On this day in history : 28th February 1888 – A little boy rides his tricycle in a Belfast street, watched by his father…. On the rear two wheels are a pair of pneumatic tyres….

The little boy’s name was Johnny – and he was the son of John Boyd Dunlop….a veterinary surgeon by profession, having studied at Edinburgh University. But Dunlop was also an inventor – and was used to working with rubber…. In 1867, after moving from Scotland to Ireland, he married Margaret Stevenson and they had two children, a boy and a girl….

John Boyd Dunlop 1840

It was whilst watching his son riding his tricycle on the cobbled street that Dunlop noticed the child looked uncomfortable and the tricycle could not move very fast on its solid rubber tyres….

He took the two rear wheels of the tricycle and wrapped them in thin layers of rubber…. He then inflated them with a football pump, using the top of a baby’s feed bottle as a valve…. He had formed the basis of the pneumatic tyre….

Dunlop first pneumatic bicycle tyre – National Museum of Scotland. Geni via Wikimedia GFDL CC BY-SA

So successful were these new tyres on Johnny’s tricycle that Dunlop began to have them commercially made…. Within a year a previously unknown cyclist began to win every race he entered by using the tyres on his bicycle…. Dunlop immediately patented his design….

In 1889, along with several other Dublin businessmen, he set up the Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Company…. A year later a factory was opened to make bicycle tyres and they were soon even exporting to Australia – followed by the USA in 1890….


In 1893 a factory was opened in Hanau, Germany and another in Australia…. The business was expanding rapidly and the tyres were selling all over the World…. To keep up with demand, in 1898 the operation was moved to bigger premises in Coventry. Then, in 1902, it relocated to a purpose build modern factory and offices – a huge site of more than 160 hectares, at Erdington near Birmingham…. It became known as Fort Dunlop….

By 1900 the company had started producing car tyres….

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