When Was the Drum Brake Invented?

Did you know your car's brakes may have been developed over 100 years ago? Check out the origin of drum brakes.

When Was the Drum Brake Invented?
The drum brake has been around for over 100 years. Photo: Flickr.

Did you know that drum brakes have been used in vehicles for over 100 years? They are still in use today, though not exclusively. Nowadays drum brakes are found as rear brakes and parking brakes, but when was the drum brake invented?

Drum brakes were first used in 1900 and then patented in 1902. The drum brake was the first brake to be housed in the interior of the wheel, and replaced the handbrake, which applied pressure to the outside of the wheel.

Some of your car’s components were invented a long time ago, and still function more or less the same way as they did in the beginning. Read on for everything you ever wondered about when the drum brake came to be, and how we use drum brakes even today.

What is a Drum Brake?

Drum brakes use an internal, circular brake shoe that slows the movement of the wheel by pushing outward against the inside of the wheel (the brake drum) to create friction. Drum brakes have a semi-circular front and rear brake shoe that span almost the entire circumference of the brake drum.

Initially, drum brakes had to be activated by manually using levers and rods attached to cables, which would expand the brake shoe against the wheel to stop the motion. Later, this mechanical system was replaced by a hydraulic wheel cylinder and pistons that activated the brake shoe when the brake pedal was activated.

When was the Drum Brake Invented?

The original drum brake was first used in cars by the Maybach company, starting in 1900. In 1902, the drum brake system was first patented by Louis Renault.

Who Invented the Drum Brake?

Wilhelm Maybach was the first to introduce drum brakes, though his design was somewhat simpler than the brakes that were later patented and became commonplace.

Louis Renault’s design following Maybach used woven asbestos to line the drum brakes, which had the advantage of creating less heat and therefore lasting longer and braking more efficiently than prior brakes.

What Were Brakes Before the Drum Brake?

The drum brake is the beginning of modern brakes that we see in use today. The drum brake (and today's disc brake) are housed inside the wheels of the vehicle. Before drum brakes, wheel motion was stopped by handbrakes, which were basically a piece of wood attached to a lever that would press against the outside of the wheel to stop motion.

What are the Problems with Drum Brakes?

Since drum brakes use the friction of the brake shoe against the brake drum to stop motion, this friction created a lot of heat, which was very hard on the materials of the wheels.

In addition, heat creates “brake fade” which is the result of hot materials being less efficient at slowing the motion of the wheel. As your brakes heated up, they would be less effective at stopping your vehicle.

Furthermore, the friction caused the brake shoes to wear down. As the brake shoes wore down, they would have to be adjusted so that they could reach the brake drum and stop the motion of the wheel. In old models of drum brakes, the brake shoes had to be manually adjusted outward as they wore down so that they could reach the surface of the brake drum.

Starting in the 1950s, self-adjusting brake drums were invented, so drivers didn’t have to manually expand their brake shoes as they wore down through use.

Are Drum Brakes Still in Use?

Drum brakes began to be phased out on front wheels (which receive most of the braking action) starting in the 1960s in the U.S. The final vehicles with front drum brakes were discontinued in 1986. Even today, drum brakes are more susceptible to brake fade.

Drum brakes are still used for rear brakes in some vehicles, though disc brakes are more commonly used on all four wheels on modern vehicles. Drum brakes are also commonly used for parking brakes.

What Replaced Drum Brakes?

Starting in the early 1950s, drum brakes were replaced by the more efficient disc brakes. In a disc brake, two pads are pressed against a disc (rotor) to slow the rotation of the wheel axle.

Disc brakes were actually developed in the late 1800s, though they did not gain popularity in their current form until the 1960s.

Disc brakes outperformed drum brakes because they had better braking action and also created less heat, due to the fact that friction was only created against the disc rather than the entire inner circumference of the wheel. Drum brakes are also heavier than disc brakes.

Disc brakes were not subject to as much brake fade, and performed better in wet conditions. In part this was due to the fact that disc brakes are exposed to the open air, rather than housed inside a metal enclosure in the interior of the wheel. If you drive around today, you can see the action of disc brakes on the front wheels of all modern cars.

Are Disc Brakes Better than Drum Brakes?

In some ways, yes, but the brakes are good at different things. Disc brakes are more efficient brakes and easier to maintain, so they are used on all front wheels, and some rear wheels for regular braking as you drive your car.

However, disc brakes cannot be used as parking brakes, because they will expand or contract based on temperature, which means they cannot adequately hold a parked car in place. In this case, drum brakes are the way to go.


Both disc brakes and drum brakes began development in the late 19th century, and experienced different paths to prominence. While drum brakes were more commonly used in the early 1900s as disc brakes developed, more cars nowadays use disc brakes for regular braking functions.

Luckily, we have both types of brakes now, making modern cars not only safe but easy to maintain. Keep in mind both types of brakes wear out, so if you hear any squeaking or other noise, it's time to get your brakes checked out.