January 1903: Harry Parsons’ snow chains

snow chains

With Britain in the middle of its coldest snap for some considerable time, there is the usual scrabbling around to find low-cost and effective ways of coping with the weather. But with budgets tight, it seems that a look back at age-old inventions could help provide some answers. In 1903, The Engineer became particularly excited about the snow chains offered by a Mr Harry Parsons of Clapham Road, London.

“It would appear that a device has at last been invented whereby the bête noire of the motor car driver – side slip – can be circumvented,” wrote The Engineer. “Self-propelled vehicles, and motors have been crying out for a device which will, figuratively speaking, interpose a suitable path between the tyre and the film of grease.”

The solution was to place two flexible wire hoops on each side of the wheel and connect them together with steel chains passing in a zig-zag from one hoop to the other. Very similar to today’s snow chains, the design was reported to operate in all weather conditions without causing excessive wear or damage to the tyre.

“The effect in running is said to be that the non-skidder creeps around the wheel,” added the article. “Regarding for the moment one chain only, this would never press the tyre in the same spot in two or three consecutive revolutions… we understand that the device has been put to very thorough tests, and has acquitted itself well.”

Snow chains today come with their own problems. But the lasting popularity of Parsons’ concept proves that simple solutions can be very effective.

Harry Parsons (1872-1951) was the founder and chairman of the Parsons Engineering Company, Southampton, and was well known in the British internal combustion engine industry. Some of the products of his firm, notably the Parsons marine engine, became world famous.