17 US Inventions from DIYers, for DIYers
The United States has always been a home to inventors, tinkerers and problem solvers. Countless innovative tools and materials that we all use were born and bred right here in the U.S.A., and many of them came to life in the workshops of DIYers just like you.
Stormy Kromer: A Cap that Stayed On
The caps were sewn in such a way that six panels of fabric met at the top, and they became so popular that ‘six-pointer’ became synonymous with Midwest railroad workers. The Stormy Kromer cap is currently made in Ironwood, MI.
Black & Decker: First Portable Electric Drill
While sitting at Al Decker’s kitchen table, the two men thought about a lighter and easier-to-use industrial drill. (A Colt automatic pistol lay on the table?Colt was a customer.) Legend has it, they both looked at the gun and had a ‘eureka’ moment. In 1917, they received a patent for the first 1/2-in. portable electric drill, equipped with a trigger and pistol grip, remarkably similar to the Colt.
Factory workers loved the tool and often brought one home to use on their own houses. Black & Decker saw an opportunity and in 1946 introduced the world’s first portable drill for consumers. They sold their millionth drill five years later.
Maze Nails: From Freebie to Industry Leader
When the price of zinc skyrocketed in the early 1900s, Maze developed a system for dipping steel nails into vats of molten zinc. These ZINCLAD nails were even more popular with carpenters because they were harder than zinc and still rust resistant. Today, Maze has the world’s largest variety of specialty nails, and after 167 years, the lumberyard is still in business!
Maglite: ‘The Cadillac of Flashlights’
In 1979, he introduced the Maglite flashlight made from aircraft aluminum. He marketed the flashlights to police and firefighters, who loved them. It turned out that the general public was also more than willing to pay a premium for ‘The Cadillac of Flashlights.’ Mag Instruments has won many design awards over the years and currently produces dozens of different products, every one of them in the United States.
Weber Grills: Born from a Buoy
Lutron: Chalk One Up for the Little Guy
Joel and his wife incorporated Lutron in 1961. The company now holds more than 2,700 patents worldwide and builds more than 15,000 different products, many in the United States.
Briggs & Stratton: Started with a School Project
Briggs & Stratton did have some success making parts for the fledgling auto industry, and even produced a small car named the Briggs & Stratton Flyer, which sold for less than $150. Eventually the company focused on small gasoline engines that powered lawn mowers, outdoor power equipment and even some early washing machines. Briggs & Stratton is currently the world’s largest manufacturer of air-cooled engines, building more than 9 million engines in the United States each year.
Klein Tools: Began with Half a Pair of Pliers
The Klein Company profited from being one of the few forges to survive the Great Chicago Fire. The company also grew along with the electrical and telecommunication industries, adding more than 100 varieties of pliers. But the original lineman’s pliers was so popular that generations of electricians called their pliers simply ‘Kleins.’ Klein Tools Inc. is going strong, still owned and managed by members of the Klein family.
Bobcat Skid Steer Loaders: Born in a Turkey Barn
In 1960, the more familiar four-wheeled M400 was introduced, and skid loaders quickly went from poultry barns to practically everywhere. They’re called skid steers because the wheels don’t turn to steer. Instead, the wheels on each side rotate at different speeds, which causes a skid.
Graco: A Chilly Inspiration
The company produced its first paint pump in 1948 and developed the airless sprayer in 1957. This tool revolutionized exterior painting and made Graco a name familiar to every pro painter and many a DIYer. Today Graco makes equipment for a wide range of industries. Its products pump fluids into cars, apply foam insulation to walls and dispense composite resins into molds?they even pump tomato sauce onto pizzas.
Ames Tools: Older Than the U.S.
President Lincoln personally asked Oakes Ames (son of Captain Ames) to supply shovels for the Union cause during the Civil War. During WWII, Ames produced armored tank plating, shell casings and 11 million of those familiar folding entrenching tools. In 1928, Ames shovels proved themselves invaluable on Richard E. Byrd’s expedition to the South Pole. Now, after 240 years, you’ll still find Ames shovels anywhere DIYers dig.
HANDy Paint Pail
Success with a simple solution: In 2001, Mark Bergman’s hand was tired of holding a paint container, so he rigged up a coffee can with a duct tape handle. It became the prototype for the HANDy Paint Pail, which is now used by do-it-yourselfers nation wide. Ingenuity in action!
Leatherman Multitool: Inspired By a Clunker
Tim cut pieces of cardboard to make a pattern for the prototype, which he built in his garage. He shopped the tool around to prospective manufacturers without success, so he decided to manufacture them himself. His first sales came through a mail order magazine. He’d hoped to sell 4,000 ‘Pocket Survival Tools’ that first year, but ended up filling 30,000 orders. The Leatherman Tool Group was born. It currently makes more than a million tools each year in Portland, OR.
Kohler: A Tub Built for Hogs…and Humans
Today the Kohler Company headquarters is in Kohler, WI, and it has more than 50 manufacturing locations, employing more than 30,000 people worldwide. It’s one of America’s oldest and largest privately held companies.
The original ad copy for Kohler’s first enamel tub read: ‘Cast-Iron Enameled Water Trough and Hog Scalders. (Five Sizes) When furnished with Legs can be used as a bathing tub.’
Kreg Jigs: Pocket Hole Joinery for Everyone
In 1986, Craig Sommerfeld was in the process of building his own home and wanted a way to attach the face frames to his kitchen cabinet carcasses without nailing through the front of them. Being a tool and die maker by trade and a DIYer at heart, he designed and built his own single-hole pocket hole jig. This first ‘Craig’s Jig’ was made from steel and aluminum, and it worked so well that his friends and coworkers encouraged him to build more.
He changed the name to ‘Kreg’ out of modesty and started demonstrating the tool at woodworking shows. The professional cabinet shop folks saw the benefit and were the first to buy the tool, but eventually, a whole lot of us weekend warriors wanted a strong and super-easy way to join wood. Today, Kreg Jig is synonymous with pocket hole joinery.
DAP: From Sealing Jars to Sealing Windows
In 1865, Robert Dicks began producing sealing wax in his carriage house in Dayton, OH. Later, he teamed up with George Pontius, in time incorporating under the name Dicks-Pontius Company. Eventually, Robert’s son, John Dicks, saw an opportunity in home building and introduced putty and caulk to the company’s product lineup.
After WWII, the Dicks-Pontius Company was poised to take advantage of the housing boom. They supplied products to builders and carpenters at first and finally to us DIYers. In 1957, the Dicks-Pontius Company merged with Chicago-based Armstrong Company and the name was changed to Dicks-Armstrong-Pontius, ‘DAP’ for short.
WD-40: 39 Failures, One Big Success
In 1958, company founder Norm Larsen saw an opportunity to sell to the general public and introduced a retail version of WD-40 in aerosol cans. The public loved the product and still does. WD-40 can be found in four out of five homes in America, and the company currently manufactures more than 1 million cans of WD-40 per week.