Atomic Awesome, Big Complicated Machines, Technostalgia

Mesta memories #22: Gear Drives


One of the things that always stand out to me when I’m looking at pictures of old factories and machinery, is the enormous gears that are used almost everywhere. The herringbone-toothed gear shown above is a great example.

The Mesta Machine Company made a great variety of large gear drives for heavy industry and power production. The following pictures show some of the monstrous gears that Mesta made on a regular basis.








All images are from the 1919 edition of “Plant and product of the Mesta Machine Company, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania“.

Other articles in this series:

Mesta Memories #10 – Gas Blowing Engines

Regarding the Images in “Mesta Memories”

Mesta Memories #11 – Steam Blowing Engines

Mesta Memories #12 – Gas Power Engines

Mesta Memories #13 – Una-Flow Engines

Mesta Memories #14 – Corliss Engines

Mesta Memories #15 – Reversing Engines

Mesta Memories #16 – Air Compressors and Barometric Condensers

Mesta Memories #17 – Blooming Mills

Mesta Memories #18 – Slabbing and Plate Mills

Mesta Memories #19 – Merchant, Bar and Structural Mills

Mesta Memories #20: Wheel and Tire Mills

Mesta Memories #21: Sheet Mills and a Pickling Machine

  • I'm glad to see the resumption of this series. The Mesta Machine Company never disappoints.

  • sawermassey

    MORE OF THIS! lol
    One of the many reasons I enjoy this blog.

  • This company had such absolute control over their supply chain, since they were the only goddamned link in that chain. Literally iron ore went in one end and finished machines came out the other. Along the way the iron was forged and machined by machines that were designed and manufactured on site, each one optimized to work perfectly with the next.

    The monolithic homogeneity of it is astounding by today's standards, when a machine might have to deal with workpieces from 6 or 7 different suppliers, each of whom is cheating in some inscrutable way and the machine needs to be biased to make up for multiple inconsistencies.

    Not Mesta. You knew who made your steel. You knew who built the mold for your gear. You knew this not just for your workpiece, but for the machine you were using to cut the teeth on that gear. I'm sure in some cases the guy that made your machine or workpiece pattern was yourself!

    While this system allowed for absolute quality control and resulted in the highest quality parts possible, it also existed in a sort of vacuum which allowed for egregious waste in pursuit of that quality, and a kind of hidebound entrenchment in methods. The Sole Supplier model lacked any impetus for the kind of resource saving innovation that comes with 'cheating', or trying to get the highest quality for the lowest effort.

  • monkey_tennis

    So why do we not see such large gears anymore (even in machinery doing ostensibly the same job such as rolling mills, machine presses etc.)?

    – Is it that higher strength steels (enabling greater torque and shear resistance) mean that the same power can be transmitted through smaller radius gear sets?

    – Is it that in many of the applications for these huge gears that they are generally being replaced by non-gear drives (hydraulics or similar)?

    …or is there some other change I am missing?

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