Henry Ford usually was quick to recognize a good innovation, and he jumped at one developed in the 1930s by Federal-Mogul Corp.
Federal-Mogul researcher E.R. Darby was a metallurgist trying to develop a better engine bearing. Darby thought a cadmium alloy would be an improvement over brass and Babbitt metals used in those days.
He tested several alloys at the Batelle Memorial Institution in Columbus, Ohio, because Federal-Mogul's relatively new lab wasn't properly equipped.
In 1932, Darby produced an alloy of cadmium, zinc and antimony. It resisted heat, corrosion and scoring better than other alloys at the time.
Darby then needed to find a commercially viable mix that could be mass-produced cheaply. In 1934, he developed an alloy of cadmium, silver and copper into the CS-50 bearing. Ford was the first customer.
"Ford saw the value of this very quickly," says Federal-Mogul spokeswoman Adele Ice. "The new bearings were extremely suitable for heavily loaded engines."
Ford used the CS-50 bearings for the connecting rods for all cars in the 1935 model year. Federal-Mogul continues to be a major Ford supplier and ranks No. 31 on the Automotive News list of top 150 original equipment suppliers to the automotive industry.
Federal-Mogul later acquired a couple of companies with early connections to Ford. McCord Gasket Co. made what was essentially the first head gasket in 1905. Before that, engines were cast in one piece, making repairs difficult.
The Model T engine was cast in two blocks, which meant a gasket needed to be in between them. McCord fulfilled that order.
Federal-Mogul, which acquired the McCord brand in 1998, has the 1905 thank-you letter from Ford. Federal-Mogul also acquired Champion spark plugs in 1998.
Champion Ignition Co., founded by Albert Champion, began selling spark plugs to Ford in 1911.
Terry Kosdrosky is a staff reporter for Crain's Detroit Business, a sister publication to Automotive News.