In the 1870s, one of the first forays of Pirelli’s rubber company was into the business of making sheathing for phone and electric cables. Electricity and phone, just like rubber, was a new technology that was poised to change the world – and at the time, utility companies were laying cable as fast as they could to expand their new services, and every inch of cable needed a sheath of rubber to insulate it. Pirelli’s business emerged at the right time and grew quickly – in fact, Pirelli’s rubber even made its way to the bottom of the ocean, as Pirelli’s sheaths were wrapped in some of the first trans-Atlantic communication cables that stretched the 4300 km between Europe and North America.
In 1890, Pirelli entered another rapidly growing enterprise – the manufacture of pneumatic bicycle tires, which were replacing the solid rubber rings that served as tires in the years prior. Pirelli’s first tires were for bicycles, where one of their earliest important innovations was a revolutionary manufacturing process that helped tires stay in place on wheels in 1894. But bicycles soon became motorized, and Pirelli expanded into motorcycle tires too, and cars followed soon after, with their first car tire patent being registered in 1900. By the turn of the century, Pirelli, already a huge enterprise in commercial cable manufacturing, had become an international tire manufacturer as well.
In 1908, Pirelli, trying to gain market share in the burgeoning U.S. market, modernized its image with a new logo designed at the New York headquarters, using an elongated “P” that covered all other 6 letters in the name. That recognizable image worked well, and stuck with the brand, having been the company’s logo for over a century and is still in use to this day!
By the 1920’s, Pirelli’s racing heritage began to take shape. In 1924, Pirelli introduced the Superflex tire, a newly-designed low-pressure tire that was lighter and more comfortable to ride on than tires of the day. That tire technology is what helped an Alfa Romeo driven by Gastone Peri to win at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in 1925, becoming world champion. Pirelli made sure the world knew its tires were on the championship car!
In 1938, Pirelli made another leap forward in tire construction – they replaced cotton with rayon in the belts that form a tire’s carcass, which was much more resistant to heat, allowing for lighter, higher performing tires. In the next few years, Pirelli would discover the benefits of synthetic rubber manufacturing too, opening the first synthetic rubber factory in all if Italy in the early 1940s.
But the big revolution – the one that would truly change the way tires were made, for both cars and motorcycles, permanently – was Pirelli’s invention of the radial tire in the early 1950s. First mentioned in a company report in 1952, Pirelli introduced the Cinturato, made with a completely new construction that used cables running across the tire bead to bead to create the carcass instead of layers of heavy cloth plies. The lighter, cooler-running radial tire was an instant hit, and it opened up a whole new world of tire manufacturing techniques that would develop over the next 70 years, for both cars and motorcycles. Click Here…