Dr. Albert Kingsbury, inventor of the pivoted-shoe thrust bearing, began testing his first designs in 1898.
His ingenuity paid off a few years later in 1912, with the first commercial installation of a tilt-pad fluid-film thrust bearing at Pennsylvania Power & Light's Holtwood generating station on the Susquehanna River, one of the most sophisticated hydroelectric plants of its time.
Each of Holtwood's 10,000-kilowatt generators weighed about 180 tons and accepted 45 tons of force from the water passing through its turbines. Under such a heavy load, conventional bearings rarely lasted more than two months before failing. But Kingsbury's patented new invention, a pivoted shoe bearing that rested on a film of oil instead of balls or rollers, supported 100 times the load of previous bearings and increased Holtwood's generating capacity dramatically.
This installation was so successful, in fact, that it is still in operation today and has been recognized by the ASME as one of only a few International Engineering Landmarks ever awarded.
Kingbury Machine Works is born in the Cradle of Liberty
Attracted by the success of his bearing at Holtwood, prominent customers like General Electric, Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing and the United States Navy soon sought Professor Kingsbury's expertise. Encouraged by this, Kingsbury left a position at Westinghouse in 1921, moved to Philadelphia and started Kingsbury Machine Works.
He continued to look for ways to increase bearing load capacity and soon developed the Equalizing Thrust Bearing, which utilized pivoted bearing shoes that uniformly distributed the load on the surface of the bearing, reducing uneven wear.
Kingsbury bearings began to gain widespread acceptance in both power generation and marine propulsion. By 1925, over 700 U.S. Navy ships had Kingsbury bearings on board.
The company continued its support of the American military over the next two decades, through World War II.
Professor Kingsbury's talents extended to business as well. He sucessfully shepherded the company through the Great Depression without laying off any employees. Instead, he cut the work week back to two days. When the company prospered again in the early 1940s, Kingsbury astonished his workers by repaying them for every day of work they had missed.
Professor Kingsbury led his company to technical and financial success right up until his death in 1943. He left behind a legacy of achievement that continues to this day.