Prior to 1888 most tires were made of solid rubber, or bare metal with a simple tread. Then one day, a Veterinarian named John Boyd Dunlop wanted to make his son's tricycle ride more comfortable. He made a set of inflatable rubber tires for his son's trike by gluing the edges of rubber together to make a tube. Then he wrapped the tube around the metal tricycle wheel, and filled the tube with air using a pump made for filling soccer balls. John Boyd Dunlop's "inflatable tires" gave birth to the modern automobile tire, and grew into the company that we know today as the Dunlop tire company.
Photo from a book entitled: "Schwinn Bicycles"
written by Jay Pridmore and Jim Hurd
In the Spring of 1933 Arnold, Schwinn & Company introduced the first "balloon tire" made for bicycles. A fat 2.125" inflatable tire. Three years later, the company introduced the "Auto Cycle", the first balloon tire bicycle. The bike featured a 26" wheel with 2.125" "balloon tires", a full floating saddle, and seat post, twin headlights and speedometer.
Image from: Bicycle Trader re: Calistoga Balloon Tire Museum
The Cruiser bikes of the 1930's were sturdy bikes designed for simple transportation. The development of wide "balloon tires" allowed bicycle manufacturers to make safer bikes that could negotiate the rough roads of the time. Large floating saddles provided greater comfort on bumpy terrain, and headlights allowed the bike to be used as transportation even at night. For the first time, everyone... men, women, and children, could ride a bicycle comfortably and safely. The bicycle craze was in full swing.
By the 1950's, the automobile replaced the bicycle as the standard form of transportation. The cruiser bike developed into beautiful motorcycle inspired works of art designed by manufacturers hoping to capture the imagination of young men who longed for a motorized vehicle. Typical features of the 1950 era cruiser bikes included motorcycle style tanks, large chrome headlights, electric horns, and of course, the newly innovated "balloon tires". The bikes were decorated with colorful graphics, and shiny chrome accessories.
Schwinn's Black Phantonm Bicycle 1949- 1959
Photo from Antique Bicycles by Brian Kunzog
The sturdy cruiser bike went on to become the forefather of many of today's bikes; including the modern beach cruiser, the "fat-tire" mountain bike, lowrider bicycles, stretch bicycles (aka limo bicycles), muscle bikes, chopper bicycles and a new category bicycle referred to as comfort bikes.