The Bearing Story – History and the First Industrial Revolution

The Bearing Story – History and the First Industrial Revolution

A bearing is a component used in machine that facilitates motion and reduces friction in the moving parts.  It is designed to provide free linear movement or rotation around a fixed axis.

The classification of a bearing depends on the type of operation, the required motion and the applied force.

The most simple classification is a plain bearing, that consists of a shaft rotating in a hole and, the most commonly known bearing is a ball bearing that makes use of balls in between the rings to allow smooth movement at a defined pace. 

Likewise, in a roller bearing the elements used are  cylindrical, taper or spherical rollers.

Going back on History

The invention of a rolling bearing goes back centuries.  The first form being wooden rollers supporting an object for movement, better known as the Wheel.

40BC : A wooden ball bearing supporting a rotating table.  This was recovered from the wrecks of the Roman Nemi ships in Lake Nemi, Italy.

Year 1500 : The design and blue print drawings of a helicopter by Leonardo da Vinci incorporated balls bearings.  This being the first recorded use of bearings in an aerospace design.

17th Century : Galileo first described the captured or caged ball bearing.

Mid-1740 : First caged-roller bearing was invented by John Harrison for H3 marine timekeeping.  Although it had a limited oscillating motion, he also used the same bearing in a comtemporary regulatory clock.

The Industrial Revolution

Bearings have been an integral part of the

Bearings have been an important integral part of the 1st Industrial Revolution, its role being to allow the machinery to operate efficiently. 

The first plain and rolling element bearings were made of wood followed by bronze. 

Over its history bearings have been made of various materials viz. ceramic, sapphire, glass, steel etc as well as plastics which are widely used today.

The sapphire plain bearing was mainly used by watchmakers who produced jeweled watches.  It allowed reduced friction this being more precise in time keeping.

The wooden bearings although not very commonly seen, are still used in old clocks and water mills.

1974 : The first modern recorded patent on ball bearings was awarded to a British inventor and ironmaster, Philip Vaughan.  His modern design incorporated a ball running along a groove in an axle assembly

1869 : The first patent for radial ball bearing was awarded to a Parisian bicycle mechanic, Jules Suriray.  The bearings were fitted out in the winning bicycle used by James Morre at the world’s first bicycle race in Paris-Rouen.

1883 – Witnessed the creation of an independent bearing industry by the founder of FAG, Friedrich Fischer.

1898 : Witnessed the farsightedness of Henry Timken as an innovator in carriage manufacturing, patented the tapered roller bearing.  In the subsequent year, Timken established a company to produce his innovation.  Over the next century, the company grew manufacturing bearings of all kinds viz. speciality steel as well as an array of related products & services.

1907 – The patent of a modern self-aligning ball bearing was awarded to Sven Wingquist of SKF, design patent No. 25406.

1934 : Invention of wire race bearing. Patent awarded to Erich Franke.  After World War II he founded Franke &Heydirch KG a company run together with Gerhard Heydrich, today known as Franke GmbH producing wire race bearings.

1968 : Designed and created vee grooved bearing guide wheels, a linear motion bearing, patent awarded in 1972 to Bishop-Wisecarver’s co-founder Bud Wisecarver.

Early 1980s : The first bi-material plain bearing was invented by Robert Schroeder, founder Pacific Bearing.  This bearing had a metal shell, viz. aluminium, steel, stainless steel with a Teflon-base material connected by thin adhesive layer, and was size interchangeable with linear ball bearings.

Today, ball and roller bearings are used in varied industrial applications which include a rotating component.  For eg., ultra high speed bearings used in dental drills, gearbox and wheel bearings in automobile industry, flexure bearings in optical alignment mechanisms, bicycle wheel hubs etc.

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