Fred Lanchester was responsible for hundreds of patents during his lifetime that included everything from his first drawing machine the ‘Isometrograph‘ in 1888 to a pneumatic piano that could play itself!
But one of his most productive days was 12th June 1899 when he was living in Ladywood Road, Birmingham when he filed not one, but three ingenious patents.
First up is a patent for “Improvements in Power Propelled Vehicles” (LAN 6/44) which aims to provide a form of gearing for two forward and one reverse speed. It would have been especially useful for light vehicles (eg. tram) designed to run on rails because it would also incorporate a swivel mechanism for changing direction at the end of the line. Perhaps this was an inspiration for the new Very Light Rail trams coming soon to Coventry?
Next is a patent for “Improvements in Motive Power Engines” (LAN 6/45), to help balance opposed cylinders on a single crankshaft by allowing the whole motor to revolve around the same axis. Many of Fred’s patents are concerned with his obsessions for smoothness and vibration reduction and this early one is no exception.
On a busy day even for Fred, his third patent was for “Improvements in Starting Arrangements of Gas and Oil Motors” (LAN 6/46). Here he proposes a starter that used compressed air to get the engine going, instead of inconvenient and sometimes dangerous external cranks.
Exploring the patents are a good way to get into the Lanchester Archive if you’re not familiar with some of his amazing achievements. They are listed in chronological order but can be searched by title – although they can be a little vague – usually starting “Improvements to…”.
The first couple of paragraphs give a brief outline of the idea before going into more depth about what makes each idea unique, before one more more diagrams demonstrate how it would work.
You can print the whole record, or email a link to someone else (each patent has it’s own unique website address that can be shared, and is made available under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 license) and can even be downloaded as a PDF.
If you are conducting some further research or just find a few patents that you wish to come back to later, you can add them as saved records and they will be bookmarked next time you come back to the site in your browser.
Some of our highlights include:
- LAN 6-1 “Patent for an improved apparatus for ruling parallel equidistant lines and for like purposes, 13 November 1888” – Fred’s first patent for his drawing machine, the “Isometrograph”.
- LAN 6-34 “Patent for improvements in and relating to aerial machines, 10 February 1897” – Fred’s amazing patent for a flying machine (six years before the Wright Brothers flew theirs) which combines contra-rotating propellers with a streamlined fuselage that resembles a modern drone, and would have flown if he had been able to manufacture it.
- LAN 6-74 “Patent for improvements in the brake mechanism of power propelled road vehicles, 01 December 1902” – This invention was way ahead of its time, when most cars were stopped by a simple block and drum brakes were still in their infancy. His idea, the disc brake, is now seen on practically every modern car but it wasn’t until 1953 when Jaguar won Le Mans with their disc brakes outperforming their drum braked rivals that they really flourished. If only the roads had been better in 1902, its adoption was scuppered by the poor state of the roads that meant they could be fouled with dash from the poor surface.
- LAN 6-105 “Patent for improvements relating to the propulsion of vehicles by combustion of prime mover and electrical storage, 08 August 1910” – Fred’s experiments with petrol-electric hybrid power are summed up in this patent where he describes succinctly and precisely the ideas that took another 80+ years to find their way into cars like the Toyota Prius.
- LAN 6-146 “Patent for an improved construction of tent and field hospitals, depots and like purposes, 20 November 1917” – Fred’s mind was on ways to help with the war effort and he turned to the idea of inflatable buildings that could quickly be constructed as field hospitals.