Who is  Fredrick William Lanchester

We go through our days, and we take so many things for granted - like those little tips on our shoestrings that make them easy to poke through the holes. And brake pads, which protect our discs and keep our cars safely coming to a halt. Ever stop to think that somebody along the way put a great deal of thought - and usually a lot of experimentation - into perfecting a product that does the job?

Well, when it comes to brake pads, the guy to whom we may literally owe our lives was named Fredrick William Lanchaster, an English engineer who was fascinated with (and an integral part of) both aerodynamics and automotive engineering. Born in 1968, Lanchaster passed in March of 1946; but his legacy continues. He made the first brake pad in England in the 1890’s Lanchester created the first official brake pad for a vehicle.

You might say it was in his blood, as Lanchaster was a pioneer in the entire auto “fad,” building cars as a hobby that became a successful company. In fact, he earned a spot of prominence among “the big three” English auto developers, along with Henry Royce and Harry Ricardo.

In addition to his passion for automobiles, Lanchaster gained experience as a patent office draughtsman upon completion of college in 1888. Fascinated with design, he patented the isometrograph (an instrument used by draughtsmen); so he was well acquainted with these many pieces of the puzzle that take an idea from “lightbulb” to practical application to global use.

Lanchaster was embraced by society, by the intellects and by adventurers; and he was elected to the Royal Society in 1922 and rewarded a fellowship and gold medal by the Royal Aeronautical Society in 1926. It was during this time that the Lanchaster Laboratories Ltd was formed (in 1925) in an effort to continue his work in industrial research and development.

Among his achievements were improvements in the gramophone speakers, the radio and the brake pad for the automobile. In 1934, Lanchaster was forced to close his company due to an inability to market his products during the Depression, and his declining health. In fact, a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease and cataracts eventually prevented his ability to continue working on his beloved projects.

The recipient of gold medals from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the institution of Civil Engineers, Lanchaster’s contributions live on in infamy. His work in gas and petrol engines, including drive shafts and axels, his work with paddle boats and the forming of Lanchaster Engine Company for the manufacture of publicly distributed cars makes this man a remarkable unsung hero of the age when the automobile was just beginning to roll.

Considered a genius by his peers, Lanchaster never achieved tremendous financial success. He was a prolific writer of technical papers and contributed to institutions and organizations, even winning awards from a number of them. However, he was never able to transfer his technological genius to the financial realm and secure proper backing and management to bring his brilliant concepts to fruition on his own behalf. But there are few who have made as many contributions to such a diverse and varied number of advancements as Fredrick William Lanchaster.

Today, Lanchaster Polytechnic is a formation from universities in Coventry, named in memory of this great man - so the legacy continues and the young are continually reminded that so much came from one person. Lanchaster died in his home in March 1946.