Skip navigation links (access key: Z)Library and Archives Canada - Bibliothèque et Archives Canada Canada
Home > Politics and Government > Made in Canada Franšais

Archived Content

This archived Web page remains online for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. This page will not be altered or updated. Web pages that are archived on the Internet are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats of this page on the Contact Us page.

"Car Coupler." Patent no. 37347, filed by William James Shortill, 1891

 

Patent no. 37347. Filing year 1891.

"Car Coupler," William James Shortill.

The first system devised to couple two railway cars together was the "pin" system, in which an iron pin was threaded through overlapping holes on the ends of each car. Removing and inserting the pin, however, could only be done manually, a dangerous task that often resulted in injury to a worker caught between two shifting cars. The looseness of the pin connection also led to jolts and jarring when a train started up. Clearly, a better system was needed.

The solution proposed in this 1889 patent by William James Shortill, of Halton, Ontario, involved a coupling mechanism "in which the coupling pin can be lifted without going between the cars." It consisted of a coupling pin on a lever attached to a chain. When the chain was pulled, the lever raised the pin out of the coupling box and locked it into place. When a car approached, its slotted coupling link was guided into the coupling box, unlocking the lever and dropping the pin into place. A worker could stand off to the side and lift the pin by pulling the chain, thus keeping out of harm's way.

Despite the merits of Shortill's concept, the most successful design for a car coupler dispensed with the pin entirely. Andrew Jackson Beard, an African-American railroad worker and inventor, patented the "Jenny Coupler" in 1897 in the United States. Beard's mechanism consisted of a curved, pivoting head on one car that locked into a swiveling head on another car. Beard reportedly sold his patent in the same year for $50,000 U.S., a considerable amount at the time. It would have been worth the price, though, as Beard's system is still the basis for railway car couplers today.

References

"Railway Car Coupler." World of Invention. Edited by Kimberly A. McGrath. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1999, p. 514.

Gibbs, C. R. Black Inventors: From Africa to America. Silver Spring, Md: Three Dimensional Publishing Company, 2000.