From Tyres to Tennis – A Brief History of Dunlop26 Jul 2018
For the motoring enthusiast, the name Dunlop has long been associated with motor car tyres. It is a brand that stands out in motoring history for its “track to road” principles, recognised worldwide for manufacturing high and ultra high-performance tyre brands. If you are a tennis fan, on the other hand, you may be equally familiar with the Dunlop brand in an altogether different context, after all the brand has had a long-standing relationship with Wimbledon and many of the tennis legends who have had the privilege of playing on its hallowed lawns. In this article, we take a closer look at the legendary brand that is Dunlop.
Although today Dunlop is a genuinely multinational family of companies, the story of the original Dunlop Rubber Company starts a lot closer to home – in Upper Stephens Street, Dublin, to be precise. It was launched In 1889 by Harvey du Cros, and he involved John Boyd Dunlop who had (re-) invented and developed the first pneumatic tyre.
Under du Cros and later Eric Geddes, the company grew to become one of the largest British industrial companies and then one of the first multinationals. Despite Dunlop as a brand being a household name for over a century, J B Dunlop had actually left the company before his name was ever used. Visitors to Dublin can find a plaque marking the original site, which is now part of the head office of the Irish multinational department store brand, Dunnes Stores.
Just like one of their biggest rivals, Michelin, the Dunlop company’s first ventures were in pneumatic bicycle tyres. John Boyd Dunlop, a Scottish veterinary surgeon, living in Ireland had discovered the pneumatic tyre principle In 1888, while du Cros was, among other things, president of the Irish Cyclists’ Association. Ironically enough, Dunlop did not see any financial future in joining forces!
After focusing their attention on bicycle tyres for the first decade or their existence, Dunlop’s owners diversified to manufacturing car tyres in 1900, initially hoping to compete with Michelin. In the same period, the brand also expanded to create the first aeroplane tyre and golf ball. The car tyre war with Michelin was to prove costly, and with mounting losses the first change in the brand’s ownership took place. The brand would continue to switch owners for much of the next century.
Time for tennis
It was in 1924 that the Dunlop company began manufacturing tennis balls. The following year, they acquired tennis racquet manufacturer F A Davies, allowing them to establish themselves as a recognised brand on the tennis scene, helping to cement their position as a household name. During this time, the company unsuccessfully attempted to acquire Slazenger, who had made the official Wimbledon tennis balls since 1902. Dunlop also put their name to the annual Lawn Tennis Almanac from 1939 – 1958.
Dunlop soon developed the Maxply Fort tennis racquet, which proved to be one of the most popular racquets ever. Debuting in 1931, the racquet was used by a range of pros including Rod Laver, who was said to customize his Dunlops to reach the exact head weight he sought.
In 1959, the Slazenger brand was sold to the Dunlop group of companies, beginning a Dunlop-Slazenger partnership that exists to today (the brands were only truly merged in 1996 with the creation of Dunlop Slazenger). In 1980, Dunlop and Slazenger together created the Max 200G, one of the first graphite tennis racquets, used by legends including Steffi Graf and John McEnroe.
While Dunlop as a brand has survived the test of time, numerous changes in the corporate structure and ownership of different divisions mean that different parts of the company are now owned by various stakeholders. In 1999, Goodyear obtained the Dunlop tyre assets in Europe and the US, while Sumitomo RI of Japan continued to sell Dunlop tyres in other countries.
Despite the brand’s rocky ride over recent decades, Dunlop remains one of the most trusted and reliable brands on the market and continues to be the first choice for motorists around the world.
For a range of Dunlop tyres, contact Tyreland in Dublin today on 01 860 20 20. An official Dunlop distributor with over sixteen years on the market, we’ll find and fit the best tyres for your vehicle at the lowest possible prices, and you’ll be sure to enjoy our exceptional customer service too. Call now to find your nearest location.