The company was founded by Henry Timken in St. Louis, Missouri in 1899 and incorporated as The Timken Roller Bearing Axle Company. In 1898 Timken had obtained a patent for the tapered roller bearing for which the company would become known. At the time, Timken was a carriage-maker in St. Louis and held three patents for carriage springs. However, it was his patent for tapered roller bearings that allowed his company to become successful.
Tapered roller bearings were a breakthrough at the end of the 19th century because bearings used in wheel axles had not changed much since ancient times. They relied on bearings enclosed in a case that held lubricants. These were called "friction bearings" and depended on lubricants to function. Without proper lubrication, these bearings would fail due to excessive heat caused by friction. Timken was able to significantly reduce the friction on his bearings by using a "cup" and "cone" design incorporating tapered bearings which actually rolled, which reduced the load placed on the bearings by distributing the weight and load evenly across the cups, cones, and bearings.
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