While modern-day features such as driver fatigue detection and autonomous parking catch the attention of consumers, there are features that are so ingrained in your vehicles that we often tend to ignore them. From power windows to glove boxes, it is these components and features that have truly redefined the way we look at modern-day vehicles. This is why we trace the history of these iconic features so that you know where they come from. Here is everything you need to know about the history of power steering.

What is a Power Steering?

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Hydraulic Powered Steering onboard a Mercedes

If you happen to drive a vehicle, you are probably aware of what power steering is. But for those who aren’t acquainted with it, power steering is a modern-day steering system that largely reduces the effort to turn the steering through hydraulic systems. In other words, power steering is the invention that prevents you from turning the steering of your car over and over again, just to set it in the right position. Instead of you turning the wheel, the job is done through hydraulics and motors.

Why was Power Steering Invented?

Steering Wheel onboard a car from the 1900s // Representational Image

Cars in their early days of development were difficult to steer and shift at the same time. If you wanted to turn left, then you had to physically turn the wheel all the way to the left.  While doing so required the use of excessive force, turning the wheel when the car was stationary was another herculean task back then.

Therefore for those who actually wanted to experience the pleasure of driving, this manual turning of the wheel was problematic. This need led to the patenting of power steering and its advancement into the sophisticated system that we know today.

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History of Power Steering

Power assisted rack and pinion
Power-assisted rack and pinion steering

The history of power steering can be traced back to an engineer named Francis Davis, who created the first power steering system back in 1926. Davis had spent a major portion of his life figuring out how to make steering easier. From 1931 to 43, Davis acquired five patents, each one for a certain component that became a part of his power steering system.

Contracted by General Motors, Davis made improvements on his hydraulic powered steering system; however, his improvised version was never put into the market.  Even though the initial plan was to install the units onboard the Cadillac’s, but because of the failing economy, the company terminated their contract with Davis in 1934.

The Bendix Corporation, however, was closely watching Davis’s work and roped him into market his hydraulic steering system.  In three years his he fitted his system in about 10 cars. Coincidentally General Motors later bought two of his systems and installed them on board the Buicks.

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The World War as a Catalyst

A World War Era Vehicle

Once the world war was set into motion, the production of vehicles went into full swing.  It was soon realized that hydraulically powered steerings were essential to be able to manoeuvre most army trucks and other armoured vehicles. This was when steering technology truly developed. As early as 1940, Davis’s steering was installed in almost all armoured vehicles manufactured by Chevrolet for the British army. By the time the war ended, there were more than 10, 000 vehicles with Davis’s steering onboard.

Once the war ended Chrysler began to design its own version of the power-steering. Davis’s patents had expired by then, and so the company used his design as a basis of their own.  Naming the system “Hydraguide” the company fitted it on the Imperial. From that day on history was created. By 1960, more than 3.5 million cars in the USA were fitted with power steering.

The Present Day

While there are several types of power steering systems that are now used, electro-hydraulic and electric systems are both major systems that are still widely used. In fact, Davis’s influence is still felt in today’s world of automotive digital devices.

So this was the history of Power Steering, stay pinned to the GoMechanic Blog for everything automotive.

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