> FOCUS BY JEFF GRIFFIN
HIS YEAR MARKS THE 100TH ANNIVERSARY
of the portable electric drill’s invention. A century ago,
the Black + Decker Manufacturing Co. (now Stanley
Black + Decker) developed and filed a patent application
for a ½-inch portable drill that one person could operate. It had a universal electric motor, which could run on
alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC) and the
pistol-grip handle with a trigger control. Both features have
been on electric drills ever since.
The original portable drill, assembled in 1916, is at the
National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
Electric drills were in operation long before 1916, but they were
large, stationary machines used in industrial and manufacturing
facilities. Black + Decker’s drill was the first time an electric drill
came as a lightweight, portable tool.
In 1910, S. Duncan Black and
Alonzo Decker established a machine
shop in a Baltimore warehouse. Gun
manufacturer Colt was among the
shop’s clients. According to a 1992
Baltimore Sun article, Black and
Decker were considering the design
of the electric drill they were developing and figuring out how the user
could best hold the tool and control
the drilling function. Nearby was a
Colt handgun. Its pistol grip and trigger inspired the new drill.
In 1917, Black and Decker opened a 12,000-square-foot
manufacturing plant in Towson, Md., where they made portable electric air compressors, the new drill and other products.
The first drills were intended for industrial use. The new
product filled a need, and sales increased, but it remained an in-plant tool because there was no home-improvement market and
the cost was too high for general consumers. When plant supervisors noticed employees taking drills home to use on projects,
they recognized the do-it-yourself market potential.
Distribution spreads, company changes
By 1921, Black + Decker was advertising locally, and the company even had a full-page ad in the Saturday Evening Post,
targeting a national consumer market. Company history cites
1923 as the year it began offering a low-priced, portable electric
drill to nonprofessionals. The company created mobile classrooms in buses to teach distributors how to sell power tools.
Like most companies, Black + Decker struggled through
the Depression. However, World War II brought govern-
ment contracts for making war material for America and its
allies. In 1946, the company introduced the first line of home
power tools, including ¼-inch and ½-inch
drills, drill stands and accessories. In 1961,
it introduced the first cordless electric drill,
powered by a nickel-cadmium battery.
Meanwhile, Black + Decker contracted
with Martin Marietta to design tools for NASA, including a
zero-impact wrench that turned bolts without spinning the
astronaut. Black + Decker later designed a cordless rotary
hammer drill for the Apollo space program, which was used to
extract rock samples and could operate at extreme tempera-
tures and in zero-atmosphere conditions.
Over the years, Black + Decker acquired a variety of companies, including General Electric’s small appliance division as
well as toolmakers De Walt and Porter-Cable. In 2010, Black +
Decker merged with Stanley Works, bringing both companies’
tools under the current Stanley Black + Decker umbrella.
Other manufacturers step up
In the mid-to-late 1920s, electricians and workers in other
trades were using Black + Decker tools, and other manufacturers began to develop similar tools for professionals.
In 1924, A.H. Peterson developed the Hole-Shooter, a lightweight, portable drill that a user could operate with one hand.
After fire destroyed Peterson’s facility, Milwaukee Electric Tool
Co. acquired the product. Milwaukee made the drill more durable and developed more powerful drills, including a right-angle
The 1946 model home utility drill
with drill stand and accessories