Every day, countless lives are saved and accidents are prevented by car brakes. Making cars safer has been a constant source of concern for the automobile industry, and brakes have been frequently updated over the course of the history of automobiles.
In the early days of the automobile, the standard for brake safety was set by the Oldsmobile, built by Ransom E. Olds. Olds employed a braking system that used a single flexible stainless-steel band, wrapped around a drum on the rear axle. When the brake pedal was applied, the band would contract to grip the drum.
The Oldsmobile’s brake became a standard for many automobile manufacturers, though it was deeply flawed. Dirt easily got into the brake, which had to be fixed every 200 to 300 miles.
European cars helped set establish the next popular type of brakes. They employed a system where discs lined with friction material would slow the wheels down. The noise made from this was silenced by lining the discs with asbestos…a material that would later be the cause of cancer for many individuals.
In 1918, engineer Malcolm Lougheed developed the next major stage of brakes by applying hydraulics to the system. His version used cylinders and tubes to apply fluid pressure against the wheels to slow them down. Lougheed would later change his name to “Lockheed,” and his with brother Allan, would go on to found the famous Lockheed Aircraft Corporation.
Hydraulics did not catch on immediately, but eventually the major manufacturers incorporated them into their designs – Ford was the last to cave in, in 1939.
Other features were soon added to brakes, such as power assist, which uses vacuum boosters to help with braking. They help to increase the decrease it takes to stop a vehicle by applying a push-pull effect that combines vacuum force on one side of the brake’s master cylinder and air pressure on the other side of the cylinder. Another feature that is popular in cars today is computer-assisted antilock brakes.
Antilock brakes were first developed in 1958, but took many years before they became part of mainstream automobiles. The first steps toward modern antilock brakes were taken in the late 1960s, when the Lincoln Continental Mark III was given sensors on the rear wheels that transmitted signals to a transistorized “computer” behind the glove box. The computer controlled a vacuum-operated valve on the rear brake line to modulate pressure to the rear brakes when the sensors told the computer that the brakes were locking. At the time, these were considered too expensive for the marketplace, but over time, as computer technology became more efficient, antilock brakes became a standard part of most automobiles.
Brake technology is still being updated to this day, with computers and higher-quality parts being added to help make brakes stronger and more efficient. Of course, to make sure your brakes work consistently, it’s important to have them checked up on a regular basis…and to make sure that you drive safely, so that you have to use them as little as possible.
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