This revolutionary pneumatic tyre was donated to the museum by its maker, John Boyd Dunlop, in 1910. But who really invented the pneumatic tyre?

Dunlop tyre fact file

Date

1888

Made in

Edinburgh, Scotland

Made by

John Boyd Dunlop

Made from

Arbroath sailcloth and India rubber

Acquired

Gifted by J.B. Dunlop, Dublin

Museum reference

T.1910.27

On display

Technology by Design, Level 3, National Museum of Scotland

Did you know?

Dunlop tested the tyre by fitting it to the front wheel of his son’s bicycle.

The race for invention

Almost every road vehicle on the planet now uses pneumatic tyres. Development came in two stages, both by Scottish inventors.

The first pneumatic tyre was invented to improve horse-drawn carriages, while the second was developed for the bicycle. Both came at important stages in the development of those vehicles. Pneumatic tyres first appeared on the market in Scotland in 1895, coinciding with the appearance of the first car.

These tyres are icons of the modern world, changing lives across the planet.
- Louise Innes, Principal Curator of Transport

Robert Thomson

Robert Thomson (1822 – 1873) is the rightful inventor of the pneumatic tyre. In 1839 a new process called Vulcanisation added sulphur to rubber to make it pliable but not sticky. Thomson soon saw a use for this material to improve the efficiency and comfort of horse-drawn carriages. Thomson successfully applied for a patent and tests in Hyde Park, London, in 1847 proved the efficiency.

Brougham carriage

Above: This model represents the Brougham carriage used by Thomson to demonstrate his tyres. The Brougham was a new lightweight design by Edinburgh-born Lord Brougham.

John Boyd Dunlop

John Boyd Dunlop 418Px 1

Above: John Boyd Dunlop.

John Boyd Dunlop (1840 – 1922) invented the pneumatic tyre in 1888, unaware that Robert Thomson had already patented a design for a pneumatic tyre in 1846. Dunlop went on to market his design, initially for bicycles but the company that bore his name were soon making tyres for the new motor cars that were emerging in the 1890s.

Dunlop Tyre

Above: Dunlop tyre and wheel, 1888.

Bust of John Dunlop

Above: This bust of John Boyd Dunlop, by Glasgow sculptor Henry Snell Gamley, is also in our collection.

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