Inventive Iowan Created First 4-Wheel Drive
May 1, 2020
At the 2020 Des Moines Concours, we’re honoring the Iowa roots of 4-wheel drive. Our 4×4 and 4-Wheel Drive Class pays tribute to the foundational work of Jesse Livingood in creating a 4-wheel drive attachment for a Ford automobile in 1914.
At the time, Iowa’s road system covered a good portion of the state. Roads, particularly in rural Iowa, were little more than graded dirt. Iowa’s “gravel bees” in 1916 and 1917 saw the first concerted efforts by communities to make huge improvements of these roads.
Livingood lived in New Virginia, Iowa and ran his repair shop out of an empty corn crib on the family farm. He tinkered as he sought to improve traction, reduce wear, and lower the running costs of driving on Iowa’s roads and around the farm. This led him to develop a bolt-on 4-wheel drive system that he fitted to a Ford Model T. The system could be mounted to any Ford chassis in three to four hours, and would provide braking on all corners and sure footing in mud, sand, and snow or any other inclement weather Iowa could muster.
Livingood is credited for many more inventions including the “pulley and ball” thrust bearing, the differential transmission, the speed governor, two- and four-cylinder steam engines, and the four-wheel brake system. Sadly, due to errors at the U.S. Patent Office, Livingood did not profit from his inventions and lived a modest life.
The Des Moines Concours is looking for 4X4 and 4-wheel drive vehicles that help tell the story of this Iowa development and its effects on vehicles. Iowa has a rich automotive history and our Class Chair Gabe Bosma will be looking for the finest examples of 4X4 and 4-wheel drive vehicles the Midwest and U.S. have to offer. See our Application to Exhibit at https://exhibit.desmoinesconcours.com.