OUR subject is Pneumatic tire. Tire is an integral part of a wheel when it is used in vehicles for movement. Of course, wheels have multiple use such as steering wheel, ships wheel, potter’s wheel, flying wheels, generating power, as gears etc.
At first look, one may think the wheel as an ordinary, unremarkable and basic component compared to various other inventions. The simple, round wheel doesn't seem like a great discovery.
But then so is numerical zero. Many a time simple things are most valuable and essential.
If one asked to identify the greatest inventions of the human beings undoubtedly wheel will appear within the first few. Of course, controlled fire has its’ place of importance.
It is said Homo Sapiens, who came into existence 200 thousand years before are considered to be our fore fathers. But it is believed Homo Rudolfensis, Homo Erectus, Homo Neonderthalensis, Homo Floresiensis, Homo Denisova were here before a million years but lived in primitive way like any other animals but started using fire 300 thousand years back. All they had to do to learn ‘how to have a controlled fire’ was by setting a few forests into fire. Homo sapiens made them totally extinct or absorbed into their society.
But invention of wheel by them took much longer time. It happened just 5500 years back i.e in 3500 BC.
Now we cannot imagine our lives without any kind of movement. Wheels have made it easier for all of us to travel. Wheel invention accelerated the growth and we can say it led to a manufacturing revolution.
The first inventor of the wheel is yet not known to anybody in the world.
Other inventions that were made much before that, and afterwards have become, most of them, obsolete or completely changed or replaced by something else totally different. But wheels are still basically same, well accepted and are still in demand. The basic function remains the same even today. Many of the contemporary discoveries have originated from the ancient and original wheels. If there would not have been any invention or designs of wheels, there would not have been any vehicle on this Earth. We cannot say how the life would have been and what kind of a progress we would have made.
The wheels that we now see in ships and other heavy vehicles were also invented during the early centuries, but the differences are huge.
The designs earlier were simpler in comparison to the designs we see today. Now the wheels are more advanced and are made from the combination of the best of technologies. When one want to say something is complicated it is said that there are “wheels within wheels.’
Obviously human beings have seen round things and fallen trees moving or rotating easily. Still an idea or an invention to use it was not developed. One of the important reasons is that they never had tools needed for that. Also need for objects that are heavy and/or bulky were practically was not there. They had a simple living. No furniture, wardrobe, cot etc. As they say necessity is the mother of inventions. There was no need and no effort.
So, when the wheels were invented it was not for transportation.
Pottery is a crucial discovery for progression of humanity. The containers that were prepared by the potters are helpful for carrying the essentials like drinking water and nutritious food.
Settled life slowly created many other needs and bigger needs called for special effort.
Easiest way to manage it was to take the help of fellow human being and that was sufficient.
May be one day your wife and neighbor’s wife had a quarrel and neighbor refuses to help or object is too big.
Then human beings were and are always creative. They like to do things with minimum effort. They have observed that round objects could be easily moved by rolling them. They improvised this rolling technique into the transportation of large objects on cylindrical logs. Some will pull and some will place log. This was better than the earlier one.
We can see this method in use even today. We have seen in the tire plant already functioning using this method. When they wanted to add, say another curing press it was not possible or easy to use a crane because machineries are on the way. That called for breaking the walls and stopping the work in the surrounding area. Trained dock workers used and are using this system to move the heavy machinery inside smoothly. They create a sloping platform to move them to the pit and place it in its spot. Where cranes cannot go, this primitive method is still used. Machineries weighing 50 to 100 tons are moved to the desired place using steel bars.
As a system is established mind start thinking about improvement of it or an alternate system better than that. So, the next step was putting the things to be moved in a container and using a single big log for moving the container
loaded with materials. Once it slides to the end, another log placed at the right distance will take the load and the process continues.
It is a tricky job and if the log is not placed properly and if the job was executed shabbily accidents used to happen. No insurance and no workmen compensation act. So, someone came with an idea of sledge type container. Since surface of contact was less it helped to move easily and continuously.
Then both were combined i.e. Use of a log and a sledge type of a container. Another log will be kept and
So far so good. From here it is anybody’s guess. Either it was thought of independently or the sharp cuttings made by the sledges gave it, we cannot say, they started using the grooves on the round wood created for sliding the sledge.
Next step was a single log cut like a pair of wheels with a fixed axle. Ultimately two wheels with a rotatable axle fitted smugly.
The significant aspect about the wheel is not conceiving of a cylinder rolling on its edge. It is figuring out how to connect a stable, stationary platform to that cylinder.
If we study carefully we will realize to make a fixed axle with revolving wheels, the ends of the axle had to be nearly perfectly smooth and round, as did the holes in the center of the wheels; otherwise, there would be too much friction between these components for the wheels to turn. Then the axles had to fit snugly inside the wheels' holes, but not too snugly — they had to be free to rotate.
Wheel and axle need to match properly and the size of the axle plays a vital role. If a thicker one will cause high friction, thinner one will make it weaker and may generate too much friction and weaker to support a load. To overcome this problem, they made wagons quite narrow, so they could have short axles, which made it possible to have an axle that wasn't very thick."
Looking into all aspects we can conclude that it could not have been developed in phases.
Whoever invented it must have had access to wide slabs of wood from thick-trunked trees to carve large, round wheels. They also needed metal tools to chisel fine-fitted holes and axles. And they must have had a need for hauling heavy burdens over land. until 3500 B.C. or so, because it was only after about 4000 B.C. that cast copper chisels and gouges became common in the Near East."
The invention of the wheel was so challenging that it probably happened only once, in one place. However, from that place, it seems to have spread so rapidly across Eurasia and the Middle East that experts cannot say for sure where it originated.
The earliest images of wheeled carts have been excavated in Poland and elsewhere in the Eurasian steppes, and this region is overtaking Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) as the wheel's most likely birthplace.
Wheels must be of same diameter and hole should be perfectly at the center. The axle had to fit perfectly in the holes of the wheels, but also, they had to have enough room to allow them to rotate freely. The entire thing has not happened at one go. It must have taken a very long time.
As improvements happened over period that it made it suitable for transportation purposes. It seems that the use of wheels for transportation only happened 300 years later. Evidence of it in the form of images of wheeled carts were found in Poland and elsewhere in the Eurasian steppes. It is believed that it has spread to other places from here. Some do not agree to it but it doesn’t matter to us. It is accepted by all that was the period in which wheel was invented.
Places like in America no such development happened. May be because of the difference in terrain. While in Europe it was more of a flat whereas there it was more of a slope.
Next step was using the animals for pulling them.
All these happened around 3500 BC somewhere in Mesopotamia someone cut out of slice of log and chiseled a hole in the middle to create the first wheel.
From that many types of vehicles started coming including chariots.
It took another 1,500 years before our ancestors thought of the next step in wheel evolution, the spoke. The need for faster transportation and the idea of using less material stemmed this technological breakthrough. The Egyptians are credited with the first implementation of a spoked wheel on their model year 2000 BC chariots. They narrowed it by carving both sides to shape, but it was the Greeks that first introduced the cross-bar, or H-type, wheel. Increased appeal and durability were the intention..
If one notice can see all the vehicles were made only with two wheels. With that they found maneuverability much easier.
Just another thousand years and the Celtics (medieval Europeans) put the first iron rimmed wheels on their chariots.
Till 19th century nothing remarkable happened. Different type of vehicles, fully metal etc. came into vogue.
In 1802 AD the first wire tension spokes were patented by G F Bauer to put on bikes because the previous ones weren’t strong enough to lift them.
Development in use of wheel on the road took a longer time. Initially vehicles were with two wheels. Four-wheel vehicles started coming.
In the meantime, in sea etc. movement of human beings started. They started exploring various continents and started settling in them. In 1712 a major breakthrough happened.
Thomas Newcomen invented atmospheric engine and Scottish inventor James Watt invented steam engine. Steam power ushered in industrial revolution. Steam power was used for variety of purposes including transportation. Tracks were laid and trains became the fastest mode of transportation.
As said roads remained in primitive condition. The first wheels made of metal or wood were very durable but did not provide a very comfortable ride.
The nearest thing to the first tire was a metal hoop. Use of leather covering brought a small relief. Rubber was not useful as early rubber did not hold shape; it would be sticky in hot weather and become inflexible in the cold.
This was the situation till 1839 when Charles Goodyear discovered the vulcanization process. Vulcanization is the process of heating rubber with sulfur. This transforms sticky raw rubber to firm pliable material which makes rubber a perfect material for tires.
Before my Goodyear friends raise their shirt-collar let me tell them that the story of Charles Goodyear is a sad one. Although he dedicated his entire life to making rubber a better form, he would never profit from all his work. Charles Goodyear died bankrupt. Forty years later, a rubber company (that is your company) would honor his hard work by using his name for their new tire company.
Solid Rubber Tires
Soon after the discovery of vulcanization, tires were made with solid rubber. These tires were strong, absorbed shocks and resisted cuts and abrasions. Although they were a vast improvement, they were very heavy and did not provide a smooth ride.
Today there are still types of tires made of solid rubber used for forklift etc.
Pneumatic tires came as a part of bicycle development. Let us look in its’ further development.