John Boyd Dunlop was born in Dreghorn, Scotland. After studying at the University of Edinburgh, he became a veterinary surgeon and practiced for ten years at home before moving to Downpatrick, N. Ireland, in 1867 to establish the Downe Veterinary Clinic with his brother James. He later moved to Belfast.

His invention of the bicycle inner tube apparently occurred by chance. In 1888 his small son was prescribed cycling as cure for a heavy cold. W. Edlin & Co gave him a Quadrant tricycle without wheels for his son. Dunlop experimented with the boy’s tricycle by fitting wheels with inflated tubes made of canvas and bonded together with liquid rubber. He patented this idea in 1888, using the word ‘pneumatic’ for the first time, and W. Edlin and Co manufactured frames to fit the new tyre.

The captain of the Belfast Cruisers Cycling Club, Willie Hume, was one of the first to buy a bicycle fitted with pneumatic tyres. On 18th May 1889, Hume won all four events at the Queens College Sports in Belfast, and subsequently all but one of the cycling events at a Liverpool meeting. The tyre attracted much publicity. Bicycle manufacturers were working assiduously to reduce the weight of the recently-invented ‘safety bicycle’ and the pneumatic tyre became a crucial element of its development.

Dunlop’s patent was later declared invalid on the basis of Robert William Thomson’s prior patent. But Thompson’s patent duly expired. In 1890, Charles K. Welch patented his detachable tyre, the rights to which Dunlop promptly bought.

In 1895, Dunlop resigned from the company that bears his name to this day. The company also retained the use of his face as a trademark, which in certain African markets was taken for that of Christ.

John Boyd Dunlop died in Dublin in 1921.


Gormully & Jeffery was the second largest American bicycle manufacturer (after Pope), and G&J Tyres was one of the top 19th century tyre companies. Thomas Jeffery fought both Selden and Pope, and won. (Selden’s ‘road-locomotive’ patent included any use of an engine in a four-wheeled car; see further down the page).


The Dunlop pneumatic tyre was very basic. It was tubular in shape, secured to a bike rim by glue, with air pressure pressing it against the rim. Rims were wooden, and had a concave surface for receiving the tube. These tyres often came off the rims, and a more secure type of tyre was needed. Thomas B. Jeffery had obtained a patent on the first clincher tyre in 1882 (see patent diagram above). He came up with an improved tyre that was held on by a wire that was embedded in the rubber of the tire, and the wire could be tightened onto the rim.

Above and below is an example of a G&J clincher rim that has not been drilled for spokes.





This report of proceedings between Erie Rubber Co and Dunlop gives you an idea of the type of arguments made during patent infringement litigation.


Thompson Aerial patent – V-CC

Dunlop Flexible Bicycle patent –

North British Rubber Co –

Erie Rubber Co v Dunlop –