The Corporate Altruism That Made the Seat Belt Great

The legacy of the seat belt, the world’s most prevalent safety device, and the act of corporate goodwill that ensured everyone‘s car got the best design.

Ernie Smith
13 min readJan 7, 2019

Traveling, in one way or another, is often a series of belts.

Perhaps you’re traveling in a car, and you’re putting on a seat belt to ensure your safety. Perhaps you’re one of those infamous customers of size on an airplane and you’re forced to ask the flight attendant for a seat belt extender. Maybe you’re just walking around town with your Chrome Industries bag, which features a prominent seat belt buckle.

Either way, the seat belt has become a key part of our lives, a strap of nylon webbing that has saved a whole lot of lives in the roughly 100 or so years since they’ve been embedded into the mainstream.

Buckle up, as I tell you all about the history of the seat belt.

“European and American practice are in agreement on the point of not providing parachutes. As for safety belts, British and Dutch opinion is against their installation. Most of the transports operating in the United States do not provide belts for the passengers, but it is being demonstrated rapidly that they are sometimes necessary.”

— Charles N. Monteith, the chief engineer of Boeing, speaking to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in a 1929 presentation, covered by The New York Times, that discussed at length the need for various amenities on aircraft. Yes, that’s correct; at one point parachutes were discussed as a potential option for passengers. Humor aside about this, seat belts were first commonly seen in airplanes before they appeared in cars.

The highly tested, highly used seat belt. (Jasz Paulino/Flickr)

Let’s talk about the fabric that seat belts are made out of, because it’s…

Ernie Smith

Editor of @readtedium, the dull side of the internet. You may know me from @ShortFormBlog. Subscribe to my thought machine: