1904: Thanks to This Inventor, Driving in Snow and Ice Became Safer

August 23, 1904

Harry D. Weed of Canastota, New York, was issued U.S. Patent Number 768,495 for his “Grip-Tread for Pneumatic Tires,” an innovation designed to help make driving safer in inclement winter weather or similarly adverse muddy road conditions. According to one of his great-grandsons, Weed came up with the idea for creating tire chains after seeing drivers wrap ropes and in some cases even vines around tires to increase traction on muddy, snowy, or icy roads.

U.S. Patent 768,495 for the Grip-Tread for Pneumatic Tires

Weed, who was working at the time for a Canastota-based machine shop that made such products as automobile engines, sought to develop a non-skid traction device that would be more durable in harsh driving conditions. He explained that his invention was meant to “provide a flexible and collapsible grip or tread composed entirely of chains linked together and applied to the sides and periphery of the tire and held in place solely by the inflation of the tire, and which is reversible.” The tire chain was wrapped around a partially deflated tire that could then be refilled with air after the hooks on either end of the tire chain were fastened.

In the same year in which he received his patent for the world’s first tire chain, Weed established his own company to manufacture and sell the product. Over the next several years, the Weed Chain Tire Grip Company thrived as its tire chains steadily grew in popularity.

To further promote the product and its effectiveness, Weed and his company challenged the legendary stunt performer and escape artist Harry Houdini to be bound in tire chains and try to free himself from those constraints. Houdini accepted the challenge and, during a show at the Hammerstein’s Victoria Theatre in New York City in 1908, he was bound in tire chains that were both looped and locked and then fastened to two steel-rimmed tires. After a great deal of effort, Houdini managed to escape from the tire chains.

In 1912, Weed sold both his patent and company to the American Chain and Cable Company in Detroit. He died in 1961 at the age of 89.

For more information on Harry D. Weed’s invention of the tire chain, please check out https://www.suiter.com/patent-of-the-day-grip-tread-for-pneumatic-tires/ and https://www.syracuse.com/neighbors/2011/10/harry_d_weed_inventor_developed_the_first_tire_chains.html.

Additional information on U.S. Patent 768,495 for the Grip-Tread for Pneumatic Tires is available at https://patentimages.storage.googleapis.com/7a/32/0b/fbbfec3b07069a/US768495.pdf.

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