Tires are one of the most common items in landfills today – more than 27 million are thrown away in landfills each year in the United States, but this is only the tip of the iceberg with a staggering 290 million tires disposed of each year in the country. Tires are vital for our lives as the world would literally grind to a halt without them and it is not simply cars and trucks which would stop, but how many commercial airliners would be able to land without rubber tires beneath them on the runway! Just don’t ask me how to change a flat tire.
Here are 7 facts about tires:
Vulcanized rubber was invented by Charles Goodyear way back in 1844 and this was used to make tires later on. John Dunlop invented air filled, or pneumatic tires in 1888 for bicycles, though his patent was later overturned in favor of another inventor, Robert Thompson. However it was Andre Michelin in 1895 who first tried to use them on cars (without success).
The first successful car tire was invented by Philip Strauss in 1911 and sold through his company, the Hardman Tire & Rubber Company.
Tires have been around for a lot longer than cars and bicycles, in fact the earliest efforts to use rubber tires grew from the perceived need to improve the original tires which were made from bands of iron and in later years, made from steel. John Dunlop experimented with rubber tires for his son’s bicycle because riding on the metal tires caused him to have headaches, and remember this was in the time before any ideas about spring suspension had occurred.
The word originally came from the concept of the outer metal ring being used to “tie” the wheel together, and from this emerged the word, “tire”. For some time the British used a variation on the spelling to differentiate a “tyre” from the verb, to tire but the US spelling has always been “tire” and today, our British cousins are finally starting to follow suit.
Tyre is also the name of an ancient city in what is present-day Lebanon and it still exists today but it has nothing to do with rubber wheels.
The answer is “yes and no”, because while tires use a lot of water and energy in their production, they also utilize a lot of oil byproducts in their manufacture. We’ve also noted that a lot of tires end up in landfills, but the vast majority of tires are actually recycled – more than 75% in fact. The ecological mantra is to Reduce – Reuse – Recycle, and tires are perfectly capable of being reused and recycled again and again, so in relative terms tires are not as polluting as you might think. So just be diligent to make sure your tires don’t become part of the 25% of the tires in a landfill.
While your vehicle is stationery, you may not think much about your tires but in fact they are probably the most important aspect of the whole machine. Without tires being able to withstand the extremes of heat and pressure when in use, modern cars and trucks simply could not perform and handle as well as they do.
Tires actually change their shape when they are in use because of the effect of centrifugal force. As the tire spins, the outer part of the tire is constantly being “thrown away” from the axle center which causes the tire to become narrower and the diameter to increase. This effect can be so great that the tire will actually rub against the vehicle body and this leads to excessive wear and tear as well as the more catastrophic blowout.
The world’s largest tire is an automobile tire built as a Uniroyal promotional icon and was used as a Ferris wheel for some time too. It is 80 feet tall and weighs in at 12 tons and was built for the 1964/65 New York World Fair though it’s current home is in Detroit – Motor Town.
While inflating your vehicle tires at the local garage means you will use pumped air, there are tire applications where air cannot be used due to the performance issues. Aircraft requires specialist tires to allow for short duration but excessively high-impact use, particularly when a plane comes in to land and the weight of the aircraft impacts the runway.
During flight, the external pressure and temperature changes would cause tires to burst if they were filled with air, and the answer is to use nitrogen or helium to minimize the pressure differential between the high altitude and the compressed gas inside the tire.