The concept of the universal joint came, historically, from the same source of genius that brought us spaghetti, paper, gun powder, and a long wall — we call it the “Great Wall” — that is the only man-madeobject that is visible from outer space.
You guessed it. U-joints were first conceived in China, about the time the West began to keep track of days on the Julian calendar. The Chinese invented the gimbal which they used to keep candles upright under changeable conditions. Not sure why they needed to do that, but gimbals found a use on ships to keep compasses level and in aircraft to suspend gyroscopes.
The Chinese may have had the original idea, but it took an Italian named Cardano (no doubt grateful for the spaghetti) to visualize the gimbal as a universal joint. Later, an Englishman named Hooke perfected it and applied it to optical instruments.
Two things were necessary to make the universal joint… well,universal. The first was Clarence Spicer who received a patent for it in 1903 while he was still a student at Cornell University. Spicer was one of those rare creative people who come along just when they are needed. At that time, other people in Detroit, Cleveland, Indianapolis, and other places (Plattsburg, NY?) were busy trying to adapt engines to carriages. Instead of belts, chains, and cumbersome gears, u-joints provided the means of smoothly getting torque around a corner.
Curtis got into the act in 1936, in the niche for block-and-pin joints for a myriad of industrial and commercial applications. We like to feel that we moved the technology forward with our trademarked TakeApart™ design that enables users to replace worn parts almost instantly. Today, you will find Curtis u-joints in everything from submarines to farm equipment to commercial washing machines.
All because someone in China wanted to keep their candles upright.