International Harvester Axle Innovation

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, International Harvester Company began acquiring and marketing their own wagon brands.  Legendary names like Weber and Columbus were soon joined by Bettendorf, Buckeye, International Harvester, Steel King, Sterling and others.  All were part of the IHC stable of wagon offerings.
In the ensuing years, there were a number of wagon-related patents the company applied for and received.  In 1907, for example, Samuel Dennis - working with IHC - submitted a design to the USPTO for a new style of steel axle and gear that – from a distance – looked very much like the more traditional parts of a standard wagon gear.  From a marketing perspective, it was one more distinction that IHC could point to as an advantage in both product excellence and consumer confidence.

Recently, I ran across this same metal gear and thought I would share some photos as well as a few purported features and benefits. The all-metal construction was said to provide optimum strength throughout the axles and bolsters while simultaneously creating a durable and virtually maintenance-free product.  While it’s covered by at least three different patents, this invention doesn’t seem to have achieved wide acceptance.  Its limited success may have had as much to do with timing as with consumer acceptance.  After all, changing perceptions can be a hard obstacle to overcome.  Wagon users wanted strength but, they also wanted some resilience and elasticity as provided by wooden gears.  Helping overcome some initial wariness, the shape of the steel axle and other parts were built to mirror more conventional styles made of wood. 
Ultimately, this innovation likely served as more of an evolutionary design, pointing toward future farm trailers and other equipment built by International Harvester.  When looking at the span of the entire wooden farm wagon industry, it was nearing its peak and rapidly headed toward an irreversible decline by the time this patent was issued.

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