Hi all - new guy here.
I am the Chief Engineer at Ford responsible for new automatic transmission developments (8,9,10-speeds, etc.) We are putting together a document summarizing the history of the transmission. The Model T planetary is a very important part of that history. I am trying to determine the name of the person responsible for the basic idea/patent on the triple-gear planetary. Was it Henry himself? I am hoping one of you can help.
I don't think Henry can take credit for it, epicyclic or planetary gearing go's way back to BC.
To add to the comment from down under, a patent search will provide various dates for improved designs of the planetary transmission as it was developed. For example, Louis Lon Hector Gerard of PARIS, FRANCE received a letter of patent 641,097, dated January 9, 1900 for a VARIABLE-SPEED GEARING. Also around 1900 Autocar had a patent for the planetary system.
SPECIFICATION forming part of Letters Patent No. 641,097, dated January 9, 1900. http://www.google.co.uk/patents/US641097
AND -- Please see The Automobile, 26 November 1914 page 983 Q&A - "Ford Planetary Gear Set Not Invented." The answer to a series of questions circa 1914 about the Model T. The answer about the planetary gear set or transmission was that the gear set was around for a long time, what was used in the Ford System was an adaption of an existing technology. It was designed not invented.
Henry didn't obtain a patent on the planetary transmission, as there were examples in prior art as posted. But he did make contributions to the use of it in his transmission, and of course with Huff in creating the flywheel magneto, and that was granted patent.
Some other Henry Ford transmission patents on earlier post:
Of course the magneto patents were in Huff's name as inventor, he assigned them to Ford. But in 1922 Huff was in financial problems and brought suit against Ford. He wasn't successful.
Chief Engineer at Ford can't find that info. That is funny!!
Just a note - the Model T was not the first Ford Production Vehicle to use the planetary system. The Model A of 1903 had a planetary system.
What about the other pre-T Fords? Didn't they also use a planetary tranny?
From The Horseless Age issue Jan 6 1909 New York Auto show, number of cars exhibited. The Ford Model T was first shown at this show, it is one of the planetary gear cars listed .
The answer is yes. 1908 was not the first year to see the use of a Ford with a planetary transmission. Ford's company began in 1903 - first car the Model A.
I believe the first Ford planetary with a transmission brake (making it similar to the future Model T) were the 1906 Models K and N. I think (but not sure) the Model F and predecessors planetary transmissions only had low, high and reverse?
This June 1906 Ford publication promotes the planetary over sliding gear transmission:
Cutaway of the Model K transmission:
As others have already mentioned, planetary gear sets had been around long before the Model T, or Ford Motor Company, or even automobiles. It was, and still is, a common machine design element. It was simply applied to automobiles when automobiles came into existence. Ford, and many others, opted to use this design.
Let me also say that it's nice to see someone at Ford with a sense and appreciation of history. I hope you will be a frequent visitor here.
Our 1905 one cylinder REO also has a planetary transmission.
The 1901 Curved Dash Oldsmobile has a planetary transmission with low, reverse and brake just like the later Fords. I suspect Olds was the first mass use of the planetary transmission, certainly in America, and was copied but enclosed in engine oil by Ford.
I check on Wikipedia, which is usually, but not always correct, and it lists Howard Woodworth Simpson (8 May 1892 – 4 November 1963) was an automotive engineer whose designs were used extensively.
I wonder who he worked for in those early years? So there it is unless someone can come up with a earlier reference...
Good job Tony!
Howard W. Simpson was employed by Ford. He also had ties to the Fordson tractor designs. After WWII, he continued to work on automatic transmissions.
His father was a carriage maker who worked with Fisher and Olds. This is detailed in Ford Bryan's book Henry's Lieutenants.
Wow - you guys are amazing!!! Our Ford internal transmission patent experts found two specific patents by Henry Ford from 1909 and 1913 that sure look like they lock-down the design of the triple-gear planetary system. I wasn't concerned with the first-ever planetary as that idea goes back over 1000 years. I was specifically curious about the Model T planetary mechanism.
BTW - Mr. Simpson is a legend in the transmission world. His main contribution is the "Simpson Gearset", which is a specific combination of two planetary sets that combine elegantly to make a 3-speed transmission. That core idea was used by nearly every major manufacturer from the 50's until present day. At one point, we counted up well over 100 million Simpson gearsets having been produced.
I am wrong, so is Wikpedia.
If he was born in 1892, common sense demands that he could not have invented the planetary transmission used in 1901!!!! I suspect he may have worked on converting the existing planetary transmission to an automatic gearbox during the 1930s.
So who do invent it?
"So who do invent it?" It was designed not invented. Two names that seem to be associated with the planetary/epicyclic gear design are da Vinci (1452-1519) and Reuleaux (1829-1905).
These passages from "The Legendary Model T Ford" by Tom Collins, show that Childe Harold Wills, who worked with Henry Ford in his early racing endeavors, was deeply involved with the development of the planetary gear transmission as incorporated by Ford.
Transmission Development pg1.pdf (153.1 k)
Transmission Development pg2.pdf (106.7 k)
Another Ford colleague found yet an earlier Henry Ford patent (filed Aug 1, 1904, granted April, 1905) that clearly shows the triple-gear planetary concept. BTW - by my math, Henry Ford was ~41 years old when he applied for this patent.
George Selden invented all transmissions !
Frederic J. Ball got a patent for the two speed planetary transmission with reverse in 1901.
He was successful in winning a court case against Henry Ford but not so successful in ever getting any royalty payments, it seems..
Here's an earlier thread about the case on this forum: http://www.mtfca.com/discus/messages/118802/126102.html?1266731235
Here's a website made by a relative of Ball with some patents and court documents, unfortunately it's down - but can be found at the internet archive..
I hope this discussion does not conclude that Henry Ford not only "invented" the automobile but he "invented" the planetary transmissions. A review of patents will show that before Ford "invented" the car there were other inventions and designs for using elliptical gears for the transmission of power. If there is a patent to Henry Ford for a planetary transmission, what made it different from other planetary systems in automobiles? If you are interested locate the Cycle and Automobile Trade Journal, February 1905, Volume 9, page 91- "Madison Square Garden Show. " The show was an automobile trade show with manufactures and suppliers. A quick count of the 93 automobile manufactures at the show, the companies listed indicated that 20 manufactures used the planetary transmission for their vehicles. Included in the list with planetary transmissions were such known names as Buick, Knox, Cadillac, Olds, and of course Ford including models B, C, and F attached to both two and four cylinder engines.
So in 1905, Ford and others were using planetary transmissions, the planetary transmission was in Ford cars three years before the introduction of the Model T. At the dawn of the automobile age everyone was aware of the planetary transmission system.
From the article the difference between the sliding gears transmission and the planetary was the size of the car. The article discussion included information about transmissions, the writer stated sliding gears are for large card and the planetary system for small cars.
So before some get too excited about this "invention" from Henry Ford, what makes the design of the Model T transmission with planetary gears different from all that came before?
A few comments regarding "big cars" and the planetary transmission. From experience, I know the Model K, at about 2900 lbs., performs wonderfully with it's two speed planetary. The combination of a six cylinder engine (low rpm torque) and a heavy built transmission make a very good combination. I suspect it's all about weight to horsepower ratio when determining if a two speed planetary is adequate for any vehicle. An advantage of the planetary over sliding gear transmission, in my opinion, is the "shift time" is almost non-existent with a planetary, compared with the shift time (and sometimes missed gear time) of a sliding gear transmission.
Are there times I would like a three or four speed transmission? Yes, but not very often. Instead, I prefer the smooth shifting and simple operation of the planetary. The only major complaint I have is the lubrication process (floor boards up, plugs out, transmission turned to the right two places, pour in grease and watch it pour out and be flung all over the car).
Maybe the two "innovations" Ford may be credited with are the combining of the transmission with the engine, making an enclosed planetary for ease of lubrication along with less contaminants, and combining the ignition system, flywheel and planetary into one compact component.
I think seldon invented the first hybrid auto as it was mechanical and muscle!! When it would not move mechanical it was hauled by horses!!!! Rob has it nailed!!!!!! Bud in Wheeler,Mi.
I'm not sure why the planetary fell by the wayside, but it was used with a few larger cars over the years, and a few cars even tried no gears, or an independent low gear (giving two speeds, an emergency low and direct drive).
Trucks seemed to continue using planetary gearsets for some time in numbers. My suspicion is that a truck was not able to increase speed enough (especially in urban use) to "grab" the next gear, so planetary transmission allowed changing gears without the necessary revving and speed loss during gear change?). This 1907 page lists specs of commercial vehicles, and there are a significant number of planetaries. I apologize if this is going to far afield from the original post:
Well Rob, you're half right. Ford should get credit for enclosing the flywheel, mag and planetary in one compartment. But, while Ford was still using open planetaries in the NRS and K, Maxwell had an enclosed two-speed planetary in all of its cars beginning in '05. Perfectly simple, simply perfect.
Planetary did not fall by the wayside. It's the basis of nearly all automatic transmissions, from the very first, to those in use today, (except for maybe CVT designs).
I may be way out of line here, but I believe I remember reading something, years ago, that someone, somewhere, sometime sued Ford Motor Co. for patent infringement on the use of the planetary transmission.
Again, I could've dreamed this, but I think that Ford was ordered to pay $1.00 for each transmission sold.
I don't remember anything after that.
Does this sound at all familiar to anyone?
You and Jack Benny.......
I'm looking forward to a ride in your new Max this summer.....
Roger K. may have been referencing the same case a few posts up. He included this link:
95 percent of all one and two cylinder cars from 1900 on had a two speed planetary.
Rob, thanks for the link; it's good reading.
I cannot understand the mindset in large companies that was reflected in the movie "Flash Of Genius" where Ford attempted to use the intermittent wiper without reaching a settlement with the inventor.
I understand that case was most likely more complex than could've been explained in a two hour movie, but the mindset remained.
Why would someone such as Ford, especially since it is essentially family controlled, not encourage outside invention to be welcomed and compensated? (After all, Ford engineers don't have a patent on wisdom). Perhaps some were, and are so even now; at least I'd like to think so.
A firm such as GM, where there's no clear singular boss, has people working there who have a (most likely somewhat legitimate) concern (fear?) for their jobs if they don't produce "this quarter".
Ford, however, isn't structured by committee. This was demonstrated by the corporation's not needing government loans in late '08. Perhaps an oversimplification, but "it's their money" is probably at the core of the reason why not.
Thanks again for the link.
"... Ford attempted to use the intermittent wiper without reaching a settlement with the inventor."
I did not see the movie so I don't know how they spun it. I have however spoken with the "inventor's" son. He told me how sad it was that this thing completely consumed his dad and basically ruined him. He also stated that any claims his dad had were very questionable, at best.
I have heard it said among British car enthusiasts that Lucas invented the intermittent wiper....
Having had and enjoyed British cars, currently enjoying a Land Rover, there is still a rumor that Lucas also invented darkness - even patented the event.
As for the patent for Lucas wiper, the year is 1964 inventor Walter Mellor, Sutton Coldfield, England
In the United States Robert William Kearns applied for a patent for an intermittent windshield wiper systems same year 1964.
If one reads the org question i think Joe Glambe Takes credit for it in Tin Lizzie by Stern?? Bud in Wheeler,Mi.
Sorry for the drift, but I can't resist this joke when the subject of Lucas electrics comes up (Having the experience of owning a MG, went on many a Sunday drive/push)-
Why do the British like warm beer?
Lucas builds refrigerators...
Again, sorry for the drift.
Lucas, the prince of darkness.
Another name to follow in this discussion is Alanson P. Brush. He worked for Henry Leland, and is thought to have developed the one cylinder engine used by Cadillac and the planetary transmission for it. Later he founded the Brush Motor Car Company.
Back to Henry Ford's patents, here are a few selected of the many he was granted. For patent, the work has to be novel, and of course, can be 'improvements' based on other's patent work. That is the nature of design development.
Henry conceived a novel planetary in 1903 and got a patent, that may not say he 'invented the planetary gear set', but he did apply his novel skill to improvement and adaption to automobile and gained patent for the work.
and for his early auto, this one of the chassis
Of course the most important is the combo of the engine, flywheel, magneto, and planetary gear set in an automobile, the Model T's patent.
and the 1st claim of this patent, the key claim.
Then of course for the Model T, his remarkable design of the 3 point suspension, the 3 point motor mount, and the 3 point rear axle fitting. That made the lightweight T able to bend and flex on the roads, ruts and dips, without busting gears, bearings, bushings, or frame parts.
Some more "down under" comment:
Dr Frederic Lanchester in his Lanchester cars (England) used a planetary gear system in 1890.
To the best of my knowledge, the planetary system is still at the heart of the modern Auto transmission (not DSG types).
One feature of the later T transmissions is the one-piece triple gears. The original design was three gears riveted together, but then someone figured out how to machine all three gears on one forging. That might be a significant patent. It sure saved a lot on the assembly process.
Paul, Wikipedia disagrees with you and the following was written by a member of the Lanchester club:
"Work on the first Lanchester car had been started in 1895, significantly designed from first principles as a car, not a horseless carriage, and it ran on the public roads in February or March 1896. It had a single-cylinder 1306 cc engine with the piston having two connecting rods to separate crankshafts and flywheels rotating in opposite directions giving very smooth running. A two-cylinder engine was fitted to the same chassis in 1897 and a second complete car was built alongside it. This led on to the first production cars in 1900, when six were made as demonstrators. These had two-cylinder, 4033 cc, horizontal air-cooled engines, retaining the twin crankshaft design. Steering was by side lever not wheel. The gearbox used epicyclic gearing. The first cars were sold to the public in 1901."
Later in the article there is this table:
Type Engine Approx Production Year Notes
Lanchester Five 1306 cc single-cylinder air-cooled 1 1895 Experimental
Lanchester Eight 3459 cc twin-cylinder air-cooled 3 1897–1898 Experimental
Lanchester Ten 4033 cc twin-cylinder air-cooled 1900–1904 First production model
This table doesn't show too well but the first production auto was sold in 1900, the four cars prior to that were experimental.
There are no production figures listed for 1900 through 1902 with only 20 in 1903. By then Olds had made and sold over 10,000 CDOs
So I still think the first production use of the epicyclic transmission was Olds in 1901.
(Message edited by Tony_bowker on May 07, 2015)
Tony, I would like to see a picture of that motor. I like the idea, Scott
Undiscovered history. al-Jazari invented many designs for water pumps in the middle ages. One of these had a crankshaft design and although a great improvement al wanted to improve the mechanical advantage by using a crudely designed planetary gear system. The design was stolen by the Templar knights and removed to Europe. When the knights were purged by the French king (he owed them too much money) they removed the plans for the planetary gear system and buried it in the pit on Oak island. A group of early automobile manufactures secretly funded a expedition to retrieve the Oak Island treasure but all they found was the design for the planetary gear system so they decided to recover some of their loses by using improvements of the design in their new fangled automobiles. Soon there was one greedy group who laid claim to design of all automobiles resulting in a series of lawsuits. Henry ford outlasted the legal mess and used the planetary gear system to his success.
No picture but a line drawing at
For those interested, I have attached a slide presentation on how the Ford triple-gear planetary works to produce two forward speeds and one reverse. It uses the lever analogy, which I teach at Ford as the basis for understanding all planetary systems. There are (literally) billions of possible ways to implement a planetary transmissions. Only a few are useful. The triple-planet system is very clever and worthy of a patent. I won't debate who did it first - but Henry does have his name on legal US patents. Note that the novelty is not the planetary concept in general, but the triple-pinion arrangement.
|Model T lever|
Model T Transmission Lever small file.pdf (102.4 k)
Craig, that is a brilliant teaching tool! Thanks for posting.
I read somewhere that the 1901 Lanchester also had a flywheel magneto - does anyone have more info?
Thanks for that slide presentation.
Don't know if you have seen this interactive Model T Planetary Transmission Animation
It is really neat I think
Thanks for the lead. Every time I think something was "invented" for the first time, an earlier example surfaces. I thought revolving magnets on the flywheel was definitely an Ed Huf/Henry Ford innovation.
Turns out maybe not. And for only a sixpence, you could read about the British Manchester in this 1902 publication:
Excerpts of the article, courtesy of Google Books:
Well perhaps, don't get a real good description of the magnet pieces on the flywheel.
But the Ford means was patented
Rules of the game:
To patent an idea does not mean the idea was invented.
A patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention. Generally speaking, a patent provides the patent owner with the right to decide how - or whether - the invention can be used by others. Remember the Ford Selden dispute? In exchange for this right, the patent owner makes technical information about the invention publicly available in the published patent document.
An invention is a new composition, device, or process. Invention can also be defined to include creative endeavors that extend beyond original, substantial improvements. An invention is also a new, useful, and non-obvious improvement of a process, machine, or product. Any invention which is new, useful, and non-obvious improvement of process can be patented. Inventions that involve processes, machines, manufactures, and compositions of matter, and any improvement thereof, are patentable.
Invention is defined to include "any new and useful process, machine, manufacture or composition of matter and thus is broad enough to include method patents." [Cardiac Pacemakers, Inc. v. St. Jude Med., Inc., 576 F.3d 1348, 1362 (Fed. Cir. 2009)].
From various sources on the web.
A diagram and description of the Lanchester low tension magneto:
Great info Rob & Dan. My only reference was a wee book by Lord Montagu. Nothing new under the sun aye!
A question to those who have researched the development of early Ford cars. Up until the release of the Model T 1908/1909, is there an inventory of journals, magazines, and book that would have been on Henry's library shelf showing the development of both foreign and American automobiles? As Rob Heyen and others has shown the design and early technology for automobile design was being shared. Henry and his staff implemented known metals, electrics, and mechanical design; he was certainly were not working in a techno vacuum.
The org question was who invented the Model T Transmission?? After watching the History channel i think i see a trend to expound things Britt?? Bud in Wheeler,Mi.
Maybe something like "Who developed the planetary transmission for Ford" would narrow it down a bit. Interesting read though.