I came across an interesting article recently about the Phillips screw and its inventor Henry F. Phillips. It was surprising to learn that in a moment of innovation in the late 1930s, Cadillac was the first company to use the Phillips screw. As someone who has the collectively random interests of history, WWII and and U.S. manufacturing, this story is a gold mine.
My friend Mark was telling me the other day that his four-year old son is at the stage in his development that he is constantly asking questions about everything. Apparently, the most common query is — why? In a way, I think I never really grew out of that phase (and I’m sure many of you are the same way). I look at an everyday object and wonder what the story is behind it. What went into it becoming what it is? Because everything has a story, even something as simple as a Phillips screwdriver.
From the Wall Street Journal:
The screw was invented in the early 30’s by Henry F. Phillips, a Portland, Oregon businessman. He knew that car makers needed a screw that could be driven with more torque and that would hold tighter than slotted screws. Car makers also needed a screw that would center quickly and easily, and could be used efficiently on an assembly line. The Phillips screw was designed so that it could be driven by an automated screw driver with increasing force until the tip of the driver popped out without ruining the screw head. So what many consider a design flaw is actually a feature (at least if you’re a car manufacturer).
The Phillips screw first gained acceptance with Cadillac in the late 30’s. Although there is a Phillips Screw Co. today, the company never actually made Phillips screws or drivers. They were produced under license by other companies. Unlicensed knockoffs proliferated, so that in 1949, Mr. Phillips was stripped of his patent.