May 16th, 2024

Oscar Ulysses Zerk: Inventor of the Zerk Grease Fitting


The Zerk Grease Fitting Revolution

Oscar U. Zerk secured a patent for the Zerk Grease Fitting in January 1929, with the Alemite Manufacturing Corporation as the assignee. This invention marked a significant advancement in lubrication technology, especially for vehicle chassis. Alemite had been using ball check valves for grease guns since 1919, but Zerk's fitting offered superior protection against dirt and greater flexibility in application angles. Today, numerous manufacturers produce variations of these grease fittings.Before the Zerk fitting, lubricating machinery was more labor-intensive and less efficient. Bearings typically featured basic oil or grease holes with simple caps or cups. Lubrication was often gravity-fed or manually applied. While early grease guns existed, their fittings were less effective and harder to use.Maintenance usually involved covering lubrication holes with caps or plugs to prevent contamination. Some systems used small reservoirs that could be periodically turned to inject grease. Regular lubrication was essential, requiring operators or dedicated oilers to frequently add oil or grease to each fitting.

Zerk's Journey to Innovation

In 1907, Oscar Zerk moved to Cleveland, USA, and established a company to produce an early version of his grease fitting. Despite his engineering skills, he faced business challenges and was ousted by investors in 1913. During World War I, Zerk returned to Austria, served in the army, and was decorated for his service, mustering out in 1918.Post-war, Zerk returned to the United States, married, and joined the Allyne-Zerk Company. In 1924, Stewart-Warner, which owned Alemite, acquired Allyne-Zerk. Zerk became a stockholder and consulting engineer, refining his lubrication nipple design in 1929. He also played a key role in a major reorganization of Stewart-Warner in 1934, steering the company back to its core automotive focus.

Oscar Ulysses Zerk: A Prolific Inventor (1878–1968)

Oscar Zerk's inventive genius extended beyond the Zerk fitting. He held over 300 patents for a wide range of inventions, including leg-slimming hosiery, quick-freezing ice cube trays, spatterproof nail brushes, fail-safe brakes for trolley cars, vibration-free camera tripods, oil recovery systems, and car refrigerators. He also pioneered stamped metal wheels and wheel covers, and non-skid brakes for automobiles. An exceptionally bright child, Zerk attended a private school in Germany and, as a teenager, developed an electrically operated textile machine with a punch card control system, capable of complex weaving and replacing the labor of 12 people.