Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Bit of History

I learned a bit of history in today's local paper. The idea of solid center auger bit came from a blacksmith right here in Martinsville!

"IRWIN TOOLS has a long and storied history stretching for over a century set against the backdrop of a young ambitious nation.This is the story of two men, from the American Heartland, who shared a deep belief in the idea that with imagination and determination anything could be accomplished.

In 1884 Charles IRWIN owned a pharmacy in Martinsville, Ohio. A local blacksmith who was a customer of Mr. IRWIN's came up with the idea for a solid center auger bit. He sold the rights to this invention to Mr. IRWIN and a year later, after patenting the Auger bit, Charles IRWIN, along with four other business partners formed the IRWIN Auger Bit Co.

About four decades later there was another blacksmith with an idea, this one in the small town of DeWitt, Nebraska. William Petersen was a Danish immigrant who invented the first locking pliers in his blacksmith shop, and began selling them from the trunk of his car to farmers and people in surrounding towns. He patented his new idea and called it Vise-Grip.

It was the beginning of what would become two tool industry leaders, joining forces to create one industry giant.In 1993 the company's histories would converge. Petersen Manufacturing, which changed its name to American Tool Companies in 1985, acquired the IRWIN Tool Company.

This strategy of growth through acquisition and innovation has been proven with an unparalleled history of breakthrough products. Today IRWIN Industrial Tools is a global company with a stable of brands that is the envy of the tool world. Our reputation as an industry leader rests on the foundation that Charles and William built so long ago.

IRWIN Timeline
1884 - Charles IRWIN purchases rights to solid center auger bit

1885 - The IRWIN Auger Bit Co. is formed

1924 - Bill Petersen granted basic patent for locking pliers

1934 - Petersen Manufacturing Co. formed to manufacture and market Vise-Grip locking tools

1938 - First official Vise-Grip tools plant opens in an old DeWitt, Nebraska drug store with a staff of 37

1945 - First National Hardware Show; Vise-Grip tools are there

1957 - Modern-design 10WR Vise-Grip locking pliers go on the market with curved jaw and wire cutter

1962 - Petersen Manufacturing opens a plant in Cumberland, Wisconsin for manufacturing twist drills

1978 - Petersen Manufacturing workforce expands to 637 people

1979 - Gorham, Maine plant opens, manufacturing Hanson and IRWIN branded tools

1985 - American Tool Companies, Inc. is formed by the Petersen family and acquires Petersen Manufacturing

1993 - American Tool acquires The IRWIN Tool Company, a revered manufacturer of power tool accessories and cutting tools

2002 - Newell Rubbermaid acquires American Tool

2003 - American Tool name officially changes to IRWIN Industrial Tool Company

Sadly the last entry on the timeline is last employees offered transfer to North Carolina as Wilmington will officially close. Irwin was a big part of Wilmington and Clinton County. Many good tool men trained and worked there.

I was interested to see there was even a Pharmacy in town about the time this house was built. A blacksmith, I am not surprised but a Pharmacy? Must have been a booming little town in the farmlands near the railroad.

I do remember dad's first Vice Grip pliers when I was little. What a fancy, handy tool that was!



  1. Ed,
    My uncle farmed and worked for Petersen Manufacturing in Dewitt, Nebraska. Every year we would get vice grips for Christmas, I still have the first pair I got when I was 12. It's too bad that such a great american product is now made overseas.

  2. Thanks for the post, Ed. Being partly a collector, but more a user of old tools, I found it interesting.

  3. Craig, I sure agree with you. Gorges, that is quite a history right here near the farm where we live and work.