Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Irwin Auger Bit Company, Wilmington, Ohio

Above, some of the auger bits I've collected that were made by this company.

In 1884 Charles Irwin owned a pharmacy in Martinsville, Ohio. A local blacksmith who was one of his customers came up with the idea for a solid center auger bit. He sold the rights to this invention to Irwin and a year later, after patenting the auger bit under his own name, Irwin and four other business partners formed the Irwin Auger Bit Co.  

The Irwin auger bit is commonly called the solid-center auger bit. The solid center has a single helical twist around a solid shank, which runs the whole length of the bit. This is the stronger version and is favored for very long bits.  It is also cheaper to manufacture

The Irwin bit differed from it's older competitor, the Jennings bit made by the Russell Jennings Manufacturing Company of Deep River, Connecticut.  This bit has a self feeding screw tip, two radial cutting edges and two spurs, as well as a double flute starting from the cutting edges, and extending several inches up the shank of the bit, for efficient waste removal. 

Below, a comparison of the two:

Stephen Jennings was involved in the auger making business for many years until a disastrous fire, together with the financial panic of 1837, wiped him out.  His brother, the Reverend Russell Jennings, saw more earthly rewards in his late brother's work, so agreed to front money to rebuild the firm in return for a major stake.  In 1851, Stephen invented his extension lip auger, but died before the patent filing process was complete.  Russell Jennings filed in his place.  

So, neither the Jennings and Irwin auger bits were patented by the people who actually invented them!

The Russell Jennings Company remained at Deep River, Connecticut until 1905, when they moved roughly 5 miles north to Chester, Connecticut. In 1944, the plant was bought by Stanley who produced bits there under both the Russell Jennings/Stanley names until 1960 when production was moved to New Britain.  

As an additional source of confusion, there was also a C.E. Jennings & Company of New York City, with factories in Port Jervis, New York and Yalesville and New Haven, Connecticut. I've only ever come across one of these, with its distinct "Arrowhead J" trademark:

The C.E. Jennings Company had no relation to the Russell Jennings firm.

Both the Russell Jennings and Irwin companies went on to produce other boring tools such as expansion bits.  Below, a Russell Jennings I picked up:

Below, the much commoner Irwin expansion bits seem to show up all of the time:

Over the next century, the Irwin company expanded into manufacturing a range of tools.  They made a copy of the "Perfect Handle" screwdriver, originally designed and offered by the H.D. Smith & Company of Plantsville, Connecticut (which had made by them from 1850 until being bought in 1930 by the Trimont Manufacturing Company which failed during the Great Depression.)  Below, my example:

Other products included chalk lines:

In 1985, the company celebrated its centenary, at which point it had been renamed The Irwin Company:

Rodale's New Shelter, April 1985
Irwin was bought in 1993 by American Tool Companies (renamed in 1985 from Petersen Manufacturing). In 1998, they bought the British Record firm (which included the Marples name), renaming it Record Irwin.  Yuck! In 2002, American Tool Companies was acquired by the huge Newell-Rubbermaid conglomerate, which renamed the firm the Irwin Industrial Tool Company.  Tools under the name are all made off-shore, so Irwin has become simply a brand.  As of 2017, it has been sold to Stanley Black & Decker.

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