Traction drives are among the simplest of all speed changing mechanisms. Although they have been in industrial use for more than 50 years, their operating characteristics and performance capabilities are not widely known. This paper briefly traces their technical evolution from early uses as main transmissions in automobiles at the turn of the century to modern, high-powered traction drives capable of transmitting hundreds of horsepower. Recent advances in technology are described which enable today's traction drive to be a serious candidate for off-highway vehicles and helicopter applications. Improvements in materials, traction fluids, design techniques, power loss and life prediction methods will be highlighted. Performance characteristics of the Nasvytis fixed-ratio drive are given. Promising future drive applications, such as helicopter main transmissions and servo-control positioning mechanisms are also addressed.