Seven innovators in the history of industrial chain | Knowledge Hub

Seven key innovators in the history of industrial chain

The history of chain dates back thousands of years, although the rapid development of industrial chain came towards the end of the Industrial Revolution in the UK. In this article, we look at seven innovators, who helped make the chain industry what it is today.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) – sketched an early version of leaf chain

Renaissance polymath Leonardo da Vinci is often credited with the conception of ideas vastly ahead of his own time, including the parachute, helicopter, calculator, solar power and plate tectonics. But did he also invent industrial chain? In the 16th century he sketched what appears to be steel chain, consisting of plates and pins for lifting applications. He also sketched conveyors, where a tooth wheel drives a belt. However, it’s unclear whether these designs ever made it from paper to real life.

André Galle (1761-1844) – awarded first patent for leaf chain

André Galle, born in Saint-Étienne, France, is often considered the grandfather of the modern chain industry but is more widely known as an engraver. A member of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, his coins and medals are displayed in many of the world’s leading museums and galleries, but nobody knows why and how he made the move from engraver to chain maker. In 1829 he was awarded his first patent for what we would recognise today as leaf chain or tooth chain. After the death of his daughter, his chain manufacturing company was closed and the patents sold, but his legacy lives on. Galle chains are still extensively used for low-speed heavy-duty applications with back-and-forth movements, such as sluice gates and steel furnace doors.

James Slater (1809-1874) – added rollers to transmission chain

James Slater was born in Bolton, UK, at a time when Manchester was the centre of the cotton industry. In 1862 he patented improvements to carding engines, which disentangle, clean and intermix fibres. These machines used one of the earliest forms of industrial chain, referred to as plate or card chains. Two years later, he also patented the introduction of rollers to transmission chain, which had previously consisted only of pins and plates. The introduction of rollers overcame issues at the point of engagement with the sprockets but not the problem with rapid wear. At the time of Slater’s death in 1874, he was still described as the head of a large chain-making works in Ordsal Lane, Salford.

William Dana Ewart (1851-1908) – invented a detachable chain belt system

William Dana Ewart was a farm machinery dealer from Belle Plaine, Iowa, who obtained a patent in 1874 for a square detachable chain belt system for use in harvesting equipment. The chain resembled a belt buckle and replaced the leather straps and round link chain used on agricultural equipment at the time. Ewart’s chain belt with detachable links could be replaced in the field, speeding up repairs and avoiding delays to the harvest. The Ewart name survives today in the Ewart Chainbelt company in Derby, UK, and is closely associated with malleable or cast chains. Ewart Chainbelt Co. was set up in 1880 as an offshoot of Ley’s Malleable Castings, founded by leading Derby industrialist Sir Francis Ley, and could lay claim to being the oldest industrial chain company in the world.

Hans Renold (1852-1943) – added bushes to the inner links of roller chain

 Hans Renold was born in Aarau, Switzerland, and moved to Manchester, UK, in 1873 after an unsuccessful business venture. In 1879 he borrowed £300 from his future father-in-law to purchase a small textile chain making business from James Slater, which became the Hans Renold chain company. In 1880 Renold built on Slater’s addition of rollers to transmission chain, including a bush to the inner links so that the pin would now pivot on the bush and the roller would rotate on the bush. This new chain combined the benefits of Slater’s new chain with increased strength and wear resistance. Besides advances in metallurgy and manufacturing, we would recognise this as roller chain today.

James Starley (1830-1881) – added chain drives to bicycles

James Starley was born the son of a farmer in Albourne, Sussex. In his early life, he showed great promise as in inventor, designing mechanical traps and devices for use around the farm. In 1861 he started the Coventry Sewing Machine Company, which later started making bicycles, and he is now known as the father of the bicycle industry. As well as inventing the differential gear, he also perfected the bicycle chain drive. By 1885 the ‘Indispensable Handbook to the Safety Bicycle’ lists nine chain-driven bicycles. Many chain companies produced both industrial and bicycle chain and the invention of the chain-driven safety bicycle led both industries to take off.

Jim Cameron – developed the first ever ‘how much worn’ gauge

 Jim Cameron was one of the founding members of FB Chain when it opened in the UK in 1985 and has dedicated his career to the field of chain safety. In 1995 FB Chain was awarded a patent for the first ever ‘how much worn’ gauge for leaf and roller chain, which allows service technicians to accurately assess the remaining service life of safety critical components. Jim was a key player in the development of the FB Professional Chain Wear Gauge, which is now the go-to tool for service technicians all over the world. Before retirement, Jim was a regular participant in the esteemed BSI Technical Policy Committee meetings, driving improvements to the quality and safety of industrial chain products and manufacturing processes for all. In 2012 the Fork Lift Truck Association awarded Jim the prestigious ‘Archie’ for Services to the Industry.

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