Humankind has used tools for quite some time, but throughout most of our history our ability to perform tasks was limited by our strength and endurance. However, a single invention just 117 years ago helped break the shackles of human limitation and unleashed an era of productivity that continues to this day.
In 1895, 16 years after Thomas Edison invented the incandescent electric lamp, the German engineering company C&E Fein combined the power of an electric motor with a manual drill to develop the world’s very first power tool.
The heavy drill, which weighed 16.5 pounds, was powered by a large but relatively weak DC electric motor that didn’t turn very fast. To use the drill, the operator had to use both hands, grab it by two handles opposite the motor and lean against a chest plate at the back of the drill to help press it into the work surface. The world’s first power tool may seem unwieldy and unproductive by modern standards, but it was another 20 years before someone improved upon the design.
In 1910, a tool and die worker by the name of Duncan Black sold his car for $600 and used the money to start a small machine shop in Baltimore, Maryland with his friend Alonzo Decker. In 1914, the two arrived at the same idea to improve the C&E Fein power drill by adapting the design of the Colt .45 automatic pistol. By 1916, Black & Decker had begun making their famous pistol-grip, trigger-switch electric drill, from which all modern handheld electric drills are descended.
The Black & Decker drill was not only lighter, but it used a more powerful motor and could be easily operated by one person, two critical features missing from C&E Fein’s original electric drill. After that, the power tool industry was off and running and Black & Decker was soon followed by new companies with new kinds of power tools. A new era of human productivity was born.
History, “The World’s First Power Tools.”