Brakes Through Automotive History


The majority of wheeled vehicles have brakes of one sort or another. Cars and trucks are examples where a braking system needs to be extremely efficient, to be able to dock high speeds quickly in a safe and controlled manner. As automobiles became faster and more efficient, so did their brakes.



It is generally thought that the main journey to find adequate brakes for motor vehicles began in around 1902 when Ransom E Olds fitted a steel band around a drum on the rear axle to an Oldsmobile. These soon gained popularity but were not well suited to everyday life on the roads, they could not hold the car on slopes, and chocks had to be used to prevent the car rolling down hills! They were also exposed to road dirt and the elements, and needed replacing around every 200 to 300 miles. It was clear that this wasn’t adequate for a lot of motorists. The internal braking system was a great improvement ‘ they lasted a lot longer as they were not exposed to damaging weather or dirt, and the brake shoes could be kept under pressure to prevent rolling on slopes.

Drum brakes were used widely in the United States, but in the United Kingdom and Europe discs were used a lot as well. In fact, by the 1950s the majority of European manufacturers used rotors for braking, but it wasn’t until the early 1970s that American manufacturers followed this trend.

The patent for non-electric brake rotor systems was issued to an English man named F W Lanchester in 1902 (American Elmer Ambrose Sperry had used rotors for braking on an electric car in 1898). As the functional parts were metal, they produced an awful noise when in use. As with other issues, this fault was soon irradiated. In 1907 Herbert Frood introduced asbestos brake pads; they were also beneficial because they lasted much longer than any predecessor. Today, asbestos is no longer used in new components, but it is best to use caution when handling parts, in particular from older vehicles. As cars became faster, brakes were applied to all four wheels.

Malcolm Lougheed (who later changed his name to Lockheed) experimented with the use of hydraulic braking systems in around 1918. In 1921 a four wheel hydraulic braking system was used for the first time on a passenger car ‘ the Duesenberg Model A. Automobile manufacturers were rather slower to introduce hydraulic systems than to implement previous changes to vehicle brakes.

Vehicle braking system technologies continued to advance over the years, and are greatly improved today. There is however, still room for improvement and competing car firms aim to provide extra safety and efficiency through innovative design and through computerization. All the advancements in the automotive industry cannot, however, be seen as substitutes for careful and sensible driving. Road users should always be sure to follow the laws and legislations that apply to a particular road or highway. Drivers need to make sure their vehicles are in good working order to make journeys safer.

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