A Quick Look at the History of Disc Brakes

A Quick Look at the History of Disc Brakes

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Anti-lock braking systems are pretty standard, these days, but did you know that automobiles have gone through a major evolution of sorts?  Of course, it is pretty easy to understand how modern vehicles—and all of their modern CrossDrilledRotors.ca brake parts—are so much more complex than those on the first vehicles.  After all, the first vehicles were developed in the mid-1800s, those vehicles only went about 10 to 20 miles per hour.

Indeed the first brakes—on the earliest vehicles—were known as “spoon” brakes, though they did not use “spoons” to slow momentum.  Spoon brakes involve a lever that the driver must use to engage a block of wood with the wheels.  These types of brakes were common to horse-drawn carriages (because if the carriage uncouples from the bridle you need a way to stop it).

However, when the Michelin brothers first developed the rubber pneumatic tires that became standard on automobiles, in 1890, the wood block concept quickly became obsolete. It turns out the wood block would grind down the rubber.

As such, Elmer Ambrose Sperry developed a new electric car with something called front-wheel disc brakes.  This was in Cleveland in 1898!  The disc brakes were actually built by the Cleveland Machine Screw Co.  These disc brakes use a caliper with brake pads to pinch a rotor/disc in a manner similar to bicycle brakes.

While these were the first evolution of automobile brakes, Frederick William Lanchester was credited with the invention of the first true disc brakes—with a patent—in 1902.  These brakes, however, used copper-lined brake pads against a metal disc and when these engaged it resulted in a horrific screeching sound.  Thankfully, Herbert Food developed asbestos-lined pads roughly five years later, solving this screeching problem. Asbestos-lined brake pads remained popular until the 1980s, when health and safety concerns regarding asbestos pretty much put that material to bed.

Disc brakes were still not very popular through the automotive industry, however, until maybe the 1950s. This is when European carmakers began widespread use of disc brakes in their designs. Then, in 1967, the US Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 105 established a specific set of performance tests which would open the door for disc brakes on American vehicles.

About the author

Jacab Horle