Our Forefixers: The Innovators Behind Brakes

Mercedes-Benz is a global luxury brand that needs little introduction. But how much do you know about Bertha Benz, the wife and business partner of founder Karl Benz, who is often credited as the inventor of the brake pad? She and a handful of other pioneers have been integral in paving the way for the contemporary automobile brake system. Let's take a look at three of them below.

Bertha Benz: Brake Pads

In 1888, Bertha went on an unprecedented road trip in her husband's three-wheeled Patent Motorwagen, a direct ancestor of the gasoline-powered cars of today. During her journey, the brakes, then consisting of wooden blocks that pressed up against the rear wheels to slow down and stop the vehicle, became worn down and failed. Ever the innovator, Bertha had a local shoemaker in the next town affix leather onto the blocks, thus effectively designing the world's first brake pad in the process.

Louis Renault

Louis Renault: Drum Brakes

Another admirer of the horseless carriage, Frenchman and engineer Louis Renault applied for a patent in 1902 for an internal shoe drum brake that would eventually become the industry standard. Rather than earlier drum-brake versions, which relied on a steel cable wrapped outside of a brake drum mounted on a wheel to apply pressure and bring the wheel to a halt, Renault's setup used shoes installed inside the drums that would press up against the inner surface to generate friction and achieve a similar result. This is the same technology used in some models today.


Fred Duesenberg, with his brother, August.

Fred Duesenberg: Hydraulic Brakes

A born tinkerer, German-American Fred Duesenberg, along with brother August, would build everything from motorcycles and race cars to luxury vehicles. In 1921, the pair introduced the first passenger car with hydraulic brakes, which use fluid pressure to push the shoes up against the brake drums—a technique originally dreamed up by a young man named Malcolm Lockheed.

Fun fact: Many once believed the expression “It's a Doozy" is in reference to Duesenberg, but, according to Merriam-Webster, etymologists trace it to a variation of "daisy."

Do you know of any braking trailblazers throughout history? Let us know!

Last updated June 20, 2017

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