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Smoothing the Ride for Over a Century – The History of the Shock Absorber Part II

This is Part II in The History Shock Absorber and in Part I a number of the earliest devices were covered, including the Truffault-Hartford. It is well worth a look back to the first installment as the story behind the invention, by J.M.M. Truffault and Edward V. Hartford’s involvement is quite interesting. Since this shock has already been covered, you can enjoy the attractive postcard above showing a set of Truffault-Hartford shocks on the famous 1908 New York to Paris Race winning Thomas Flyer before looking at the other types.

  • The History of the Shock Absorber
  •                             “The Horseless Age” October 26, 1906 issue – The Kilgore Shock Absorber.

The Kilgore Auto Air Cushion shock absorber was the best known of several of this type of early shock absorbers that used a cushion of air and a precisely fitted piston in two telescoping cylinders filled with air. Vertical grooves in the wall of the inner cylinder would let air pass to which ever side it was escaping to as it went up or down with the movement of the suspension.

  • The History of the Shock Absorber
  •                                         The “Cycle and Automobile Trade Journal”, August 1907.

The Parfrey Shock Absorber manufactured at 24 West Street in New York City was a mechanical spring-loaded device that was claimed to not have any parts that could wear out by friction dampening. Its action was adjustable by turning the nut on the left-hand side of the outboard spring. Parfrey claimed that it would prevent a violent recoil and also prevent the wheels from dropping quickly.

  • The History of the Shock Absorber
  • The “Horseless Age” July 1910.

The Connecticut shock absorber used the same form as the Truffault-Hartford, but instead of using round friction discs it used a mechanical means in its operation. Under compression as the angle between the arms decreased the lobes on the centrally located cam would put more force on the steel springs that were faced with bone-fiber inserts and lubricated with cup grease. As it unwound on the rebound it would reverse the action.

  •  The History of the Shock Absorber
  •                                                         “Automobile Topics” January 1, 1908.

The first Gabriel shock absorber as a fairly simple friction device. In operation the damping action was caused by a horizontal blade of steel that traveled up and down with the movement of the suspension between two pairs of vertical spring steel members lined with camel hair belting friction pads. How well they worked or if there was any adjustment is not known.

  • The History of the Shock Absorber
  •                                                            “The Automobile” October 3, 1907.

The Hertz’s Pater Noster lever action shock absorber made at 203 Lafayette Street in New York City may have been the first of its type. It contains two separate brake drums and adjustable brake bands that provide the damping. It is lubricated and cooled by glycerine. Thanks to reader Tin Indian you can find more details about it here.

In Part I of The History of the Shock Absorber you can view earlier units and read an article in the “The Horseless Age” November 7, 1906 issue explaining shock absorbers available at that time. In Part III the series will look at other shock absorbers introduced after 1910.

3 responses to “Smoothing the Ride for Over a Century – The History of the Shock Absorber Part II

  1. Of course, I think we all know that “shock absorbers” don’t actually absorb the shock, but dampen the rebound of the spring, hence they are called dampers in England.

  2. A “close kissin’ cousin to the Truffalt – Hartford Shock Absorber, is found on the ealier Motorcycle Front Fork assembly, to “reduce steering shocks”. the more practical application of this device is found on Motorcycles with Sidecars attached: The purpose being to prevent an UN-wanted oscillation at the handlebars at LOW speeds. As speed in creases, above about 25 MPH, this tendency diminishees to nothing , but the absorber still figures in road shock absorbtion. Another “close kissin’ cousin”, is the 1932 Model “B” Ford CAR “torque absorber” between the engine and the body. This was a device that “sort of ” worked, reqired attention , and was soon superceded. IF the Truffalt-Hartford or similar device is maintained , it works and vice-versa! The earlier the roads (DIRT) the more work these devices had to do. These same devices endure better on responsible pavement, which is getting more difficult to find , —in 2015!!!

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