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Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering


Rubber Tractor Tires

Ohio Engineering Research and Development Helped “Put the Farm on Rubber”

In the early 1930s, the clanging of more than one million steel-wheeled tractors could be heard across the nation.  Pounding and vibrations from the steel-wheeled tractors left operators in the driver’s seats sore and worn out at the end of the day.

Early engineering attempts to use airplane tires on truck rims as a replacement for the steel wheels failed.  This was due to the high torque created by the tractor which caused tire slippage on the rim.  In the early 1930s several Ohio-based companies; such as Goodyear, Goodrich, Firestone, and Timken; were all working towards effective rubbers tires for agriculture.  Efforts by the Firestone Company of Akron, led by Harvey Firestone and his son Leonard, led to the development of a whole new tire and wheel.  In the spring of 1932, the Firestones combined the balloon tire principle of low pressure with wide surface area and added a chevron tread design to produce a successful rubber tractor tire.

At a meeting of the American Society of Agricultural Engineers (ASAE) in the Fall of 1932, Professor G.W. McCuen of the Ohio State University became the first Agricultural Engineer to report research data comparing the new Firestone rubber tires to conventional steel wheels.  Departmental research found rubber tires had:

  • Greater fuel efficiency
  • Greater drawbar pull
  • Higher operating speeds
  • More operator comfort

His presentation was met with great skepticism by tractor manufacturers.  In 1933, the Agricultural Engineering Journal published “Ohio Tests of Rubbers Tractor Tires,” by G.W. McCuen. In 1935, the Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station published Bulletin 556, “Rubber-Tired Equipment for Farm Machinery” by G.W. McCuen and E.A. Silver.

By 1937, a two-year campaign primarily by the Firestone Company resulted in rubber tires on 42% of all new tractors sold in the U.S.  By 1939, this number had increased to 85%.

In 1996, ASAE recognized the development of rubber tires for farm tractors as a Historic Landmark of Agricultural Engineering.  The Department of Food, Agricultural, and Biological Engineering at The Ohio State University is proud to have played an active role in the landmark achievement.

Today, FABE Professors Katrina Cornish, Fred Michel and Ajay Shah continue to conduct research on rubber. They are developing natural rubber producing crops and processes to reduce the near complete dependence of Ohio and the US on imported natural rubber.