Originally, tires were off-white in color, due to the color of the natural rubber formula. Tire manufacturers then added zinc oxide to the formula, which gave the tires a brighter white appearance. White tires were not a status symbol or aesthetic feature—it was just how the tires were produced. The tires would quickly turn to a beige color as they traversed the dirt roads of yesteryear.
It wasn’t until 1910 that B.F. Goodrich started adding carbon black to its tires, as this ingredient added strength and durability to the rubber. Soon, most new cars rolled out of the factory on black tires, as this updated chemistry resulted in a stronger tire.
Since adding carbon black to the rubber was an additional production cost, some tire companies added it only to the tread surface. This resulted in the first tire with a white sidewall quite by accident. The whitewall would later be refined, and it eventually transitioned to a strip of white rubber being added to the tire’s all-black carcass during the manufacturing process.
Though the whitewall tire was not originally a fashion statement, this look caught on quickly, and became an affordable upgrade to most passenger cars. Starting in the 1930's most new car buyers could elect to spend a few extra bucks and have their car equipped with wide whitewalls, and this appearance package was popular for quite some time.