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History of Screws and Screwdrivers

From Mary Bellis,
Your Guide to Inventors.
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What is a Screw? What is a Screwdriver?

A screw is any shaft with a corkscrew-shaped groove formed on its surface. Screws are used to fasten two objects together. A screwdriver is a tool for driving (turning) screws; screwdrivers have a tip that fits into the head of a screw.

Early Screws

Around the first century, screw shaped tools became common, however, historians do not know who invented the first. Early screws were made from wood and were used in wine presses, olive oil presses, and for pressing clothes. Metal screws and nuts used to fasten two objects together first appeared in the fifteenth century.

Mass Production of Screws

In 1770, English instrument maker, Jesse Ramsden (1735-1800) invented the first satisfactory screw-cutting lathe. Ramsden inspired other inventors. In 1797, Englishmen, Henry Maudslay (1771-1831) invented a large screw-cutting lathe that made it possible to mass-produce accurately sized screws. In 1798, American David Wilkinson also invented machinery for the mass production of threaded metal screws.

Robertson Screw

In 1908, square-drive screws were invented by Canadian P. L. Robertson. Twenty-eight years before Henry Phillips patented his Phillips head screws, which are also square-drive screws.The Robertson screw is considered the "first recess-drive type fastener practical for production usage." The design became a North American standard, as published in the sixth edition of Industrial Fasteners Institute Metric and Inch Standards. A square-drive head on a screw can be better than a slot head because the screwdriver will not slip out of the screw's head during installation. The Model T car made by the Ford Motor Company (one of Robertson's first customers) used over seven hundred Robertson screws.

Phillips Head Screw

In the early 1930s, the Phillips head screw was invented by Henry Phillips. Automobile manufacturers now used car assembly lines. They needed screws that could take greater torque and could provide tighter fastenings. The Phillips head screw was compatible with the automated screwdrivers used in assembly line.

Ironically, there is a Philips Screw Company that never made Phillips screws or drivers. Henry Phillips died in 1958 at the age of sixty-eight.

Allen Key

A hexagonal or hex screw head has a hexagonal hole turned by a Allen key. An Allen key is a hexagonal shaped wrench. The Allen key may have been invented by American, Gilbert F. Heublein, however, this is still being researched and should not be considered a fact. Heublein was an importer and distributor of foods and beverage. who in 1892 introduced "The Club Cocktails", the world's first bottled cocktails.


In 1744, the flat-bladed bit for the carpenter's brace was invented, the precursor to the first simple screwdriver. Handheld screwdrivers first appeared after 1800.

Different Types of Screws, Drives, and Heads

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