Clarence W. Spicer invented the first viable automotive universal joint, which he used to develop a driveshaft for transferring power from the engine to the axle. Before Spicer’s invention, power transmission in automobiles was accomplished by a chain and sprockets. He founded the Spicer Universal Joint Manufacturing Company, which would eventually become the Dana Corporation.
Spicer was born on an Illinois dairy farm on November 30, 1875. The Spicer family owned a creamery, where Clarence learned rudimentary mechanical skills watching his father repair machines in the shop. He attended a Seventh Day Baptist school – Alfred University in New York – where he met his wife Anna Olive Burdick. Spicer moved home to Illinois in 1894 to help run the family business, he married Burdick in 1896 and moved to New York to attend Cornell University shortly after. At Cornell, he conceived the idea for the driveshaft. Spicer built an experimental car in 1903 that proved his universal joint was superior to the awkward, easily broken chain drives that propelled automobiles of the era. The Spicer Universal Joint Manufacturing Company was established in Plainfield, New Jersey in 1905. In 1914, Charles Dana joined the company, put it on a solid financial foundation, and assumed leadership. Spicer remained with the company for several years after, and eventually held 40 patents for a variety of inventions. He died in Miami, Florifa, in 1939 at the age of 64.