How a Manual Transmission Works

February 3, 2016

Spinning LeversThis 1936 Film Explains Exactly How a Manual Transmission Works

In today’s world, people tend to groan at the thought of watching educational training films, yet there is a fascinating history behind them.  Of particular interest is the collection of films and filmstrips produced for GM’s Chevrolet division by The Jam Handy Organization (JHO) in Detroit.

You may never have heard of Henry Jamison “Jam” Handy, but almost a century before TV producer Matthew Weiner conjured up the fictional persona of ad man Don Draper, Jam Handy was inventing and shaping the way Americans bought and sold consumer goods, particularly cars.

We love one of his vintage educational films from 1936, which nicely details how our beloved human-shifted gearboxes work.

This is a gem, created to explain the high-tech mechanical concepts of the day in a way that just about anybody could understand. It has all the trademark features of a Jam Handy production: brilliant visual aids, excellent mechanical analysis, and charming old-timey voice-over work.

Jam Handy was a real character, a rambunctiously productive former Olympic swimmer who made a career out of producing short informational films for soldiers, salesmen, mechanics, and the average layperson. This film, “Spinning Levers,” was commissioned by Chevrolet in 1936 to explain how a manual transmission works—and, as a side benefit, to highlight the then-new synchromesh technology that was a highlight of the ’36 Chevy lineup. It’s basically one of the first advertorials.

Anyway, take a 10-minute educational break and learn the basics of what’s going on inside most stick-shift transmissions. Even if you understand the concept implicitly, we’re certain you’ll learn something from the irrepressible Jam Handy.

Click here to see the YouTube video

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