- Written by webmin
The automobile was not an immediate success, as we all know. It was expensive, sure, but the poor quality of roads outside of metropolitan areas also prevented adoption of the horseless carriage by rural residents for more than a decade. Monroe Robert Grier had a solution to the latter problem – increase traction.
Born in Virginia in 1855, Grier farmed his whole adult life in and around St. Louis, Missouri. Farmers are, by nature, tinkerers, and by the turn of the century, Grier had a few patents to his name: one for a granary (293,574), one for a fan (449,025), and one for a gate (231,560). In 1905, he had one more idea he decided to patent – a four-wheel drive motor vehicle that also featured four-wheel steering and a primitive sort of portal axle. In the patent (834,008), he described it as a “utility hauling vehicle,” and its solid wheels, lack of suspension and simple frame construction suggest that it was to be used more as a cart for use around the farm rather than as a pleasure vehicle for passengers. Grier didn’t provide any specifications for the motor, only suggesting it be “of any suitable character.”
If you ignore for a moment the back-then-forth transmission of power to the front wheels, Grier still missed out on being the earliest American proponent of four-wheel drive by about a year. Grier applied for his patent in September 1905 and was granted it in October 1906, yet Californian Charles W. Van Winkle had Grier beat by 15 months with the issue of his patent (764,646) for a drivable, steerable front axle. Van Winkle then went on to build an actual four-wheel drive automobile in 1905. We’ve yet to find an earlier patent than Grier’s on four-wheel steering or portal axles, however.
We so far see no evidence that Grier ever built his vehicle. He assigned his patents, in half, to Albert Kunze, who apparently worked with inventors to capitalize on their patents. Kunze found success with Walter H. Cotton’s magnetic spark ignition patents, ultimately selling those to the Dayton Electrical Manufacturing Company in 1903, yet Grier’s patent doesn’t appear to have enticed any buyers.
Grier continued to farm until his early 80s and died in 1937.