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Irwin: History

May 27, 2012

Irwin’s history began with two inspired men from Middle America who held onto the belief that they could do something extraordinary in their lifespans. Although they never met in the flesh, Charles Irwin and William Peterson were destined to have the eventual fates of their companies forever entwined into the legacy of great American tool manufacturers. Both men were innovators in their own right and created individual tool companies, in the beginning both companies were solidly based upon the success of a single product that filled a niche, and each prospered, as they believed in the merits of their single products worth to their American customers.

Charles Irwin was not a tradesman of any sort, and most likely did not know tools, as he  was the owner of a pharmacy. What Mr. Irwin did know however, was business, and a good idea when he saw one. In 1884 a local customer, who happened to be a blacksmith had invented a solid center auger bit and was interested in selling the rights of it to Mr. Irwin. Irwin purchased the rights to the solid center auger bit and believed in the product enough to get a patent on it a year later. Once the auger had a solid patent Mr. Irwin was ready to start business, he involved four business partners, and formed the Irwin Auger Bit Company.

Roughly forty years later a Danish immigrant by the name of William Peterson, who was a blacksmith by trade, was working in his shop when an idea about pliers began to develop. Working and living in the small town community of DeWitt Nebraska, William Peterson invented the very first locking pliers of their kind. The story of his entrepreneurial success began by him selling locking pliers, to farmers around local towns and their surrounding settlements, from the trunk of his car. He patented his fresh idea and the locking pliers were forever dubbed the Vise-Grip. Four short years later in 1938, Petersons Vice Grip locking pliers had done so well, he was able to expand and form the Peterson Manufacturing Company, to make and market the Vise Grip locking tools with a plant in his hometown of DeWitt Nebraska. When Peterson Manufacturing Company began, it boasted 37 employees. In 1945 the very first National Hardware Show was held, and the Vice Grips were presented side by side, with the offerings of the very best of the best American tool innovators. In 1957 the Vice Grip pliers went through a transformation, and hit the market with a curved jaw and wire cutter engineered into the hand tool. By 1962 the Peterson Manufacturing Company was ready to expand and left DeWitt Nebraska for Cumberland Wisconsin, there they opened a new plant and begin to manufacture twist drills. Growing at a steady, but even pace, 1978 – 1979 recorded a total of 637 people working for the Peterson Manufacturing Company, as well as saw the addition of another plant in Gorham Maine, which was built for the production of  Hanson and Irwin brand tools.

Two men from different parts of the United States and separated by a 40 year age gap, later had their companies combined into a global tool company with a solid reputation for value and tool strength. In 1985 Peterson Manufacturing changed its name to American Tools Company and was of course later acquired in 1993 by the Irwin Tool Company. In 2003 the American Tool ‘s official name was changed to Irwin Industrial Tool Company.



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