It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention. While it is true that some absolutely remarkable discoveries have been spawned in man’s quest to create his own personal nirvana, it seems as though humans, as a race in large, are more likely to strike oil while digging a well or installing our own sprinklers than when we are searching for crude. Case in point, one of the greatest inventions in the history of this planet, or any other, is the wheel; round, well-centered, perfect. Man’s pursuit to take the work out of forming simple clay pottery inadvertently developed into the single most important advancement in transportation to date.
In the prosperity-deprived days of the 1930’s, James V. Martin, an avid aviator, inventor and general enthusiast of everything on wheels was hard at work trying to revolutionize the future of transportation in any way he could, especially the automobile industry; with notable advancements to his credit in both 3 and 4-wheel automobiles. Martin, a highly intelligent Harvard graduate who held numerous patents in the development and manufacturing of small aircraft, had already caused quite a stir in the aeronautical community a decade before.
In the mid 1920’s, he filed suit against the US government and the Association of Aeronautical Manufacturers claiming a vast conspiracy to monopolize the entire industry. Since Martin possessed crucial technology patents and controlled valuable intellectual property, he saw such an internal conspiracy as a direct attack on his own profitability and personal success. In support of these claims, evidence was presented that Martin had submitted a prototype for a large bomber to the U.S. Air Service for testing, named the ‘Barling Bomber’. When the craft failed to perform up to the governments standards, the aircraft was promptly destroyed by means of blasting it to pieces with an all-out machine gun assault rather than returning it to Martin with documented testing results- a misfortune that infuriated the inventor and further concreted his suspicions of favoritism.
By the late 1920’s, James Martin had begun to explore ways that the technologies and concepts he had applied in the field of airplanes might translate to a simple and commonplace road car. One of the first applications was the use of rubber para-cords as a means of providing spring tension and shock absorption to a vehicles suspension. The patent declared clearly that the purpose of this invention was to simplify the task of absorbing road vibration using a new and novel combination- one that was far removed from the normal hydraulic shock absorbers of the day. The ‘rubber bands’ could be routinely replaced at normal intervals and at an extremely low cost. This notion was exercised and applied in a micro-car called the 1928 Martin Dart that, by many accounts, was poised to shift the public’s perspective on what new cart ownership would entail. The tiny Dart was projected to be sold largely via mail order, shipped in a crate that would be repurposed as a parking shelter and sold to the American consumer for a measly $200; well below the average selling price of the day. Unfortunately, the Dart never found widespread acceptance as a production car. Despite his revolutionary shock absorber technology not finding much traction in the market, Martin was not about to quit. He just needed to get back to the drawing board and reinvent the wheel.
Martin began using the elasticity, cushioning and compression characteristics of rubber and implementing it into a wheel and tire assembly that would make the conventional pneumatic tire virtually obsolete. An early evolution of this design was found in his “Elastic Tire” in 1931- a name that clearly conveys that Martin was primarily focused on his craft and not so much on the marketing aspects; after all, great ideas usually sell themselves.
Further development of the theory that rubber integrated into a rim assembly could prove to revolutionize the tire industry was displayed in generation after generation of models. The “Aero & Auto Tire” in 1933, followed by the “Safety Tire” in ’38, “Easy Riding Tire” and several other iterations in the years to follow. It was when the newfangled yet officially patented “Martin Tire” was bolted to a trusty WWII-era Willys Jeep that James Martin had his best opportunity to impress the world with his invention. Certainly if the Martin Tire could stand up to the rigors involved in off-road driving, Martins skeptics might become his greatest supporters. The Martin Tire featured a wheel assembly that was 6 pounds lighter than a comparable steel rim and tire assembly and delivering a graduated braking and torque action that proved to be beneficial in unstable terrain. And the way the Martin Tire smoothed out the rough stuff was truly something to behold. The Willys could finally be utilized in a manner closer to its potential. Check it out for yourself! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQ05RbGa0zM
It is pretty clear when watching the video of testing of the Martin Tire that James Vernon Martin was likely onto something. For reasons unknown, the Martin Tire faded slowly into obscurity with the possible benefits it offered never fully realized. Certainly todays push to develop tires that can run despite losing air pressure lends heavily towards similar design concepts that Martin was pioneering. I can’t help but credit him, at least partially, for another current styling trend but I’ll let you be the judge. OlllllllO