Biography of John W. Lambert

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JOHN W. LAMBERT, originator of the famous Lambert Patented Friction Transmission, and treasurer and general manager of the Buckeye Manufacturing Company. The “Sage of East Aurora” has said: “To achieve fame, seek out an unpopular cause that you kn0w is right; then work for it, live for it, die for it.” There is something reflecting this thought underlying the struggles of those pioneers of industrial progress who have had the hardihood to disagree with established ideas and processes and substitute for them new methods and revolutionary inventions. Through years of discouragement and ridicule, Alexander Bell brought his telephone to final public acceptance, and today many will agree that he is the greatest benefactor of modern business. But a short time ago, Peter Cooper built a locomotive and dreamed of transcontinental traffic. Luxurious trains now take us from New York to San Francisco in five days-a forceful tribute to the far-sightedness of this pioneer who dared work against public sentiment that the wheels of progress might revolve with greater speed. There are those living who laughed at the “impossible” invention of Samuel Morse. We all remember the public skepticism that preceded the epoch-making achievement of Marconi,

The point is that these men, with scores of others like them, believed in their ideas and fought for them through every sort of discouragement until success and approval finally smiled upon them. From their efforts we draw a lesson that, even in our smaller, more prosaic undertakings, cannot fail to leave its impress upon our work. Things worth while seldom come easily or over night. And just as there seems to be something inherent in mankind that scoffs at the attempts of 0ur giant brothers to overturn established practices, just so does it seem to be the habit of the big men of all times to keep on and on, unmindful of discouragements, overcoming barriers, hopeful and confident of making their dreams come true. Big men are attracted to the big problems. Bridge building, canal digging, railroad construction, and, more recently, automobile building, have drawn the daring masters of commerce, the seekers after the romantic in business.

Even in the pioneer days of the automobile business, certain conventions of construction were established. Some of these were uprooted early to be succeeded by the improvements that necessarily follow in the rapid development of a new world-industry. Others, though thought by many to be basically wrong, held on and even to this day few have had the hardihood to attempt the changes that mean so much opposition on the part of those who decry a disturbance of set methods. But the business, since its incepti0n, has attracted many men who have not been content to build on the ideas of others. For the most part they have played “the game for the game’s sake.” They have found no joy or profit in their work except as they might discover faults and remedies for them; except as they might plan innovations and, after a hard struggle, put them ” over the plate.”

Twenty years ago-almost a life-time as things are reckoned in the autom0bile world-a man of this type began building a self-propelled vehicle at Anderson, Indiana, where he was already regarded as one of the successful manufacturers of the town. To be sure, he did not spend his time experimenting with a conventional car. Cut and dried methods did not appeal to him in the least. It was a three-wheeler to which he turned his thoughts and his inventive capacities. And he built a successful three-wheeled car, only to abandon the idea, as a whole, on the grounds that his deeper study of the market failed to show him the necessary commercial possibilities of a vehicle of that type. But that abandoned three-wheel enterprise formed the foundation of a business today grown to sturdy proportions. The present Lambert pleasure cars and power wagons, known wherever automobiles are bought and sold, are its proud successors in the affections and interests of the man wh0se name they bear, John Lambert. Even during the time he was trying to perfect a three-wheeled car that would be practicable and marketable, Mr. Lambert had his attention focused upon certain features of conventional automobile construction that he knew to be sources of certain trouble and confusion, and which he intuitively felt could and should be remedied. Many improvements, now of universal adoption, are products of his thought and industry; but, without doubt, his most important invention is what is now known in the trade as “The Lambert Patented Friction Transmission,”

In his earlier work, Mr. Lambert used in the cars he built the usual type of gear transmission. That he abandoned it is, in itself, a forceful argument in favor of the simpler form of transmitting power from engine to driving mechanism, based on the time-tried principle of friction. His mechanical mind grasped the idea that the tendency in automobile construction should be toward simplicity. He foresaw that a universal use of power-driven vehicles depended upon a reduction of up-keep and maintenance costs, rather than upon a lowered cost of first production of selling prices. He knew that there were thousands of men who could afford to buy a car, but who could not aff0rd to run the gauntlet of expense necessary to maintain one, based on the then tremendous outlay for broken and worn-out parts due to complicated construction and to the lack of mechanical knowledge and skill of those who wished to do their own driving. This amounted to a conviction, and he decided at once to begin the experimental work that has since resulted in the perfecti0n of the simple, powerful, fool-proof and safe Lambert friction transmission. The greatest difficulties encountered in attaining success for his product lay more in convincing the public of its value than in perfecting it mechanically-just a repetition of the difficulties that the pioneers of pr0gress have been up against for all time.

Practically all other builders of automobiles employed the gear type of transmission. Many of them, due to the tremendous popularity of the automobile itself, and the unexpected demand that characterized its earlier history, were highly successful from the standpoint of large output and high profits. People unfamiliar with mechanics and mechanical principles reasoned that if the friction type of transmission had such extraordinary advantages as were claimed for it, why were not these large builders using it?

Naturally, those who had automobiles to sell wanted to sell their own. They laughed at the Lambert form of transmissi0n. Many “knocked” it outright without reason or thought; others damned it with faint praise; all refused to see, or at least to recognize its superior points until there grew up among users, dealers and manufacturers a prejudice against it. But this did not, by any means, discourage the Lamberts. Though theirs was the only concern using this transmission innovation; though they were compelled to fight this commercial battle alone and unaided, they knew the principle of their invention as well as the application was right; and they knew that ultimately a proper and just recognition would come. That correct theory and right judgment will rise to the surface of universal usage is an inexorable law. And so they continued to employ in their pleasure cars their simple friction device. Each year saw an increasing output; each season a growing tendency toward greater public favor. They built into every part of their product an honesty of intent and purpose that gradually won for them an honorable standing, not only am0ng those who used their car, but among competing manufacturers as well. They built strain- bearing parts more heavily; they sought to simplify construction wherever it could be done without sacrifice of strength or efficiency; they used better materials than most of the manufacturers who produced cars of their price-better iron, better steel, better tires, better axles.

Early and late, season after season, they planned to build each car better than its predecessor, to produce a line of models that would, more nearly than any other, meet the needs and requirements of those to whom they sought to sell. Today finds their plant a busy hive of industry, filled with an army 9′ hurrying workmen, behind orders nearly every day in the year, and with plans for expansion and increased output that will satisfy the hundreds of dealers who are clamoring for their line.

Today we find the old prejudice against the friction system of transmission practically laid to rest among the other ghostly impediments of progress, with scores of successful manufacturers of both pleasure and commercial cars adopting it without fear of outcome, and the Lamberts fighting in the courts of the land to retain, under their patents, the fruits of their labors and brains. The very disputing of their claims may be taken as a public recognition of the worth of their invention.

Since Mr. Lambert began the manufacture of automobiles at Anderson, he has seen the town grow into an important center for the production, not only of finished accessories and parts of varied character and large output that have won well merited fame and found their way into the wide markets of the w0rld, but of cars other than his own.

John W. Lambert was born in Champaign County, Ohio, January 29, 1860, son of George and Anna (Liber) Lambert, natives of Pennsylvania and early settlers of the Buckeye State. He received his educati0n in the public schools of his native state, and then went to Union City, where he formed a partnership with his father, and under the firm style of J. W. Lambert & Company, engaged in the manufacture of fork handles and spokes. Subsequently, he moved to Ohio City, where he was for some time. He conducted an agricultural implement store and grain elevator, and in 1893, came to Anderson from Union City, moving a part of the machinery from the plant at that place to Anderson, this being the nucleus for the present plant. This now covers six acres, is brick construction, and equipped with the most modern machinery of every kind, 250 people being employed in the works. In 1893 it was incorporated under the firm name of the Buckeye Manufacturing Company and the Lambert Gas and Gasoline Engine Company, and recently the plant has been equipped for the manufacture of automobiles, a very superi0r car being turned out. The capital stock of this concern is $100,000, and the present officers are as follows: B. F. Lambert, president; George A. Lambert, secretary; John W. Lambert, treasurer and general manager. Among his associates John W. Lambert is known as a man of force of will, possessed of the courage of his convictions. It will be seen from a perusal of the foregoing sketch that faith in self and indomitable perseverance have no small place in his character, qualities that have unlocked for him the portals of success and brought out some of its rich treasures. Aside from his business his chief pleasure is his home, and his handsome city residence, located at No. 705 Hendricks street, and surrounded by beautiful shade trees, is 0ne of the finest in the city.

In 1884 Mr. Lambert was married to Miss Mary F. Kelly, of Ansonia, Ohio, daughter of T. T. Kelly. Two children have been born to this union, namely E. Moe and Roy, who are associated with their father in business. They are manufacturers of gas engines, stationary and portable farm tractors and commercial motor trucks, railroad inspection cars and gasoline street cars.




MLA Source Citation:

Forkner, John. History of Madison County, Indiana: a narrative account of its historical progress, its people and its principal interests. Chicago: The Lewis publishing company, 1914. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 23 April 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/indiana/biography-of-john-w-lambert.htm - Last updated on Aug 29th, 2012


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