Henry M. Timken patented the tapered roller bearing which changed the way axles on carriages (and eventually automobiles) were constructed. He found that conventional bearings of the 19th century worked well at reducing friction but ran into problems when the wheels had to bear heavy loads from the sides.
Born in Bremen, Germany in 1831, Timken and his family immigrated to Missouri when he was seven. As a teenager, Timken became an apprentice to a leading carriage and wagon maker. Eventually, he established his own carriage factory in St. Louis. In 1877, Timken converted the factory to make the “Timken Buggy Spring” which was in global demand.
Timken’s technological improvements to the horse-drawn carriage extended to the automobile and saved millions of vehicles from needless wear and tear. Ball bearings were already in use when Timken and his brother, William, worked alongside their father in the family’s carriage-building shop.
In 1895, Timken came up with an improvement that would reduce friction and improve the reliability and longevity of their carriages’ axles. Three years later, he patented the tapered roller bearing.
In 1899, Timken established The Timken Roller Bearing Axle Company in a corner of his factory. The company grew so quickly that Timken relocated to Canton, OH to be near the emerging automotive industry. This propelled his company to the forefront of the industry with the world-wide production of bearings and related products.
Timken drew inspiration from his father, who said “If you have an idea which you think is right, push it to a finish. Don’t let anyone else influence you against it.” This vision and a strong desire to create quality products established the company as the world’s largest makers of bearings during Timken’s lifetime.