Gun Trivia: Why Is A Tire Called A Tire?

    A collection of cannons and howitzers, Institute of Military Technology collection

    Here’s a bit of trivia fun for you.

    Question: Why is a “tire” (as in a car or bicycle) called a “tire”?

    Answer: If we look at old wagon wheels or a Gatling gun carriage, we see the central wood hub, the spokes, and a metal band around the outside. In fact, that metal band was originally made oversized by the blacksmith (or wheelwright) and as it cooled it would shrink to tie all the spokes into the hub. Get it? It’s a tie-er. A tire is (derived from) a verb.

    57-inch Civil War cannon wheel by


    At least, that’s the story I heard. Since this is the esteemed The Firearm Blog I suppose I can do a little better than that. Here are a few sources I scrounged up as supporting evidence.

    • In 1907 inventor Stephen H. Garst filed a patent for a “Vehicle-wheel“. In it he describes generally “the process … of completing the Wood Wheel … is to first put the spokes in the hub, and then connect the rim … to the spokes and finally shrink the metallic tire onto the rim”. Though this was the earliest relevant patent I could find, I found another dated 1825 that states “two wheels … are constructed in the usual manner with hubs, spokes, fellie‘s, and tire like the wheels of a common cart“.
    • In Hiram Maxim’s autobiography My Life (1915), Maxim writes, “Wishing to make a wheeled carriage for my gun, I ordered from the importers some very strong, but light, American wheels with hickory spokes. Instead of delivering the wheels they asked me to specify the kind of tyres that I wished to have shrunk on to them.” (I recently discovered that My Life is available online for free here, and I’ve found it to be a lot of fun to read.)
    • Lastly, the above image was found on the excellent website of Hansenwheel.comAccording to their wheel repair page, the method described in the trivia is called “hot setting”.

    Indeed, a search of the term “hot setting” reveals videos like the one below from a real wheelwright, describing the process in detail:


    To be fair, an etymological counterargument could link “tire” to the earlier verb “attire” (to adorn). Perhaps a tie (shrunk tightly around the neck) and attire could lead to further discussion. Until then, I hoped you enjoyed today’s trivia.

    A grammatical error has been corrected from a previous version of this post. – CRW

    Corey R. Wardrop

    Corey R. Wardrop is the Museum Curator for the Institute of Military Technology in Titusville, Florida where he manages one of the finest, if not the finest, firearms collections in the country. Corey is a former OIF infantry Marine and has worked professionally in the firearms industry for over 20 years. In 2014 he obtained an unrelated Bachelor of Science degree from one of the nation’s leading diploma mills. Through his work at IMT he is currently studying CAD design with an emphasis in reverse engineering rare firearms.
    Corey asks forgiveness for his novice-level photographs and insists they are improving dramatically thanks to certified rockstar Corey can be reached at [email protected] and always appreciates suggestions for future articles.
    For the record, Corey felt incredibly strange writing this bio in the third person.