On this day in 1904, Harold D. Weed of Canastota, New York, is issued U.S. Patent No. 768,495 for his “Grip-Tread for Pneumatic Tires,” a non-skid tire chain to be used on automobiles in order to increase traction on roads slick with mud, snow or ice.
At the time, Weed worked for the Marvin and Casler Company, a Canastota machine shop that made a range of products including automobile engines, name plate machines, automatic palm readers and motion picture equipment. He reportedly drew inspiration for his tire chain from the habit of some local motorists who wrapped rope around their tires to increase traction on muddy country roads. In his patent, Weed said that his invention aimed to “provide a flexible and collapsible grip or tread composed entirely of chains linked together and applied to the sides and periphery of the tire and held in place solely by the inflation of the tire, and which is reversible.” The tire chain was assembled around a tire when it was partially deflated; after hooks on either end of the chain were fastened, the tire was then reinflated. Weed’s tire chains were soon found to work just as well on snow and ice as on mud.
In 1908, in a promotional effort, representatives of the Weed Chain Tire Grip Company challenged the master magician Harry Houdini to escape from a prison created by their product. According to “The Secret Life of Houdini,” by William Kalush and Larry Sloman, Houdini was enmeshed in a series of looped, locked tire chains, then chained into two steel-rimmed automobile tires. At one point during the escape, the chains had to be moved lower, as Houdini was turning blue from one of them binding his throat; he was then able to release himself. Houdini performed this famous stunt during a weeklong engagement at Hammerstein’s Theatre in New York.
Harry Weed eventually sold his tire chain patents to the American Chain and Cable Company, the successor to the Weed Chain Tire Grip Co. After serving as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army during World War I, he held patents for devices related to the tire chain and was honored by the Army Ordnance Committee for his work in designing bomb-release mechanisms and machine gun synchronizing devices for use in aircraft. He died in Palm Beach, Florida, in 1961, at the age of 89.