John Boyd Dunlop (1840 – 1921) Dreghorn-born inventor of the pneumatic tyre.

John Boyd Dunlop

On the 5th of February John Boyd Dunlop – inventor of the pneumatic tyre – was born in Dreghorn. 

He was the fourth child of six born to John Dunlop and Agnes Boyd. His father is listed as a farmer and then as Innkeeper of the Plough Inn. The 1851 census tells us that John Boyd and his brother James were spending the night with their grandparents John and Jean Boyd at Rosemeadow Cottage, Dreghorn. 

We don’t know much about his early life but when he was 19 years old he qualified as a veterinary surgeon at Edinburgh Veterinary College (now part of Edinburgh University.) He worked as a vet in Edinburgh for the next 10 years before moving to Downpatrick, County Down in Northern Ireland. 

In 1871 he married Margaret Stevenson and they had a son and daughter. He had by now established the Downe Veterinary Clinic with his brother James and they soon had one of the largest practices in Ireland. 

Dunlop was a keen cyclist and it was when he was watching his son struggling to ride his bicycle over uneven ground, that Dunlop realised that the solid rubber tyres were to blame. He believed that, if air could be put between the road surface and the wheel, he would be able to improve the comfort of the ride. 

He experimented by wrapping the wheels of his son’s tricycle in thin sheets of rubber which he then glued together at the edges.  He then inflated them with a pump and thus provided the air needed between the road and the wheel. 

Like many inventions, this idea was not unique to Dunlop.  Robert William Thompson had patented a similar idea back in 1845 but it had not yet been developed.  Thompson objected but his idea was slightly different and so Dunlop was allowed to continue. 

His design for a pneumatic tyre was patented in 1888 and he produced his first pneumatic tyre the following year at his production plant in Belfast.  In 1891 he opened a factory in Birmingham. 

Within a decade the pneumatic tyre had virtually replaced solid rubber.  At the same time, the motor car was being developed and this continued with the development of Dunlop’s invention.  The company expanded to become the Dunlop Tire and Rubber Corporation and the Dunlop Rubber Company Limited. John Boyd never made much money from his invention, however the Dunlop logo is still a world-wide recognisable logo to this day. 

He retired to Dublin and died there on 23rd October 1921. He is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery.  

Dunlop Memorial Hall in Dreghorn’s Main Street is named for him. He also featured on the £10 North Irish Banknote and in 2005 he was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame. The National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh has his first pneumatic tyre as well as a bust of Dunlop.