If you’ve spent any time traveling here and there on I-94 in Detroit then you’ve probably seen the Uniroyal Giant Tire at least once or twice. If not then you can click the image to the left for a larger version.
Anyway, the Giant Tire was something that always fascinated me on the infrequent occasions I saw it as a child and it’s been there for as long as I can remember. I recall asking someone, possibly my parents, where it came from and being told that it was once a ferris wheel or that it once had a ferris wheel inside of it. I tried to imagine there being a little door people could walk in to ride the ferris wheel inside the tire and thought it was a shame you couldn’t do that any longer. Then I thought it was weird that you’d want to ride a ferris wheel inside a tire as the view would totally suck.
It never occurred to me to use the Internet to look up just what the hell it looked like when it was a ferris wheel until I saw this item on the 1964 NYC Worlds Fair at Boing Boing. The picture included with the article is of the Giant Tire as ferris wheel which you can see in the image on the right (and can again click to embiggen).
And I had that feeling of a paradigm shift in how I see the Giant Tire. The first shift dealt with the fact that the tire is a mere three years older than I am being as I was born in 1967 so, yes, that’s exactly why it would seem to me like it’s always been there because for me it always has.
The other shift was a realization of how silly I’d been for imagining that people went inside the tire to ride a ferris wheel with no view to speak of. It never once crossed my mind that they’d have built it in the manner shown to the right. It was also cool to find the Uniroyal webpage devoted to the history of the tire:
The Uniroyal® Giant Tire was originally created as a Ferris wheel attraction at the 1964/1965 New York World’s Fair. The wheel held 96 fairgoers and was powered by a 100-horsepower motor. More than two million people rode the Giant Tire Ferris wheel during the fair, including Jacqueline Kennedy and her children, John Jr. and Caroline.
After the 1965 World’s Fair festivities ended, the Giant Tire was relocated to a Uniroyal sales office in Allen Park, Michigan, and has towered alongside I-94 near the Metro Airport ever since. Over the decades it has become an important symbol of Uniroyal’s 111-year heritage and a cultural icon for the city of Detroit known the world over.
In 1994, the Giant Tire received a facelift to give it a sleeker, more modern look. Neon lighting and a new hubcap were added.
In August of 1998, the Giant Tire was modified again—this time to resemble a NailGard® tire. A giant nail was placed in the tread to demonstrate the product’s ability to seal 90% of tread punctures up to 3/16” in diameter.
In 2003, Uniroyal invested close to $1 million to renovate the Giant Tire as its contribution to Detroit’s I-94 corridor revitalization effort. The renovation, which included structural repairs and an update to the exterior, will ensure that the Giant Tire is enjoyed for many years to come.
I can remember the upgrades it received over the years. I can also remember seeing that a lot of idiots liked to take potshots at the tire with bows and arrows as there were a number of arrows sticking out of the tire at various points over the years. I recall reading somewhere that some folks opted to shoot at it with guns instead of arrows which would make riding a ferris wheel inside of it a rather more risky undertaking. To this day I’d love to have a chance to see the inside of it even though the ferris wheel that once sat inside is long gone. I found that out from this Detroit News article on the tire and Michigan’s Giant Wood Stove:
The interior’s Ferris wheel assembly went to an amusement park and a new framework of structural steel was built to support the giant attraction. The tire weighs more than 100 tons and took 130 days to rebuild. The tire, described as “the largest ever built,” is designed to withstand hurricane force winds, and certainly blowouts.
In 1990, Michelin Tire bought Uniroyal-Goodrich Tire Co, and in 1994, announced plans to renovate the structure. The tire’s fiberglass cover, washed, painted and updated, emerged with a sporty new look. A company official, Lowell Eckart, Uniroyal brand marketing manager, said: “Updating the giant tire is symbolic of the revitalization that the Uniroyal brand itself is experiencing,” he said. “Given the brand’s prominent position as an original-equipment supplier, it is fitting that the symbol of the brand’s close connection to Detroit be refurbished.”
The Uniroyal plant attracted generations of men and women seeking a better life and a better future. Now only the giant tire remains to bear witness to the working lives of those who sweated and toiled in the riverfront factory that helped build the city of Detroit.
I always get a little thrill from learning the history of things like the Giant Tire. It’s been there my entire life and I never fail to think about it whenever I drive past it, but only after 40 years have I ever been in a spot to learn about it. I’d thought about looking it up any number of times when driving past it, as I did every day for the entire four years that I worked at Ford Motor Company, but by the time I’d get to a computer my ADD would have long since kicked in and made me forget all about it. At least until the next time I saw it. It’s like finding a long missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle that you’ve been meaning to finish finally show up and fall into place.