We’re just back from the Isle of Man, where the name Dunlop has a particular significance but in this post I want to talk about a different – and in a way even more widely known – Mr Dunlop from Ireland.
I refer to John Boyd Dunlop, the man who gave his name to the Dunlop tyre, Wikipedia will tell you how Scots born JB invented the pneumatic tyre only, regrettably, to discover that he was not the first to do so. Nonetheless he managed to go into production and sold his share in the company to cycle pioneer Harvey Du Cros who made the business, still carrying JB’s name, into a success that continues to this day, making ‘Dunlop’ a household name all over the world.
But there’s a funny twist in this, a more human story, that comes to us via the ancient, yellowed pages of The Motor Cycle and Cycle Trader magazine.
The Dunlop company was a core advertiser for the Trader, taking over the front cover space throughout 1919, ’20 and ’21. They were a big company – with a net profit for 1919 of £1,368,432 they could afford to advertise – and they didn’t stand any nonsense either. In the years just after the Kaiser War there was a great obsession in the trade with ‘The Dabbler’. He might be a postman or grocer; anyone not officially in the Trade, who had managed to gain a trade account by some devious means – such as having his own bogus letter headings printed – and was doing a few repairs or selling parts on the side. Times were hard and the Trade could do without such underhand competition. Discount prices were for the Trade only and Dunlop were not afraid to take up arms against transgressors at times, using their full page cover advert to name and shame anyone caught selling their products below retail price.
So that’s Mr Hall told; it’s not the ten shillings, you know…it’s the humiliation. And there was more; on the 27th of February for example, not only had Mr J Trumble of Leyton High Road ‘sold a cycle tyre below the proper price therefor in breach of his agreement’ with the Dunlop Co. so too had Mrs Mary Brown of 66, Woodhouse Street, Portadown. Two for the price of one advert! Nobody was safe, regardless of location, gender or excuses.
But let’s look on the bright side, when there was nobody to put into the stocks on the village green, Dunlop adverts showed the avuncular figure of jolly old Mr Dunlop in his frock coat dispensing sage advice to cyclist and motorcyclist alike…
But it’s here than the Dunlop Tyre Company ran into legal bother themselves and as a result the cover of the March 5th issue was a little different, bizarrely so, in fact…
This time we see a couple of youngbloods discussing rubber and the caption seems a rather clumsy explanation for why the familiar frock coated figure – at least with his back to us, we assume it is he – is now stuck like Nelson on top of a column apparently either contemplating suicide or about to throw a frisbee.
Even at a glance this is a particulary odd picture, but more lies within…
You see, in reality John Boyd Dunlop was still alive and busy in business in Belfast and he was not a particularly happy about being made to look foolish by Dunlops’ artist caricaturing him in ‘absurd costume’. His action against the mighty Dunlop company seems to have encouraged them to tone down their adverts and provoke him no further; after all it would have been hard to deny that JB’s claim was correct and he was the subject of the cartoon. .
What happened next I don’t know, there’s no further reference I can find so presumably the matter was resolved out of court. John Dunlop died in October the following year, aged 81 – from a chill, so we can’t really blame the litigation process but it struck me how funny it is that you overlook the fact that a household name is sometimes actually a real person; I mean was Colonel Saunders really the epitome of a Southern gent?
Was Ronald McDonald a clown?
Well, okay maybe that’s taking it too far but on a similar note I’ve occasionally had the privilege of talking to relatives of long deceased riders or manufacturers who knew little of their achievements. To me, their ancestors were very famous, even though they died long before I was born. The internet has made this situation more frequent than before and it must be very weird to discover when researching your family history that there are complete strangers all over the world who know far more about your ancestors than you do.
Next time the M6 takes you past the Fort Dunlop complex, spare a thought for JB – just don’t mention the penguin suit…