February 16, 2024
Let’s start 2016 off with a joint research project. While visiting a client late last year we got to talking gear history and he recounted a story about the first enclosed gear drive their company sold back in the 1930s. Not being familiar with what the rest of the gear trade was up to back then, the current management team wondered if it hadn’t been an industry first too. I hated to explain that I knew of a 1915 model that had been restored for display in a competitor’s lobby and that as late as 2001 a steel mill near Pittsburgh was continuously operating a 1923 vintage speed reducer. How many gearbox housings predate welding? That particular unit had a support structure riveted together like the Titanic. So here is the first historical challenge of AGMA’s Centennial Year: Who offered the first enclosed, pre-engineered gear drive for sale? It doesn’t have to still exist –many important gear artifacts have been lost to scrap drives over the years- but acceptable evidence that it was around would be photographs, nameplates, drawings, catalogs, or newspaper or journal references. A century ago there was a robust interest in new developments in manufacturing. Various engineering societies published journals on a monthly basis with reports on meetings, speeches, technical papers, and other new developments. Some of those publications have been scanned into the “public record” of today and could be accessed if you knew what you were looking for. People were just as opinionated and passionate back then as they are today. If someone falsely claimed to have accomplished an “industry first” you can be certain a peer reviewed disclaimer would have been issued. Even technical articles were questioned and the authors were required to answer those questions in writing for publication. Not a bad system for determining “truth” when you think about it. Especially when compared to our current Internet criticism model where the least informed and qualified can have the loudest voices. If you think you have evidence of that first enclosed industrial gearbox please send us an e-mail. We’d love to put that story in the magazine.