Little known fact: President Dwight D. Eisenhower, also four-star general and famous war hero, may have influenced the adoption of disc brakes in the American car industry. It’s an unusual story and it involves “Ike’s” fondness for Chrysler automobiles. Here’s the story:
Ike liked Chryslers:
In January of 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower was sworn into office as the 34th President of the United States. Though a 1950 Lincoln Cosmopolitan limousine was available for his use, Ike preferred Chrysler automobiles. In fact, as a private citizen, he owned quite a number of them.
Upon Ike’s request, Chrysler built two presidential limos for his administration. Both of the cars were over 25 feet long and each weighed over 8000 pounds. This presented some unique challenges, such as getting a 4 ton automobile to stop quickly. The bottom line was that it was not prudent to outfit such a heavy vehicle, especially one carrying the President of the United States, with the ordinary drum brakes. An alternative was needed.
About Drum Brakes:
Up until Ike’s administration, the standard technology used to stop automobiles and trucks was a design called “drum brakes.” As the name implies, drum brakes incorporate large metal drums. Thanks to Newark Chrysler of Newark, a local Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram dealer in Newark, DE, we can explain that they work when two curved brake shoes inside the drum expand to squeeze against the drum thus slowing down the vehicle.
A New System:
Chrysler has always been a leader in braking technology. In 1924, for example, they were the first automotive manufacturer to outfit all their vehicles with hydraulic four-wheel brakes. Automotive historians will tell you that was a major advance over the mechanical braking systems of the day.
For Ike’s limousines, the engineers knew they needed a more powerful braking system and they quickly designed one. The new system used a spinning disc that was slowed down by brake pads that squeezed against it. It was a more efficient way of breaking and required just 75 pounds of foot pressure to stop a vehicle. (Standard drum systems require some 120 pounds of pedal pressure to stop. This was a considerable reduction in force and soon these brakes were outfitted on the two limousines being built for the Eisenhower administration.
They Soon Were Available on Standard Cars:
The Chrysler disc brakes performed so well on the Eisenhower limousines that they soon were being installed on other high-end Chrysler cars. Records show that about two thousand 1949–1954 Chryslers ended up equipped with four-wheel disc brake systems. While this number may be small, it created a groundswell of support among automotive designers and was adopted quickly throughout the world.
Today drum brakes are all but extinct. Disc brakes won out years ago and are being installed on just about every motorized vehicle made in the World.