|Eli Janney - The Janney Coupler|
|Railroad Car Couplers|
thanks goes to Ian Taggart for providing research for this page.
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...
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.
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).
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