The company originated in 1889, when Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Co. Ltd was formed in Oriel House in Westland Row, Dublin 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 Crox 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.
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