Gear history is a passion of mine along with the history of mechanical transportation. Growing up in Milwaukee we got a big dose of local history and the many innovations of our Southeastern Wisconsin brethren. They were a proud bunch of mechanics and many were determined to find the next big thing that would make them rich and famous. A couple obviously succeeded on two wheels, but less well known is the development of the first commercially viable four-wheel drive truck around 1914. The Jeffery Company was doing a decent business building Nash cars when the U.S. Army visited looking for an all-weather truck to replace their mule teams. Apparently mules were becoming too hard to find and too expensive to feed.
The result was the Jeffery Quad, later renamed the Nash Quad after the company was sold to Charles Nash. Over 40,000 of these unique vehicles were made during the 15 year production run. They were sold all over the world and, for all we know, one is still exercising its 315 cubic inch gasoline motor, four-speed transmission, automatic locking differentials, and four-wheel steering. Amazing specifications for 100 years ago, and a reminder that although the old gear guys were hampered by poor metallurgy and relatively inaccurate machines, they had a great understanding of basic engineering principles and how to apply them. For example, Jeffery had, in his early days, patented the pneumatic “clincher” bicycle tire and sold the patent to Dunlop. He surrounded himself with smart people like John North Willys, who later founded a car company of his own that had a future in four-wheel drive.
While researching a gear ratings history story I am discovering a similar linkage between well-known gear people. Particularly in areas like Chicago, creative people were introduced to the trade at one firm and over the course of their career they took that knowledge and developed new products, started new companies, and improved upon the things they saw others doing. It is still possible to do these things today. Just something to ponder as we wait for our SUV’s to warm up for another commute through this challenging winter.
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