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GOOD TIRES ARE VITAL for safety and performance. Unless the tires "grip" securely on every road surface - when it is wet, when it is dry, on rough roads and on smooth - the car cannot stop, corner, or even accelerate effectively. Tires must also give a comfortable ride, run easily, and wear well.

They have improved dramatically over the years, and modern "pneumatic" (air-filled) tires usually do this well, as long as they are in good condition. Careful design of the strengthening cords and webbing keeps the tire the right shape, no matter how it is squashed or pulled. The tread (the pattern of grooves) pushes water out of the way and keeps the tire in contact with the road.
Riding on Air
Old but not obsolete
A flat tire once meant a roadside repair.
There was no spare wheel, so the tire had to be levered forcefully off the wheel rim, and the inner tube repaired.
Once cars carried a spare wheel, the wheel could be swapped and the flat repaired later
by a professional.
When early tires went flat, motorists often repaired them by "vulcanizing" with a sulfur mixture.

The first tires were solid rubber. They gave a hard ride, but never punctured and were used on trucks long after cars went pneumatic.
Long used on bicycles, pneumatic tires were first fitted to a car in 1895. They gave a much softer ride and soon replaced solid tires.
Smooth early tires skidded wildly on damp roads. So drivers tried leather wheel covers and different tread patterns.
DUNLOP c 1909
Early pneumatic tires had an inner tube and were narrow. They were also pumped up to high pressure to help keep them on the rim.
Tyre Tread History
Rubber knobs to stop the wheel sliding and spinning on mud roads
Bumps to improve traction a little
Grooves angled in direction of rotation to aid traction on hills
BALLOON Tire c1930
By 1930 cars were using wider "balloon" tyres that ran at much lower pressure than earlier tires and gave a softer, smoother ride.
In the postwar years, strong, broad, airtight wheel rims made an inner tube unnecessary. Now low-pressure, "tubeless" tires are almost universal.
In earlier tires, strengthening cords ran diagonally across the tire ("cross-ply"). Now most cars use "radial-ply" tires with cords running radially out from the wheel's center.
In dry weather, modern racing cars use huge, smooth tires called "slicks" to put as much
rubber as possible in touch with the track for good grip.
Long channels let water flow quickly out from under the middle of the tyre
Side channels allow water near the edges to flow quickly
Little incisions in the tire mop up water like a sponge
Water can accumulate in small ponds before it drains away
Tires have become wider and more squat " low profile" to increase the area of tire in contact with the road for good grip
Slicks get extra grip as the rubber compound gets hot and sticky during the race

Evolution of Tyres

Solid Rubber Tire

Composed of only firm rubber without
the need for air, the solid rubber tire is used mostly
for slow-speed vehicles because of
its poor shock absorption ability.

1888 first tyre
finixx tyre
1920 tyre - tyre tips finixx
Finixx tyre company
1940 tyre - finixx tyre tips
tubeless tyre
radial tyre
radial ply
Run Flat tyre

A CAR WHEEL has a demanding role to play. It needs a good airtight rim to hold the tire in place. It must be strong, too, to bear the car's weight. And it has to be tough to stand up to the forces of braking, acceleration, and road bumps. Above all, though, a car wheel has to be as light as possible, for easy starting and stopping, and to keep the car's "unsprung weight" (p. 55) to a minimum.

To meet these demands, wheels have evolved steadily since the pioneering days, when wheels were big simply to give the car sufficient clearance over rutted roads. The first car wheels were adapted either from horse carts and were very heavy, or they came from bicycles and were weak. The car wheels of today are made from pressed steel or light alloys and are small, light, and strong.
Changing wheels
Carrying a spare wheel in case of a flat was still such a new idea in 1912 that it was a major selling point for wheel and tire manufacturers like Dunlop.
Horse-cart origins are unmistakable in this World War I truck wheel. The spokes are cast iron, but the rim is wooden. The wheel is immensely heavy, but strong enough to carry heavy guns. Wheels like this, and the bolt-on wheel to the right, were called "artillery" wheels.
Bolt-On, Bolt-Off
Flat tires were common in the early days, so the launch of the Sankey wheel in 1910 was a godsend for drivers. It could be unbolted and replaced with a spare in minutes. made of pressed steel, it was strong and light compared with wooden wheels.
For many years, cars used either Sankey-type steel wheels or wire wheels descended from the bicycle. Early wire wheels were very light and the spokes absorbed some road shocks. But the simple radial pattern of spokes meant they were not very strong. On larger wheels the spokes would bend and "whip" at speed.

Detachable wooden  rim pieces, or "felloes"

Cast-iron hub

Iron binding 

Hollow steel pressing
Simple radial spokes prone to "whip"
Five-bolt hub mounting
With spokes crisscrossed for strength, as on this 1913 Argyll (left), "whip" was no longer a problem. In the 1920s and 1930s, strong, light, wire wheels became the Wire wheel norm. Even apparently solid wheels like the 1937 Lagonda's (right) are actually wire covered by an "ace disc." A splined hub made changing a wire wheel easy; the wheel could be slid on and off the hub and held in place with a single "knock-off" nut.
Crisscrossed spokes radiating from the hub take braking and accelerating forces
"Knock-off wheel lock
Wire wheels are costly to make and, since World War II, most mass-produced cars have had pressed-steel disc wheels. These are light, strong, and, above all, cheap to make. The wheel pictured is from a 1949 Morris; modern wheels are very similar.
Long after wire wheels were dropped for cheaper cars, they were used on sports cars for their lightness, strength, and good looks. This is from an early 1960s Jaguar E-type.
In the 1950s, some racing cars had expensive disc wheels made from special alloys. This fits the same Jaguar as the wire wheel on the left, yet is even stronger and lighter.
Tough, ultralight wheels cast from aluminum and magnesium alloys are now widely used, especially for sportier cars, with a broad rim for low-profile performance tires.

Ventilating slots for cooling brakes

Airtight rim to keep tubeless tire inflated

Short, Thick Spokes

Radial holes to cut weight
Split-rim means just outer rim needs to be replaced if damaged
Chrome-plated steel rim

Some photos and texts are copied from http://www.hankooktire.com/global/tires-services/tire-guide/history-of-tires.html