History of the Screwdriver

History of the Screwdriver

As discovered through tools passed down to me

They don’t make ‘em like they used to. Cliché, I know. In some instances, that is a good thing. Think of the Ford Pinto or early cell phones. The gas tank was located too close to the rear bumper that led to a number of explosions from fender benders. (BTW – We had a Pinto wagon when I was a kid)

Even today, power tools have taken significant strides from their humble beginnings.

Early Skilsaw

1928 Model E Saw from Skil

So, does the screwdriver fall into the older is better or today’s technology triumphs category?

Sure, there are fancy cordless screwdrivers like the DeWalt Gyroscopic or the more traditional entry like the new and upcoming screwdriver expansion from Milwaukee.

The oldest and most common type of screwdriver is the slotted or flat blade screwdriver. There are perhaps thirty different types of screwdrivers available in a wide variety of sizes, all with different purposes and engineered to fit into specific screws.

History of the Screwdriver

Flat blade screwdriver

There are four basic sizes of Phillips screwdriver or insert bits, called point sized. They generally range from #0 to #4 with #0 being the smallest. The most common size is #2 and they are designated as P2. With slot head screwdrivers, the blade tips are measured in fractions of an inch and typically range in size from 1/8’ to 1/2”. Also, there are jeweler-size screwdrivers with blade tips measured in millimeters.

When I reach for a Phillips or a flat blade, my first choice is my wooden handle tools. Are they better? I don’t know but, I like the weight, feel and grip. The hard plastic or even some of the soft molded screwdrivers just don’t have the same feel.

Passed down from my grandfather and great-grandfather, here are a few of my favorites.

History of the Screwdriver

Screwdrivers passed down through the generations

Ratcheting Screwdrivers

According to Ron’s Workshop, “…several models of both spiral ratchet, and ratchet screwdriver were made in Germany. Most of the screwdriver we see that were made in Germany were made in the 1920-30’s era, but some are still being manufactured in Germany today.”

This ratcheting screwdriver has “Germany” stamped into the metal so, I assume that it is pretty old but, these types of screwdrivers were produced beyond the second world war so, there is no way of actually dating it.

History of the screwdriver

Ratcheting Screwdriver

History of Screwdrivers


In 1940, Stanley launched the Yankee Spiraling Ratchet Screwdriver, considered by tool enthusiasts to be the world’s first cordless power tool.

Apex Tool Group Screwdrivers

The No. 2 Stubby, 1211 Super and 1202 Supper all come from Apex Tool Group who recently celebrated 80 years in business.

History of the Screwdriver

Apex Stubby No. 2

History of Screwdrivers

Apex 1211 Screwdriver

Apex Machine and Tool - circa

Apex Machine and Tool – circa 1949

The “Unsinkable” Screwdriver

My great-grandfather worked for White Star Line, the producers of the fabled Olympic class ships, Olympic, Brittannic and Titanic. I do know that he worked on both the Brittannic and Titanic as a carpenter and both suffered the same watery fate.

While we can’t confirm (He suffered from Alzheimer’s in his later years), he said that he was tasked with the building of the Grand Staircase using this screwdriver. While no longer in use, this is my prized possession.

History of the Screwdriver

Titanic Screwdriver

I can tell that this bad boy measures a little more than 24” in length with the driver blade covering 18” of the span and the tip of the blade is 7/16” wide. The shaft has two segments in it with the first, closest to the handle, appears it be a separate piece of metal. It seems as though, at one point, someone could swap out the end of the blade. It weighs close to 2 lbs.

History of the Screwdriver

Closeup of the Handle of the Titanic Screwdriver

My father worked for a casket company and they clear coated the blade and handle with the same chemicals that seal stainless steel caskets to preserve its integrity.

History of the Screwdriver

Titanic Screwdriver Handle

Share with us what you think…are older hand tools better than today’s products? If you have images of vintage tools, post a picture and you could be entered to win free tools! New tools 🙂

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Rob Foster

Rob Foster is a public relations guy who is contracted by Senco, an avid DIYer, power tool collector and makes precision firewood from failed woodworking projects.

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