Saturday, November 10, 2012
Many believe that the concept of air bags in cars to mitigate collision injury to vehicle occupants is a product of the late 1980’s. Not so. In 1951, German Walter Linderer and American John Hedrik applied for patents for early airbags. The bags were largely ineffectual because they could deploy fast enough. To deploy the bag, the driver had to have the presence of mind to anticipate the accident, and then flip a switch, not unlike turning on the car’s headlights or adjusting the radio, to deploy the bag. Needless to say, it was not a very practical system. A good system to trigger the deployment of the air bag did not yet exist – but they had the concept right. An acceptable triggering system would have to wait until Allen Breed submitted for a patent for his invention, the first electro-mechanical air bag triggering system. The first airbags sold commercially on a passenger car appeared on the 1973 Oldsmobile Tornado. Wide use would need to wait until the mid-1980’s.
(Source: Mary Bellis The History of Air Bags New York Times online)