Motion System Design

Henry Timken

“To be successful, you must be independent. If you want to lead in any line, you must bring to it independence of thought, unfailing industry, aggression, and indomitable purpose. If you have an idea that you think is right, push it to a finish. Don't let anyone else influence you against it. If we all thought the same way, there would be no progress. But above all, don't set your name to anything you will ever have cause to be ashamed of.” — Henry Timken's advice to his sons.

Henry Timken was born on Aug. 16, 1831 in Bremen, Germany. At age seven, he and his family sailed on the Bremen Barque Sophie to the U.S. As a teen, Timken learned about carriage and wagon making during an apprenticeship. Eventually, he started his own carriage factory and obtained three patents for carriage springs, which were in world demand.

Bearings used on wheels during this time were relatively unchanged from those employed centuries earlier. The design consisted of a metal liner and balls on a rotating shaft. Carriage wheels experienced great friction when carrying heavy loads from the side, especially when turning. Without sufficient lubrication, friction caused heat to build up and led to failure. Timken understood this and concluded, “The person who devises something that reduces friction fundamentally [will] achieve something of real value to the world.”

To reduce friction on bearings, Timken devised a cup-and-cone bearing design that evenly distributes weight and load across both races, and the set of rollers between. On June 28, 1898, two patents were issued to him, both of which were applied to carriage and auto axles and hubs.

One year later, Timken founded the Timken Roller Bearing Axle Co. in St. Louis, Mo. to manufacture axles using his new tapered roller bearings. Not long after, Timken retired to San Diego. His two sons took over the company, and, observing the growing steel and auto industries in Cleveland, Detroit, and Pittsburgh, moved the company in 1901 to its present-day headquarters in Canton, Ohio. Today, tapered roller bearings continue to find applications in trains, conveyors, elevators, aircraft engines, space shuttle landing wheels, printing presses, bulldozers, and rolling mills.

To share your comments on this inventor or department, please email the editor at [email protected].

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.