The History of David Brown & Where it is Now

What is David Brown?

David Brown is a famous engineering company that was founded in Yorkshire. This business specialises in gears and gearboxes.

Learn how a 19th century pattern maker gave us James Bond’s most iconic car.

Page Contents:

The beginning of David Brown

In 1860, a young man called David Brown was only 17 years old. He developed an interest in making wooden patterns and decided to create these in his landlord’s stable.

During this time, his landlord Thomas Broadbent who ran a foundry noticed David’s incredible work. Together they decided to form a partnership.

David soon decided that he wasn’t happy working for other people. As a result, he decided to save his money so he could start his own business.

By 1873, with the money David had saved he was able to create a business of his own. David realised that he couldn’t do all of the work himself so decided to employ two men.

He moved his business to a new location in Chapel Street, Huddersfield. It was here that David was able to concentrate on creating gear systems.

Old David Brown Tractor in an exhibition, Photo Credit, Martin Pettitt, Wikipedia, Creative Commons
Old David Brown Tractor in an exhibition, Photo Credit, Martin Pettitt, Wikipedia, Creative Commons

In 1879, the business became a limited company. It was registered at his home in South Street as David Brown & Company.

By 1898, the company was producing machine cut gears. They bought a machine from Germany for £500 which is roughly £69,245 in today’s money.

The Brown family built a brand new factory in 1902. This was located in the town at the Park Works site in Swan Lane, Lockwood where the firm is still based today.

A year later in 1903, David Brown died aged 60. As part of his will, he left the business to his sons Ernest, Percy, and Frank.

Despite owning part of the company, Ernest was given more by his late father. He inherited the pattern making business.

Ernest soon grew bored with this venture and decided to leave the firm. His brothers, Frank and Percy, became joint managing directors.

How David Brown became what it is today

The company’s first venture into the overseas market came in 1913. They formed a partnership with American company Timken to produce worm drive gear units.

David Brown & Company also acquired manufacturing rights to two cars – the Dodson and the Valveless. However, production had to stop at the outbreak of the First World War.

The war would prove beneficial for the company. They started with 200 employees but ended up with over 1,000.

Each member of staff was helping to produce warship propulsion units and armament drive mechanisms. By 1921, they were the world’s largest manufacturers of worm gears.

In 1930, the company decided to expand. They took over another local firm called P.R. Jackson Ltd.

The year after, Frank became sole chairman following the death of his brother Percy. He decided to appoint his 28 year old son David as managing director.

In 1934, they formed another overseas partnership with Australian company Richardson Gears (Pty) Ltd. As a result they were able to open a second Huddersfield factory at Meltham.

One of the company’s biggest developments came in 1935. They obtained a patent for the Merrit-Brown differential steering system for use in tanks.

This was first used in the Churchill Tank. However, since then it has gone on to be the standard for the Centurion, the Conqueror, and the Tortoise heavy tank.

A new era of production began in 1936. The business started building tractors at their new Meltham site.

Initially, tractors were built jointly with Harry Ferguson. However, a disagreement over design led to Brown going solo in 1938 while Ferguson formed a short-lived partnership with Ford.

The David Brown VAK1 Tractor was launched at the 1939 Royal Show. Eventually it sold over 7,000 units.

During the Second World War, David Brown increased production again. They built aircraft tugs for the RAF.

The business was also the only producer of gears for the Spitfires’ Merlin engines. By the end of the war, they employed over 6,000 people.

In 1947, David Brown saw an advertisement in the Times offering a ‘high class motor business’ for sale. This was Aston Martin, which he bought for £20,000 which is roughly £832,700 today.

The following year, the business bought another. This was the Lagonda which he purchased from almost three times as much.

David Brown acquired Transvaal based Precision Equipment (Pty) Ltd. The company was able to produce the best sports cars of the era.

Many of these were favoured by Ian Fleming. He thought that they would be perfect as an addition to the James Bond novels.

These included V8 Vantage, V12 Vanquish, DBS, and 007’s most famous car of all in the films – the Aston Martin DB5.

During 1972, David Brown faced financial difficulties. As a result, the car business was sold to a Birmingham based consortium and the tractor business to Tenneco Inc. in America.

Despite contracts to supply gearboxes for the conversion of warships to gas propulsion, the company faced increased competition. This came from important goods and stricter Health and Safety laws.

This led to the company floating on the stock market in 1993. As a result, they were then bought by Textron Inc.

Where is David Brown Now?

Despite changing owners, the company managed to keep its head offices. It also continues to manufacture in Huddersfield.

In September 2008, it returned to British ownership when the business was purchased by Clyde Bowers. 2 years later in 2010, the company celebrated its 150th year.

Then, in 2016, the business merged with Santasalo to become David Brown Santasalo. Since then it has remained in the hands of N4 Partners.

Today it’s still recognised as a leading specialist in gear engineering and innovation with manufacturing plants in 18 countries around the world.

Not bad going for a 17 year old lad who started his business in his landlord’s stable.