Continental has a history of success going all the way back to 1871, when the company was first established in Hanover, Germany. Wherever people strive to turn their ideas of mobility into reality, we’re ready to support them. It's a common thread running through every era of our history; our technologies, systems and service solutions make mobility and transport more sustainable, safer, more convenient, more customized, and more affordable.
There’s quite a lot of ground to cover, so to speak, but here’s a summary of the key phases in more than 145 years of innovation and progress – and a tantalising glimpse into the future.
A major milestone in 1892, when Continental becomes the first German company to manufacture pneumatic tires for bicycles.
The image of a rampant horse first appears on Continental products in 1875 – based on the coat of arms for the city of Hanover – and it’s formally adopted as a company trademark in 1882.
The Continental Caoutchouc & Gutta-Percha Company is founded in Hanover on 8 October 1871, a decade and a half before the first automobile is manufactured. The output from the main factory in Vahrenwalder Street includes rubberized fabrics for raincoats, hot-water bottles, and solid tires for bicycles and carriages.
The choice of Hanover as a place to establish the business wasn’t by chance. At the beginning of the 19th century, the city is a bustling industrial hub with engineering plants, weaving, and textile mills, and even luxury chocolatiers. As far back as 1843, Hanover is already connected to the rest of Germany by a direct railway line.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Continental embraces a transformative change in its manufacturing focus: automobile tires. The company has tremendous success in these endeavors from the very start – and hasn't stopped ever since.
Carbon black is adopted for tire production in 1926, used as a reinforcing filler to give the tire more resistance to wear and aging – and its characteristic color.
In 1921, Continental is the first German company to launch the cord tire on the market. Cord fiber fabric is more pliable, representing a significant upgrade from the stiffer linen square-woven fabric.
It’s not all just about car tires. Pioneer aviator Louis Blériot makes history with the first flight across the English Channel in 1909. Continental Aeroplan material drapes the wings and fuselage of his plane.
Continental invents the detachable rim for sedans in 1908, a remarkable innovation to help save time and effort when changing a tire.
In 1904, Continental presents the world’s first automobile tire with a patterned tread.
On 25 March 1901, the first of Karl Benz’s automobiles to be called Mercedes is fitted with Continental pneumatic tires. It achieves a sensational victory in the Nice-Salon-Nice car race, covering the 414-kilometer distance in 6 hours 45 minutes and 48 seconds. This win proves to be a powerful advertisement and galvanized the development of new tire designs.
Continental begins to mass produce radial tires for the first time in 1960. The company introduces the letter “R” for designation of these tires, which subsequently becomes standard for tire-makers all over the world.
In 1955 Continental is the first German company to begin manufacturing tubeless tires for passenger cars, taking into account automobile manufacturer requirements. These tires are considerably superior in reliability compared to the traditional tires.
In 1952, Continental offers the first tires in Europe specially designed for winter and freezing conditions, М+S (Mud and Snow).
Working closely with Daimler-Benz and Porsche, Continental repeats its pre-war successes on the race track between 1951 and 1955. Drivers like Stirling Moss, Karl Kling, and Juan Manuel Fangio won the French, British, Dutch, and Italian Grand Prix in cars fitted with high-speed Continental tires.
With the end of the war in 1945, the British military government grants permission for the Hanover factories to resume production.
During the war, researchers continue to work on new designs and technologies. One result is the patent for tubeless car tires, granted to the company in 1943.
Between 1935 and 1940, Mercedes and Auto-Union (known as Audi today) cars fitted with Continental racing tires have a formidable streak of racing triumphs. Four consecutive victories in the German Grand Prix, four wins in the North African Tripoli race, three in Italy, plus numerous speed records help racing drivers like Rudolf Caracciola, Berndt von Rosemeyer and Hans Stuck achieve international fame.
Continental during World War II
After the outbreak of World War II in 1939, tire and rubber output is closely regulated to meet military requirements for truck and aircraft tires, and the manufacture of clothing, footwear, and other supplies. Like many industrial operations in Germany at the time, Continental uses forced labor supplied by the so-called “Third Reich”. This shameful episode is deeply regretted and currently being investigated by a historical study which will be published in 2021.
The takeover of the North American tire manufacturer General Tire in 1987 leads to the establishment of a new international subsidiary: Continental Tire North America, Inc.
In 1979, Continental takes over the European tire operations of Uniroyal for a broader base in Europe. Six years later, the tire operations of the Austrian company Semperit are also acquired.
A big innovation is unveiled in 1972, when Continental launches the studless ContiContact winter tire. It represents a significant enhancement in road safety when driving in harsh seasonal conditions.
The demand for tires of various types and different uses grew simultaneously with the dynamic development of world automobile manufacturing. To keep pace with market requirements, Continental created a dedicated testing center. The Contidrom tire testing facility opened in 1967 on the edge of the Lüneburg Heath.
The experimental laboratory “Taraxagum Lab Anklam” is opened in 2018 in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany. The lab conducts groundbreaking research into the cultivation and processing of Russian dandelions as an alternative source of raw material to the rubber tree, a major leap forward in environmentally-friendly tire production.
The ContiLifeCycle rolls out in 2013, addressing the service life of Continental truck tires. Applying a totally unique combination of rubber recycling and truck tire retreading, Continental develops a sustainable solution that extends the service life of tires while considerably lowering costs.
In 2007, Continental acquires Siemens VDO Automotive AG and became one of the top five suppliers in the automotive industry worldwide. Simultaneously, the company boosts its market position in Europe, North America, and Asia.
The ContiSportContact 2 Vmax is unveiled in 2003, the world’s first road tire approved for speeds of up to 360 km/h. Later, Continental is officially recognized by Guinness World Records for selling the fastest road-legal tires in the world.
In 1998, the company reinforces its position as a global tire manufacturer by adding sites in Argentina, Mexico, South Africa, and Slovakia.
In considering the ecological impact of the tire, a new seed is planted in 1991. Continental launches the ContiEcoContact, the world’s first ever sustainable tire, which proves that care for the environment doesn’t need to take a back seat to performance or safety.
Engineers paid particular attention to lowering the rolling resistance and tire wear, so the ContiEcoContact would last far longer and leave significantly less rubber residue on the tarmac (compared to a conventional tire).
Another advantage for the environment – and the driver’s running costs – is that it improves the fuel efficiency of the vehicle. Today, the ContiEcoContact is now in its fifth generation and continues to be ranked best-in-class by independent tests.