Sunday, December 2, 2012

Vanished Tool Makers: North Brothers

North Brothers are most famous for their push drills and ratcheting screwdrivers, but they also made regular screwdrivers which don't show up as frequently.  Above, from top to bottom:
  • "Yankee" 3C, Patent Apr 16, 95
  • "Yankee" 130A, Division of Stanley Tools, Philadelphia
  • Yankee Handyman No 133H
  • Yankee Handyman No 233H, Pat 103676; "American Insulator Corp" handle
  • Yankee Handyman, Division of Stanley Tools
  • "Yankee" No 15 (not the original handle)
  • "Yankee" No 90 Pat Oct 15 12 (regular screwdriver)
  • "Yankee" No 95, Patent Pending  (regular screwdriver) 
Note the lovely knurl one the end of the ferrule on the regular screwdrivers--the only manufacturer I've come across that added this feature.

North Brothers Manufacturing Co. of Philadelphia was established by Selden G. North in 1878.  Two other brothers  joined the firm in the next few years which was incorporated as North Brothers in 1888.  Initially specializing in metal articles such as ice cream makers, egg beaters, ice tongs and meat cutters, in the mid-1890s they had the good business sense to entice  Zachry T. Furbish, a prolific Maine inventor of spiral screwdrivers, to come to Philadelphia with his patents, and further develop the idea of ratchet screwdrivers.  Below, an example of one his later patents for push-drills:

The spiral screwdriver proved highly successful and by 1897 the North Bros. company was marketing the now renowned line of "Yankee" ratchet screwdrivers, which were widely imitated.  

Popular Mechanics, 1906

Saturday Evening Post, 1945
By 1910 they were specializing in push drills, egg-beater drills and breast drills and, in 1922, they entered the ratchet drill market.  Their products were of extremely high quality and many are marked “Bell System”  because they were marketed to linesmen.  Quality declined after the company was acquired by Stanley in 1946, and especially after they were relegated to the “Yankee Tools Inc.” division. Production was moved to New Britain, Connecticut in 1958 when the North Bros. name was dropped.

In the first image above, note the white discolouration of the handle on the push drill, fifth from the top (a Stanley product).  This is technically referred to as "bloom" and is the result of chemical additives migrating through the cellulose acetate handle and onto its surface.  In part it's acetic acid, which ultimately destroys the handle and anything nearby. (For more on this chemistry, read "Long Live Plastics.")   Beware of those old plastic-handled tools, and give me wooden handles any day.

1 comment:

CSMITH said...

Looking for bits for a North Bros Mfg. Co. Phil. PA #42 Screwdriver. The device still works like the day it was made in the 1890's. Excellent to precisely set a starter hole for a screw. But the inventory for bits has become a "bit" scarce.