(Editor's Note: This story is part of our #TireBiz30 in which we feature one archived story every day of September to celebrate Tire Business' 30th anniversary. Each story represents one of the most relevant news story published in our pages for that year.)
AKRON — Coming along as it did, just before the advent of the automotive age, the pneumatic tire joined forces with the automobile to change the very face of society in America and most of the world.
Few inventions have more profoundly affected society than the pneumatic or air-inflated tire-which not only changed the way people traveled, but even today influences where and how we live.
Before 1888, the year the pneumatic tire was developed commercially by John Boyd Dunlop of Belfast, Ireland, railways offered the only means of long-distance travel by land, and the horse furnished most day-to-day transportation.
People seldom left their towns or farms because travel was difficult even for short distances. Vacation travel was a luxury enjoyed only by the rich and leisured. It simply wasn't an option for most working people.
In 1890, Americans traveled an average of only 200 miles a year away from their communities. Today, they average about 4,000 miles a year-3,600 of them by automobile.
Even in Dunlop's native British Isles, where railroads were common long before they were established in North America, many lived out their lives never having glimpsed the sea or the beauty of the English countryside. For those living in that day, the "practical" world usually consisted of the distance they could travel in a day or two by whatever mode of transportation happened to be available.
For most, life's choices were few. Even basic living conditions frequently were dictated by one's place of birth or employment. In rural areas, generation after generation lived and died in sleepy hamlets, where the same few families intermarried, sometimes with unfortunate genetic consequences.
Others, born to cities, often were obliged to live in dingy industrial sections in order to be near the factories where they worked.
There being no suburbs in those days, the "best" neighborhoods frequently were those spared by the prevailing winds, which carried soot and industrial fumes over the homes and yards of the less affluent. Much of this was soon to change, however, with the coming of the "transportation age" in which the air-inflated tire played a necessary role.
The pneumatic tire-first by popularizing the bicycle, and then the automobile-widened the horizons of average people and altered their way of life. Ultimately, society itself was changed.
For the first time, routes were adequately mapped and distances plotted between places which previously held little relevance for a less mobile population.
With widespread use of the automobile came the need for improved roads and sturdier bridges, which created employment for many. Meanwhile, new service industries sprang up around the automobile and tourism. Road signs went up and many cities and towns began to rely on the money brought in by visiting motorists.
Gradually, cities themselves began to sprawl, as an increasing number of residents built homes and sought different life styles in the suburbs.
The revolution in transportation, created by the automobile, meant increased freedom of movement and better living conditions for many. But it also brought sudden growth and unanticipated problems, such as traffic deaths and highway litter, to suburban and rural communities.
Society's very fiber changed: Populations of the industrialized countries in Europe and North America mingled as never before and many former cultural differences were dissolved in the process.
Warfare took on new and more terrible proportions, as the internal combustion engine-in company with the pneumatic tire brought increased military mobility and spread battlelines over hundreds or even thousands of miles.
In the United States, the building of the automobile and its component parts soon became the nation's largest industry.
Meanwhile, with the "auto age" came an appreciation for the importance of speed in transportation and greater impatience with delay.
One result of this collective impatience has been a consumer passion for products and services which conserve time and energy. In recent years, this has brought forth many labor-saving products and services-from instant mashed potatoes and fast food restaurants to one-hour photo developing.
Today, more than 400 million pneumatic tires are produced annually worldwide, along with nearly 47 million new motor vehicles to consume them-and the world's vehicle population is growing at the rate of approximately 1.6 percent.
In the U.S. alone, auto registrations total more than 133 million- amounting to nearly one car for every two people. Accidents claim the lives of nearly 44,000 persons each year, while injuring more than 3 million others. And an estimated one in seven wage earners now derives a livelihood from the automobile and motoring in general.
Pneumatic tires, over the past century', have grown so numerous and impervious to aging their eventual disposal has become a problem of serious proportions in all the industrialized countries.
Taking this all into account, one cannot help but wonder how the pneumatic's two fathers — Robert W. Thomson and John Boyd Dunlop — might regard the results of their mutual invention.