Editor Note: Dan is on the Board of Directors with me at The Boyertown Museum Historic Vehicles and does a monthly tech segment on their cable TV show.  Thank goodness he has a liking to our newsletter.  He is already working on his next story.


When your tire goes flat 

By Dan Olsen


I was driving down the road a while ago when my yellow “low tire pressure” light winked on. If I was traveling down the road about ninety years ago with the same problem, the Polo Pneumatic Tire Alarm - made in Clear Lake, South Dakota - would have told me the same thing by advising me “instantly when the pressure fell below a given point, and giving vent to a shrill whistle.” Then I would have gone to my friendly local service station to use their ECO prepayment air station (read that as “coin-operated”). Yes, back in 1919 you might have paid for your air. But this is today and after briefly marveling on what a great innovative item my dashboard light was, I started looking for a place to put air in my tire. A local convenience store and 75 cents took care of that problem.



But let’s go back to the era around 1920 to see what would happen if you needed air to pump up your tire but were not near civilization. The good old’ reliable hand pump was probably the most frequently used. Its single cylinder construction would possibly be good enough, but somewhat difficult to use. The car owner might upgrade to the easier to use dual cylinder or even a triple cylinder hand pumps.








But, if the car owner planned ahead, he would have had an engine-driven tire pump. The Kellogg brand was the most popular back then. In 1914, they boasted that 60,000 of their pumps were “serving their owners faithfully and most satisfactorily.” Available as an after-market product (at $15) or, if your car was a bit above average in prestige, it came equipped from the factory with one of these pumps. In fact, the Chalmers came equipped with one, calling it a “power inflator.” It was driven by a lever-operated sliding gear, which meshed with the transmission. When engaged, a piston would be activated and air would be pumped from the device, through the supplied hose, and into your tire.




Back in 1923, you could have also had a Wissler friction-driven pump. This would be mounted to the running board of your car. When needed, you would jack up the rear of your car, put the car in low gear, and place the wheel of the pump against the rotating wheel of the automobile, again activating the pump. Still seems like plenty of work to me.


A third “powered” pump, and a bit less labor intensive, was the spark plug pump. When needed, you would remove a spark plug and screw this device in its place. With the engine running it would create a two-stage pump for the air that was needed. The Mayo Manufacturing Company of Chicago stated that any other way besides their Mayo Spark Plug Pump would be the hardest job you would ever tackle. They also told you that their pump would inflate the largest tire in from 2 to 4 minutes. Another brand of this type of pump was made by A. Schrader’s Son from Brooklyn. The Schrader name might be familiar because of their fame from the manufacture of valve stems.

Some pretty snazzy stuff from back then, huh? It seems as if motorists had some pretty convenient tire pumping ideas. Are we jealous? We shouldn’t be because, comparing to today, due to better tire construction and roads, we do not get the same amount of flat tires (and the ensuing pumping) that the average driver received all those many decades ago.