Back in the early days of the automobile, Firestone sold tires that were marketed as “Gum-Dipped.” They were touted as the best tires you could buy, and were available for everything from everyday cars to motorcycles and even tractors. Firestone claimed that these tires offered “the most miles per dollar” and marketed them to families and farm workers alike. They even said that their Gum-Dipped tires could save your life.
But what exactly were Gum-Dipped Tires, and why were they such a big deal?
Essentially, Gum-Dipped refers to the tire’s production process. Firestone workers would take the cotton fibers that made up the backbone of the tire and individually dip them into pure liquid rubber gum. According to Firestone, this made the fibers stronger and the tires less likely to suffer a blowout. (This was a serious issue in the early days of the American automobile, when paved roads were rare.) Firestone also bragged of “thousands of testimonies” that the tires could deliver between 15,000 and 35,000 miles of driving before a new set was needed. That may not sound like a long for today’s tires, but it was quite impressive back in the day. The process of dipping the fibers in rubber gum also apparently helped protect the tire from ozone degradation.
Gum-Dipped tires also offered performance benefits. Because the tires were more rigid, they offered increased lateral traction, and according to Firestone, they allowed people to brake 25% faster. For these reasons, combined with their stated reliability and long life, Gum-Dipped tires were standard for many of the early American racing series like the Indianapolis 500, hill climbs, and endurance races. Racers loved that they didn’t have to pit as often to change their tires, allowing them to keep driving.
By all accounts, Gum-Dipped tires worked. It was a true advancement for tire technology, and Firestone reaped the benefits until 1946, when Michelin developed their radial tire design that was even more durable and economical. While it did take the United States quite a long time to come around to the radial, the radial tire is now the standard for all cars on the road, and the Gum-Dipped tire has become a historical novelty.