Today in Transportation History – 1911: A Milestone Patent


Francis H. Holton – from an engraving in The New York Times

Patent No. 1,000,000 was issued by the US Patent and Trademark Office to Francis H. Holton for the invention of a tubeless vehicle tire. Beyond the celebration of the milestone patent number achieved by Holton, the invention was important for other reasons.


It represented the incredible advancement of transportation technology since the first numbered patent had been issued a mere 75 years earlier. Patent No. 1 had, coincidentally, been issued for another type of transportation device – a traction wheel to be used for railroad cars. In fact, nearly 41,000 patents had been issued between the No. 1 and No. 1,000,000 just for railroad applications alone. This was to be expected, as the United States made a huge expansion westward between 1836 and 1911, driven largely by the building of the railroad network for both passengers and freight.

Patent No. 1 – Traction Wheels

Changing times and inventions, namely the automobile and the airplane, meant that the pace of invention accelerated along with the country. The next one million patents took only a little over 20 years. World War II slowed the pace to reach the three million mark by 1955, but four million came along in 21 years, five million in 14, six million in 8, seven million in 6, and eight million in just 5.

Transportation is still driving technological advances today, the self-driving car being just the latest example of innovation connected with the network of mobility that transports goods, services, and people across the nation. The New York Times, in a prescient article published on August 20, 1911, celebrating Holton’s tubeless tire, stated: “Great development is looked for in the art of aviation, and this science alone, in the opinion of the Patent Office, will be productive of hundreds of important inventions. In fact, the official view is that the important patents of the future will be largely concerned with the development and improvement of rapid transit.”

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