by Nancy DeWitt (with some help from Willy Vinton)
Yesterday I was admiring this photo of our 1907 White Steam Car taken by Troy Bouffard, and it reminded me of a question we are often asked: why are many of the tires on our oldest automobiles white? Quite simply, the natural color of rubber is white because of the zinc oxide in its composition. It wasn't until 1910 that the Silvertown Tire Company of London (followed by the B.F. Goodrich Company in the U.S.) added carbon black to tires, greatly increasing their durability.
White tires require a lot of care. Each time we drive a white-tired car the tires have to be cleaned before the vehicle goes back on display. Fortunately we have our Adopt-A-Car sponsors and wonderful docents (like Terry at right, who is using a toothbrush to scrub the tread!) to help with this task.
Not surprisingly, the next question often asked is: where do you get replacement white tires for antique cars? There are actually several companies that sell reproduction tires. I imagine we could find vintage tires too, but since we drive most of our cars we prefer less-fragile rubber between us and the pavement.
Perhaps some day I'll write about why the rear tires were larger than the front ones on many old cars and carriages.