When were Airbags invented: A Brief History of Airbags

Today, airbags are a standard safety feature in all new cars and trucks. But it wasn’t always that way. In fact, the airbag has a relatively short but fascinating history. Here’s a look at how this life-saving device came to be.

The Early Years

The first airbags were actually developed for use in aircraft, not automobiles. In the early 1950s, American inventor John W. Hetrick was inspired by a news story about a pilot who survived a crash because he was thrown clear of the wreckage. Hetrick came up with the idea of an inflatable cushion that would prevent pilots from being ejected from their seats in the event of a crash. He filed for a patent on his design in 1952 and received it the following year.

Hetrick’s airbag idea didn’t take off (pun intended) in the aviation world, but it did catch the attention of General Motors engineer Earl Bakken. Bakken saw the potential for using Hetrick’s airbag design in automobiles and set to work developing a prototype. His first attempt—an inflated balloon attached to the steering wheel—wasn’t terribly successful, but Bakken persevered and eventually created a functioning airbag system. The first car equipped with an airbag was a Buick Riviera that was built in 1971.

The Modern Era

Today’s airbags are far more sophisticated than Bakken’s early prototypes, but the basic principle is still the same. Airbags are deployed when sensors detect that a collision is imminent. A burst of nitrogen gas is released into an inflatable bag, causing it to fill with hot air within milliseconds. The inflated bag then presses against whoever is in the front seat, preventing them from being thrown forward during a crash.

Airbags have come a long way since they were first introduced in cars, and they continue to evolve as technology improves. For example, side-impact airbags are now common in many vehicles, and some manufacturers are experimenting with seat belts that tighten automatically during a crash. It’s safe to say that we can all be grateful that this life-saving technology exists—even if we never want to have to use it!


So, there you have it: a brief history of airbags! These life-saving devices have come a long way since they were first introduced in cars back in 1971, and they continue to evolve as technology improves. Next time you’re driving down the road, take comfort in knowing that your car is equipped with these lifesavers—even if you hope you never need to use them!

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