Dunlop Rubber was a company based in the United Kingdom which manufactured tyres and other rubber products for most of the 20th century. It was acquired by BTR plc in 1985. Since then, ownership of the Dunlop trade-names has been fragmented.
The company originated in 1889, when Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Co. Ltd was formed in Oriel House in Dublin in Westland Row, to acquire and commercialise John Boyd Dunlop's patent for pneumatic tyres for bicycles. This was the period of great demand for bicycles, and Willie Hume had created a publicity storm by winning seven out of the first eight races in which the pneumatic tyre was ever used, both in Ireland and England.  Commercial production began in late 1890 in Belfast, and quickly expanded to fulfill consumer demand. After losing a patent battle to the assignees of an earlier pneumatic tyre patent filed by inventor Robert William Thomson, Dunlop assigned his patent to William Harvey Du Cros in return for 1,500 shares in the resultant company, and in the end did not make any great fortune by his invention.
In the early 1890s Dunlop Tyre established divisions in Europe and North America. In 1893 a branch office and factory was established in Australia, in Melbourne. In 1896 the company registered a trademark and incorporated a subsidiary in England.
Although the pneumatic tyre was successful, Dunlop had financial difficulties, and had to sell its overseas operations. A significant disposal was the sale of the Australian division in 1899 to a Canadian consortium, which incorporated it as the Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Company of Australasia Ltd. Since then, Dunlop Australia has not been associated with the parent company, except for a 25% share of Dunlop Australia owned by the British company from 1927 to 1984. As a result, the right to the Dunlop brands in Australia and New Zealand have had different ownership from those in the remainder of the world.
Initially the company subcontracted manufacture, but by 1902 it had its own manufacturing subsidiary, Dunlop Rubber Co. Ltd, in Birmingham, England.
In 1900 the company started production of tyres for motorcars. The company continued its expansion, and in 1918 production started at a new plant in Birmingham, known commonly as "Fort Dunlop" because of the fortress-like appearance of the main building. By 1920 the company had selling subsidiaries or divisions in South Africa, South America, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Spain and India, manufacturing operations in France, Japan and the USA, and rubber plantations in Malaya and Ceylon.
In the 1920s, competition from foreign companies in the UK tyre market intensified, and Dunlop diversified. In 1925 Dunlop acquired the Charles Mackintosh group, and the Dunlop name was applied to footwear and clothing.
In 1925 a separate Aerospace Division was formed to cater to the growing aircraft industry's demand for tyres and rubber products.
In 1929 the company discovered the use of latex foam for mattresses, which was then marketed with the trade-name Dunlopillo. During the 1930s other products involving the use of latex were added to the company's range, including golf balls and tennis racquets.
In 1943, the Admiralty Experimental Diving Unit was tasked to develop a suit for divers. Dunlop Rubber produced the Admiralty Underwater Swim Suit Mark I and swim fins. They also designed an oxygen rebreather.
After the war, the UK tyre market was a sellers' market. By 1955 Dunlop had almost half of the market. A report by the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices Commission in that year found that Dunlop and the four other main sellers in the UK market (Goodyear, Avon, Firestone and Michelin) companies had arrangements which resulted in fixed prices. These arrangements had to change, and Dunlop's market share decreased.
A further factor in Dunlop's decline was the decision during the early 1960s to develop textile radial tyres rather than the more durable steel-belted radial tyres. Dunlop lost market share to the Michelin company and other manufacturers marketing steel-belted tyres.
In 1968 Dunlop acquired George Angus Ltd, a manufacturer of a wide range of products based on rubber, from rubber boots to O-rings and fire hoses; Samuel Jones provided fire extinguishers under sub-contract.
In 1971 Dunlop merged with Pirelli company of Italy to form the world's third largest tyre company. The merger was not a takeover by either company, but a joint venture arrangement where each company took minority interests in the other's subsidiaries. The merger was not successful, and the joint venture was dissolved in 1981.
In the 1970s, Dunlop Rubber pioneered the world's first 'fail safe' tyres, permitting a vehicle to continue moving safely even after a blowout. The tyre and wheel combination was called Denovo and was available as an option on the Rover 3500 and the Mini 1275 GT in 1973. It evolved into the TD in the early 1980s when it became standard equipment on the Austin Metro by 1983.
Takeover and breakup
By the early 1980s Dunlop was much indebted and had severe financial difficulties. In 1984 it sold the US tyre subsidiary, Dunlop Tire Corporation, to its management, and sold its interest in Dunlop India to the Jumbo Group of Dubai. Then in 1985 the company was acquired by BTR plc. The road tyre assets, including the right to use the Dunlop name for road tyres, were sold immediately to Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd of Japan (which had grown out of Dunlop's original Japanese factory).
During the 1990s BTR sold the various Dunlop companies:
- In 1996 the Dunlop Sports group, Dunlop Slazenger, was sold to its management, backed by CINVen. Since 2004 it has been owned by Sports Direct.
- In 1996 the Dunlop Footwear business was sold to the Dutch company Hevea.
- In 1996 Dunlop Adhesives was sold to Norcros plc, who in 2001 sold it to Ardex GmbH.
- In 1996 Dunlop Kenya was sold to local Kenyan interests. Dunlop Industries Ltd, a manufacturer of PVC floor tiles, is now a subsidiary of the Kenyan company Olympic Capital Holdings.
- In 1996 Dunlop Aircraft Tyres Ltd was sold to form a separate independent company.
- In 1997 the Dunlopillo company was sold to its management as Dunlop Latex Foam Ltd. In 2002 the Dunlopillo brand was itself divided, when the UK rights to the brand were sold to Hilding Anders.
- In 1998 BTR sold its Aerospace Group, including Dunlop Equipment and Dunlop Precision Rubber, to Doughty Hanson & Co to form Dunlop Standard Aerospace Group. The new group was itself dissolved in 2004, and the Dunlop Aerospace companies were acquired by Meggitt plc. Meggitt has inherited the original English company, now named Dunlop Holdings Ltd, incorporated in 1896.
- In 1998 BTR sold its share of the South African subsidiary, Dunlop Africa Ltd, which was itself divided in 2001. The industrial products division was sold to become Dunlop Industrial Products and Dunlop Rubber Mouldings. The tyre business, Dunlop Tyres International, was bought by Apollo Tyres of India in 2006. Dunlop Tyres International owned rights to various Dunlop brands in a number of countries outside South Africa, and these rights were sold to Sports Direct in 2006.
Dunlop Tyres since 1985
Sumitomo Rubber Industries sold tyres for road vehicles with the Dunlop brand from 1985 to 1999. In 1999 Sumitomo RI and Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company of the US formed a joint venture. Goodyear obtained the Dunlop tyre assets in Europe and the US, and Sumitomo RI continued to sell Dunlop tyres in other countries.
The Dunlop Tyres company in South Africa was acquired by the Indian company Apollo Tyres. In December 2013 Apollo Tyres sold part of its South African operations to Sumitomo RI for $60 million (Rs 333 crore) including the Ladysmith passenger car tyre plant. Apollo Tyres has retained its Durban plant, which manufactures truck & bus radial (TBR) tyres and off-highway tyres used in the mining and construction industries. Sumitomo RI also acquired ownership rights for the Dunlop brand in 32 African markets.
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- Hevea website
- Olympic Capital website
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- Dunlop Aerospace Braking Systems website
- Dunlop Rubber Mouldings website
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