During the late 1920s – just before The Great Depression – those who were fortunate enough to own an automobile preferred the bright highlight of a whitewall tire to contrast against the increasingly gloomy and dark surroundings. Ironically, because blackwall tires required less effort to maintain after curb scuffs due to a greater amount of carbon black, they were in fact considered to be the more premium tire – despite the growing popularity of whitewall tires in the luxury market.
The earliest of these tires – which can be traced back to a small tire company in Chicago called the Vogue Tyre and Rubber Co – were made for horse-drawn carriages as early as 1914. These thin tires eventually made their way onto the automobile and were made from pure natural rubber with several chemical additives to make the tire perform better against the wear and constant heat from rough roads. The most critical of these was zinc oxide – which increased traction but also made the tire completely white. To add durability to the thin tires, carbon black was added – but only to the outer tread where it was needed the most. Eventually, the practicality of carbon black revealed itself and thus, the black made its way further and further down the tire until the entire surface was covered – despite there still being prominent white underneath. Unsurprisingly, common scuffs from curbs, rocks and other road hazards would reveal this inner white layer and, in time, tire makers soon started making more durable all-back tires with what we commonly see today: the raised white letter (RWL) tire.
In this fascinating 16-minute short from The Brunswick Tire Corporation, we get a behind the scenes look at the laborious process of manufacturing these tires by hand in the 1930s – specifically the tedious process of layering the materials, molding the tire and eventually treading the tire before sending it through various inspection tests:
Interestingly enough, the Brunswick Corporation later left the world of automobiles and is now a leading manufacturer of yet another favorite American pastime: recreational products including pool tables and bowling pins.