Drum brakes

Despite having been invented more than 100 years ago, drum brakes continue to retain much of the original concept

As soon as people were able to design and produce moving vehicles, a new challenge was inadvertently created. Being able to travel at faster speeds than in previous modes of transport has always had an appeal but having the ability to control and ultimately stop that vehicle was equally important. 

Disc brakes are increasingly the chosen solution in the modern vehicle. But it was the drum variety developed at the start of the 20th century that set the benchmark for braking technology, and the principles applied then have remained in the more advanced versions available today. 

Early brake systems, before the invention of the drum brake, were primitive and varied in their effectiveness. Until the 1890s wooden blocks that pressed against the steel-rimmed wheels when a lever was pulled proved to be sufficient in horse-drawn and steam-powered vehicles. But they were gradually phased out once the Michelin brothers began introducing rubber tyres. 

Another, more crude, contraption used a spike digging into the ground to bring the vehicle to a halt.

In 1899, Gottlieb Daimler conceived the idea that wrapping steel cables around the drum of the rear wheels and then tightening them with a hand-operated lever would reduce momentum in the vehicle. 

Then, a year later, the Wilhelm Maybach-designed Mercedes 35hp had what is considered to be the first application of drum brakes in a vehicle. 

The vehicle, which had a front-mounted, four-cylinder engine, had 30cm-wide drum brakes which were operated by foot. A similar, but more sophisticated, system was patented two years later by Louis Renault, and it is largely he who is credited with the invention. 

tags: December 2015 Daimler Renault Powertrain