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Robertson, Phillips, and the History of the Screwdriver

Robertson, Phillips, and the History of the Screwdriver
i'll see from the start here i'm not the most handy guy i know which end of the hammer to hit with but i'm not much more use around the house than that but even i own quite a lot of these

screwdriver

s here i mean after all it's one of the most common tools in the world half your house is put together with screws and you got to hang up your hat somehow right i would venture to guess that virtually everybody that watches this owns at least one

screwdriver

but the funny thing is that if you are a viewer in canada you are very likely to own a type of

screwdriver

that viewers outside of canada are very likely to have never seen or even heard of in their life and the reason that canada has its own kind of

screwdriver

has to do with a really unique point in

history

where a group of technologies came together to drive a whole bunch of innovation but that innovation was impacted by powerful world events at the time things like that the russian revolution and the first and second world wars and the powerful personality of henry ford the great debate between the

robertson

and the

phillips

head

screwdriver

is

history

that deserves to be remembered the idea of the screw that is an inclined plane that spirals around a central shaft is ancient the earliest known uses were a water pump that might have been invented in syria to irrigate the hanging gardens of babylon one of the seven wonders of the ancient world in the first millennium bc the device was in use in egypt at...
robertson phillips and the history of the screwdriver
least by the third century bc when the greek mathematician and engineer archimedes of syracuse saw and described one the device was later incorrectly attributed to archimedes as commonly called the archimedes screw screws were also used at least since the hellenistic period to drive presses for say pressing olive oil or pressing grapes for wine but screws were not used as fasteners like we used them today without industrial methods they simply would have been far too expensive to make a number of other methods including dovetails and dowels were used in fastening as well as of course the much more easily produced nail screws as fasteners were not apparently produced until around the 15th century nearly no mention is in a late 15th century manuscript their initial use was as a fastener for parts of medieval jousting armor and in nearly the same period for early firearms the wheel lock uses an internal spring to drive a piece of iron against a piece of pyrite to produce a spark to light the powder the pyrite wore out quickly and so had to be replaced often and a screw was thus used since could easily be screwed in and out the earliest

screwdriver

s were built to service these weapons and they were called either a screw turner or a turn screw and they had a pear-shaped wooden handle and otherwise looked a lot like a modern flat-headed

screwdriver

but these screws and

screwdriver

s would have been custom-made and used on very expensive devices like wheel locks and jousting armor...
robertson phillips and the history of the screwdriver
and so screws were not for the common folk in 1760 brothers job and william wyatt of staffordshire patented a screw making machine that used a file to cut in the threads following the pitch of a lead screw this allowed mass production of screws and was a precursor to industrial mass production machines the idea of using a lathe of some sort to cut threads was variously improved upon until the process for cold rolling threads was perfected in the 1880s but virtually all of these screws used just a few turning methods either a hexagon or square that was turned externally or a flat slot cut to turn internally and as anyone who has ever used one knows flat-headed screws and

screwdriver

s have their problems there were many alternatives proposed and even patented in the latter half of the 19th century but most were not easily manufactured and slotted screws still prevailed but solutions were on the horizon peter l

robertson

was born in haldeman county ontario canada in 1879 tinkerer

robertson

produced a number of inventions including a new design for cufflinks and even a better mousetrap in 1905 received a patent in canada for a new design of a corkscrew that centered itself on the bottle around the turn of the century

robertson

was working through eastern canada as what was called a height pitch man meaning a traveling salesman for a philadelphia tool company high pitch men would sell their where say on a street corner to county fair calling out their wares among the things that...
robertson phillips and the history of the screwdriver
he was selling was a device of his own design robert's 20th century wrench brace was a multi-tool that could be used as a monkey wrench as a brace as a bench vise as a

screwdriver

and as a rivet maker and he called it the greatest tool on earth and if all that sounds impressive there are actually several multi-tools that were very similar patented in that era but it was in demonstrating another tool a spring-loaded

screwdriver

that gave

robertson

his most famous idea while demonstrating the

screwdriver

which was flat-bladed the blade slipped and seriously cut his hand that gave him the idea of a new type of

screwdriver

head that was less likely to slip or cam out this is not a new concept there's a great variety of new screw head designs patented in the latter half of the 19th century but most never went anywhere largely because of difficulties in manufacturing but also because virtually everyone already owned a flat headed

screwdriver

in fact the basis of

robertson

's idea a square headed screw and driver was not new in 1875 alan cummings of new york city had been granted a patent for a screw that used a cavity either a square or triangle rather than a slot to address the same problem cummings description noted it is well known that the ordinary screw head provided with a slot is very susceptible to injury caused mainly by the slipping of the

screwdriver

from the slot when the screw is being set home in wood or metal by emitting the usual slot and using the proper...
shaped cavity and

screwdriver

perfect safety is insured to the metallic cap but cummings design had a flaw the way that you made the cavity that the

screwdriver

fit into was by stamping it with a die and stamping it deeply enough that the

screwdriver

would set inside it would deform or weaken the screw head

robertson

had a better solution for which he applied for a patent in 1907. his screw tapered the sides of the square gradually down to a pyramid shape this not only prevented the head from being deformed but actually helped align the metal grain as he explained knitting the atoms together for greater strength it had the added advantage of less waste since a slot of a slot-headed screw was usually cut out losing a bit of metal and weakening the head of the screw because it was less likely to cam out you could use more torque with the

robertson

screw and driver as it was self-centering it could be used with one hand whereas a slotted

screwdriver

usually required two the head of the screw was less likely to deform and the

robertson

screwdriver

was much better able to still remove the screw if it did it also worked better than a slotted screw if the screw had been painted over robert's screw and driver were particularly attractive to furniture makers and boat builders where it was more of a problem if a flathead screw came out because it would damage the material around it damage the value of the product but perhaps best of all is that

robertson

screw could be cold formed...
that is because the stamp tapered down inside the screw that meant that you could build the screw without ever having to heat the metal cummings design as ingenious as it was probably was never made during its patent life because the screw simply couldn't be easily manufactured but

robertson

's design could be cheaply manufactured in the millions calling his invention the biggest little invention of the 20th century so far

robertson

gained enough investors to open the p l

robertson

manufacturing company limited in 1908. he built a factory in milton ontario which gave him tax breaks and a ten thousand dollar loan the patent was approved february 1909 and by then the company was already filling orders

robertson

was just 30 years old while the

robertson

company described the initial years as hard with local competitors even challenging their patent the

robertson

screw solely gained adherence among boat builders and furniture makers in 1913 fisher auto body opened a factory in walkerville ontario making wooden parts for the ford model t the

robertson

screw offered a great advantage for manufacturing fisher became one of

robertson

's largest customers using some 700 screws per body

robertson

later designed a screw for metal to use on the all-metal body of the ford model a having been awarded international patents

robertson

saw the opportunity to expand abroad and so he went to gillingham england and established a company called the recess screw company he marketed to...
british industry using the slogan the screw that grips the driver but his real plan was to manufacture crews in england but sell them in germany and russia in the first world war the russian revolution foiled his plan recess screws turned to war production during the great war and produced things like firing needles and hand grenade pins but after the war recess crews failed there seems to be several factors involved including a glot of supply following the war and the actions of some unscrupulous investors but

robertson

resigned as the director of the company but the company in canada was still doing well and

robertson

looked to expand into the united states he attempted to negotiate a deal with a manufacturer in buffalo new york but the company wanted to say in manufacturing decisions and

robertson

perhaps stung by his experience in england refused to give up that control then henry ford came to the table an analysis has shown that the use of

robertson

screws in the ford plants in canada had saved two dollars and sixty cents a car a significant savings for car that retail for only three hundred ninety dollars and which was being produced in the millions ford wanted to use

robertson

screws in all his u.s plants but ford wanted to say in production in an exclusive contract and

robertson

stubbornly refused to give up that control when the deal fell through

robertson

not only did not get the contract for the american ford plans but lost the contracts in canada almost a third of...
his business after three failed tries

robertson

decided to never try to license his screws outside of canada again but his marketing skills made these screws and drivers the

screwdriver

s of choice in canada even though just across the border the united states they're hardly known at all but ford was still using flat screws which are even more troublesome on automated assembly lines where if a screw cammed out it cost time and slowed manufacturing the solution started with a patent application in 1932 by john p thompson an auto mechanic living in portland oregon thompson's new screw design used a cruciform like the square headed screw this was not a new idea but again similarly previous patents for screws using cruciform heads as he explained in the application push the metal ahead of the tool and so disturbs the distribution of the metal as to render the screw head extremely fragile thompson's solution was similar to

robertson

's by tapering the screw head a star die could be used without distorting the metal and again stamping the tapered design made the metal actually stronger moreover by tapering the screw a driver could be used if it was not the exact right size and again the new cruciform headed screw would engage with the driver making it less likely to cam out than a flathead screw in 1933 when the patent was granted thompson assigned it to henry frank

phillips

like

robertson

henry

phillips

had been a traveling salesman by the time the patent was...
assigned to him he was the managing director of a mining concern the oregon copper company it's not really clear why thompson assigned the patent to

phillips

it might be that thompson simply couldn't figure out how to sell it or couldn't find investors but it also might be that he already had agreement with

phillips

when the patent was filed but

phillips

refined the design and was granted more patents unlike

robertson

phillips

did not intend to manufacture screws but hoped to license the patents to manufacture and collect royalties not surprisingly with new invention phelps got a lot of rejections from companies who told him the idea lacked promise for commercial success but eventually

phillips

convinced eugene e clark of the american screw company of providence rhode island to manufacture the design by 1934 the screw was available for consumers while the tendency to came out could be troublesome for anyone driving screws it was a particular problem for manufacturing which even at that time was using power tools philips later patents applications seem to have recognized the advantage a 1934 application said failure of the slotted screw to retain the blade driver especially in power driven operations is not only dangerous to the operator but is likewise always injurious to the work it was clear what market he saw for his design in 1936 general motors was invited to test the design the

phillips

head screw first went into use at gm making the 1936 cadillac the...
advantages for industries large and small was obvious customers raved about the amount of work time saved within just a few years virtually all u.s automakers including ford were using

phillips

head screws the airplane manufacturing and railroad industry likewise switched by 1939 20 companies had licenses to produce

phillips

head screws by 1940 85 percent of u.s crew manufacturers had a license for the design and the company grossed more than 1.3 million adjusted dollars while the second world war limited foreign licenses it established the

phillips

head screw as an industry standard among wartime manufacturers the hundreds of thousands of planes and motor vehicles built by the us during the war were largely screwed together using

phillips

head screws by the time philips patents expired in the 1960s there were more than 160 domestic licensees and half again that number of foreign licenses while

robertson

had canada

phillips

screws are by industry estimates by far the most popular type of screw everywhere else in the world there's still a heated debate over which is better the

robertson

screwdriver

are the

phillips

-headed

screwdriver

and that debate has only grown more heated recently as the internet and fair trade makes it easier to acquire

robertson

's crews and drivers outside of canada in general the

robertson

screwdriver

does grip the screw better and that means that you don't have to use as much pressure to be able to turn the screw without it camming out and...
it's less likely to strip the screw which are both issues that bedevil common users of phillip-headed

screwdriver

s but that ability to came out actually offers an advantage for manufacturing with a

phillips

-headed screw when the machine has set the screw it will cam out and that keeps it from over driving the screw and as an advantage at home in a pinch you can use a flat-headed

screwdriver

to spin a

phillips

-headed screw and you can't do that with a

robertson

screw so far the

phillips

had remained supreme pretty much everywhere but canada but the

robertson

screwdriver

s made significant inroads especially among furniture and boat makers and the discussions become more convoluted as there are now many more alternatives on the market some of which are compatible with existing drivers its patents for the

phillips

head long expired the

phillips

screw company today develops and licenses some of those new types of screws and drivers the

phillips

-headed screw was so successful that it might have been too successful in 1947 the federal government funded charges against

phillips

and several manufacturers claiming that they had engaged in anti-competitive practices including price fixing and suppressing competition the eventual resolution in 1948 was a consent decree that reduced phillip's ability to enforce its patents the

robertson

and

phillips

screws were the culmination of the development of screw technology over a couple of hundred years and they were two types that...
rose to the top in an era where there was a lot of innovation in the field it's really ironic that the events of the first world war were part of the reason that the

robertson

screw was never developed internationally whereas events of the second world war where the reason that the philips headers grew was and the relative fates between the two say that invention isn't about just the inspiration and pun intended drive of the inventor but of a complex interaction with historical forces and powerful personalities things that can impact every tool in the toolbox i hope you enjoyed this episode of the

history

guy short snippets have forgotten

history

between 10 and 15 minutes long and if you did enjoy please go ahead and click that thumbs up button if you have any questions or comments or suggestions for future episodes please write those in the comment section i will be happy to personally respond be sure to follow the

history

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history

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