410 Hamilton St.,Washington, Ill. 61571
You have used it, and poured it into a journal-box. Have you
ever wondered about what you were working with? Where did it get
its name? What is it? What is a journal-box? Wellits a bearing to
you; in this case a babbitted bearing. Steam engines, threshing
machines and other old farm machines were full of it; you have
nursed it and cursed it.
A journal bearing consists of two machine parts that rotate
relatively to each other. The part which enclosed by and rubs
against the other is called the JOURNAL (shaft of axel) and the
part which encloses the journal is called the BOX or less
specifically the BEARING. In the more common form of journal
bearings, the journal rotates inside of a fixed bearing. In some
cases, as in a loose pulley, the journal is fixed and the bearing
rotates, while in other cases both the journal and the bearing have
a definite motion, as for example, a crank pin and its bearing in
the connecting rod.
Did you know that the ‘inventor’ of babbitt metal for
bearings did not conside it important and did not have it patented?
But he did go on and get a patent on the JOURNAL-BOX’.
Babbitt metal is one of our most important bearing metals today.
The modern automobile you drive today depends on it. Babbitt metal
is an alloy of tin or lead. It is classed as a white metal. Even
white brass is in reality a babbitt metal. Other ingredients may be
copper, antimony, nickel, phosphor bronze, silver, zinc, cadmium,
and more. It has excellent anti-friction and corrosion resistance
properties which set a standard for all bearing metals.
The alloy containing copper, tin and antimony is usually called
GENUINE BABBITT METAL. According to the Society of Automobile
Engineers, at one time, the following specifications will produce a
high grade of babbitt that should give excellent results when used
for such service as connecting-rod bearings, or any other machine
bearings subjected to similar service: copper, 7%, antimony 9%, tin
84%. There are a large number of commercial grades of babbitt
metals, many of which have a high percentage of lead and
consequently sell at a low price.
The original mixture, by the inventor (who may be called the
father of soft-metal bearings) in 1839, is supposed to have been
88.9% tin, 3.7% copper, 7.4% antimony.
The inventor of babbitt metal was ISAAC BABBITT (1799-1862), an
American inventor, born in Taunton, Mass. Early in life he became
interested in the production of alloys. He had very little
schooling but by the time he was 24 years old he was a full-fledged
goldsmith. Babbitt went to Boston in 1834 and obtained employment
as superintendent of the South Boston Iron Works. Here he succeeded
in making the first brass cannon ever cast in the United
It was also while with this company that Babbitt invented a
journal-box and received United Slates patent no. 1,252 for it on
July 17, 1839. The specifications for this patent contained an
incidental suggestion that a good lining for the box to serve as
the bearing surface for a journal or an axle could be had by
melting up 50 parts of tin, 5 of antimony and 1 of copper. This
alloy was found subsequently to be so satisfactory and was used so
extensively that Babbitt’s name became and has continued to be
associated with it. The popularity and great utility of this alloy
so overshadowed the journal-box invention that the latter was all
but forgotten and there developed the general popular belief that
Babbitt had invented a bearing metal, something that was never in
his mind. On May 15, 1840, he received British patent no. 9,724 for
his journal-box, and in 1847 the idea was patented in Russia.
Probably his largest award for the invention was that of
$20,000, granted by Congress in 1842. The Secretary of the Navy in
that year made a tentative agreement with Babbitt to purchase for
$20,000 the rights to use his patented journal-box and
‘anti-attrition’ metal in the United States Navy. The
agreement, together with letters of recommendation as to the value
of the idea, including one from the prominent engineer, John
Ericsson, was presented to Congress by Secretary Upshur during the
third session of the 27th congress, and appears in HOUSE EXECUTIVE
DOCUMENT no. 163. It’s not know how long Babbitt continued with
the Alger Foundry in the manufacture of journal-boxes. Overwork and
the overstraining of an unusual brain eventually necessitated his
commitment to an Asylum, where he died in his 63rd year.