Janney coupler was named after Eli Janney who patented the invention in
1873 (U.S. patent #138,405). The Janney coupler was an improvement in railroad
car couplers that became the standard for the railroad freightcar couplers
used even today.
thanks goes to Ian Taggart for providing research for this page.
The following extracts comes from
United States Supreme Court decision - Norfolk & Western Railway Co.
v. Hiles (95-6), 516 U.S. 400 (1996) and provides historical background
and development of the automatic car coupler:
Railroad cars in a train are connected
by couplers located at both ends of each car. A coupler consists of a knuckle
joined to the end of a drawbar, which itself is fastened to a housing mechanism
on the car. A knuckle is a clamp that interlocks with its mate, just as
two cupped hands--placed palms together with the fingertips pointing in
opposite directions--interlock when the fingers are curled. When cars come
together, the open knuckle on one car engages a closed knuckle on the other
car, automatically coupling the cars. The drawbar extends the knuckle out
from the end of the car and is designed to pivot in its housing, allowing
the knuckled end some lateral play to prevent moving cars from derailing
on a curved track.
For most of the nineteenth century,
the link and pin coupler was the standard coupler used to hook together
freight cars. It consisted of a tubelike body that received an oblong link.
During coupling, a railworker had to stand between the cars as they came
together and guide the link into the coupler pocket. Once the cars were
joined, the employee inserted a pin into a hole a few inches from the end
of the tube to hold the link in place. The link and pin coupler, though
widely used, ultimately proved unsatisfactory...
In 1873, Eli H. Janney patented
a knuckle style coupler that was to become the standard for the freightcar
couplers used even today. [*1]. The coupler had a bifurcated
drawhead and a revolving hook, which, when brought in contact with another
coupler, would automatically interlock with its mate.
The Janney coupler had several advantages
over link and pin couplers. Not only did it alleviate the problem of loose
parts that plagued the link and pin coupler, [*2] it also
allowed railworkers to couple and uncouple cars without having to go between
the cars to guide the link and set the pin. [*3] One commentator
described the automatic coupling operation as follows:
While the cars were apart,
the brakeman had to make sure the knuckle of the coupler on the waiting
car stood in an open position and that the pin had been lifted into its
set position. When the opposite coupler was closed and locked in position,
the brakeman was able to stand safely out of the way and signal the engineer
to move the cars together. When the knuckle of the coupler of the moving
car hit the lever arm of the revolving knuckle on the open coupler, it
revolved around the locked one, while concurrently the locking pin dropped
automatically from its set position into the coupler, locking the knuckle
in place. Although the brakeman had to set up the entire situation by hand,
the actual locking operation was automatic and did not require the brakeman
to stand between the cars."
Though the market was flooded with
literally thousands of patented couplers, [*4] Janney's
design was clearly among the best and slowly achieved recognition in the
industry. In 1888, the Master Car Builders Association Executive Committee
obtained a limited waiver of patent rights--placing much of Janney's design
in the public domain--and adopted the design as its standard.
In 1875, there were more than 900
car coupler patents. By 1887, the number of coupler patents had topped
4,000, and by 1900 approximately 8,000 coupler patents had been issued.
1 Janney was a dry
goods clerk and former Confederate Army officer from Alexandria, Virginia,
who used his lunch hours to whittle from wood an alternative to the link
and pin coupler. F. Wilner, Safety: "A great investment," Railway Age,
Mar. 1993, p. 53.
2 Automatic couplers
also made possible the use of power air brakes, which had not been successfully
used with link and pin couplers because of excessive slack in the coupling.
3 Ezra Miller is
generally credited with creating the first semiautomatic coupling device
for passenger cars--known as the Miller Hook--but it was never widely used
on freight cars. C. Clark, Development of the Semiautomatic Freight Car
Coupler, 1863-1893, 13 Technology and Culture 170, 180-182 (1972).
4 In 1875, there
were more than 900 car coupler patents. By 1887, the number of coupler
patents had topped 4,000, ibid., and by 1900 approximately 8,000 coupler
patents had been issued. Clark 179.
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