protected the tube and provided traction. The disadvantage of this design was that if the inner tube failed--which was always a risk due to excess heat generated by friction between the tube and the tire wall--the tire would blow out immediately, causing the driver to lose control of the vehicle.

The culmination of more than three years of engineering, Goodrich's tubeless tire effectively eliminated the inner tube, trapping the pressurized air within the tire walls themselves. By reinforcing those walls, the company claimed, they were able to combine the puncture-sealing features of inner tubes with an improved ease of riding, high resistance to bruising and superior retention of air pressure. While Goodrich awaited approval from the U.S. Patent Office, the tubeless tires underwent high-speed road testing, were put in service on a fleet of taxis and were used by Ohio state police cars and a number of privately owned passenger cars.

The testing proved successful, and in 1952, Goodrich won patents for the tire's various features. Within three years, the tubeless tire came standard on most new automobiles. According to an article published in The New York Times in December 1954, "If the results of tests...prove valid in general use, the owner of a 1955 automobile can count on at least 25 per cent more mileage, easier tire changing if he gets caught on a lonely road with a leaky tire, and almost no blowouts." The article quoted Howard N. Hawkes, vice president and general manager of the tire division of the United States Rubber Company, as calling the general adoption of the tubeless tire "one of the most far-reaching changes ever to take place in the tire industry." The radial-ply tire, a tubeless model with walls made of alternating layers--also called plies--of tough rubber cord, was created by Michelin later that decade and is now considered the standard for automobiles in all developed countries.

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