It was a lovely summer day in 1906 when a traveling salesman, Peter Lymburner Robertson, was demonstrating a spring-loaded screwdriver. As usual, if a demo can go wrong it will, and Robertson cut his hand when the screwdriver slipped. It is not known if he made the sale or not, but the incident did drive Robertson to invent a better screw driver. Robertson developed the socket head screw which revolutionized an industry. The Robertson screw and screwdriver, the best kept secret outside of Canada, were born.
“This is considered by many as the biggest little invention of the twentieth century so far,” he was heard to exclaim. His special square-headed screw and driver had a tighter fit than a slot and rarely slipped. Robertson also developed a machine to make his screws (see image below).
The Robertson socket head screw soared in popularity. Craftsmen favored it because it was self-centering and could be driven with one hand. Industry came to rely on it for the way it reduced product damage and sped up production. The Fisher Body Company, which made wooden bodies in Canada for Ford cars, used four to six gross of Robertson screws in the bodywork of the Model T. Eventually Robertson produced socket screws for metal, specifically for the metal bodied Model A.
If the square screw was superior, why do you not find them outside of Canada? Why, if Ford thought it was good enough for his Model T and Model A, was it not good enough for the rest of the world?
There is a lesson to be learned here for inventors.
When testing the Robertson screw for their assembly line, Ford found that they could save upwards of 2 hours of assembly time per vehicle. Ford, wanting to protect his assembly advantage, asked for a licensing agreement from Robertson so that he could manufacture and control the distribution of the screws.
Robertson Screw Machine
Robertson had expanded, by this time, into Europe. But his fortunes turned bad when the war (WW1) started. His European partners turned out to be less than honorable.
However, he was riding the euphoria of a blossoming product. Despite his losses in Europe, he felt that giving a license to Ford would not be in his best interest.
Shortly afterwards a guy by the name of Phillips had no such reservation over licensing to Ford and, as they say, that was that!
The Robertson Screw Company was headed by Robertson until his death in 1951. It has grown to over 600 employs, including 120 in Robertson’s home town of Milton, Ontario.
I has assumed that Robertson screws were more recent than Phillips , being that they are far superior . I was surprised to find that they were invented more than 2 decades sooner .
GORDON M GRANT
I have just wasted three hours trying to attach four ‘feet’ to hold up my new and useless PROCTOR SILEX frypan. This company puts four PHILIPS head screw systems that are close to impossible to work. I am going to throw out the PROCTOR SILEX frypan. The solution is simple: This company and any others that ship screws should change to ROBERTSON immediately. Perhaps they don’t understand that the ROBERTSON is designed to grab onto your driver and make the screw(s) a solid attachment that will not allow the screws to slip, so you just aim any screw and they will not slip, so your job(s) can be done instantly, with no waste time and effort.
Please copy this and send it onward to anyone who might understand the importance of this brilliant invention. PS I have no financial or other motives regarding this wonderful Canadian invention. I hope that the world will eventually learn this. All other screw and driversets are to me useless and stupid.
Interesting my grandmothers town and country park model from the 70s and 80s uses exclusively those screws and we are in the US it also uses hex head screws but that’s it
Is it true, then, that Robertson screws and screwdrivers are either unknown or rather rare outside of Canada???
I had heard about that before but I’ve never been certain.
A story: My parents have a house in Nayarit, Mexico. While it’s rare, the occasional traffic stop will result in the police officer removing the vehicles license plate, usually to hold it hostage for a modest bribe.
The solution: Canadian security. Affixing the license plate with Robertson screws eliminates this hazard. It worked so well, that a number of sensitive panels in the house, such as those that house camera security hardware, we have closed with robertson screws. Other than the ones we have, there isn’t a Robertson drive screwdriver for thousands of kilometres.
When my Dad, a carpenter, moved from Canada to California, in 1958, he took his Robertson’s with him, along with a supply of screws since down there he found no one ever heard of them, and he couldn’t live without them.
With the presumably later invention of the Robertson ball-end screwdriver (by whom?), the Robertson screw became the only screw that I know of that can be driven or undriven readily at 20 to 25 degrees out of alignment. This was my favoured screw before I found these ball-end drivers, which although somewhat difficult to find, have cemented the Robertson screw as the only screw I’ll use when I have a choice.
And the Robertson screw, becomes the Betamax of fasteners.
(for those that have forgotten, Beta was a technically better video tape standard, but due to licensing rules was dominated by the VHS standard from JVC — sound familiar?)