The History of Milwaukee® Tools

By: CableOrganizer®

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It all started in 1918. World War I was ending, and automotive tycoon Henry Ford was looking for a fabricator who was willing to produce a compact, lighter-weight, portable version of the 1/4" capacity power drill. A young Wisconsin manufacturer by the name of A.H. Petersen accepted Ford's commission, and developed what came to be known as the Hole-Shooter. Weighing in at only 5 pounds, this revolutionary power tool was driven by a series-type Westinghouse motor. It was the first industrial drill that was light enough to be operated with just one hand, but powerful enough to handle heavy-duty workloads.

Four years later, in 1922, Petersen was joined by business partner Albert F. Siebert and the two founded A.H. Petersen Company. Tragically, a fire destroyed their manufacturing facility the following year. The financial setback forced the company to close its doors. In 1924, Siebert was able to purchase the company's remaining assets at auction. He reopened the company as the Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation, with the goal of fully realizing the sales potential of the Petersen Hole-Shooter. But it didn't end there. Here you'll find some of the most significant moments in Milwaukee® tool-innovating company history.

  • • Surprisingly, during its early days in the second half of the 1920s, the Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation relied more on tool repair than tool manufacturing to stay in business. Because they kept constant tabs on their customers' needs and the shortcomings of the tools that were brought to their company for repair, Milwaukee® employees were able to ascertain exactly which niches needed to be filled in the marketplace. This information, combined with the hundreds of hours of research and analysis done by staff engineers, led to a stronger and more durable Hole-Shooter, which became a must-have tool for workers throughout the automotive and metalworking industries.

  • • In 1930, Milwaukee® Tools set their standards even higher by obtaining an equipment specification rating from the U.S. government for its newly redesigned electric drill. Soon afterward, the company began applying Navy standards to the manufacture of all their portable tools, including a portable hand grinder and electric hammers, sanders, and polishers.

  • • By 1935, Milwaukee® had developed a lightweight 3/4" electric hammer-drill, which was designed to both drill and sink anchors into concrete. Thanks to the fact that it could be converted into a standard 3/4" drill, the tool met with great market success, and sparked the subsequent design of a shorter, lighter precision drill.

  • • As a result of the strong reputation Milwaukee® had earned among welders by the late 1930s, the company was asked to apply its expertise and improve on existing lines of metalworking tools, with a concentration on heavily used sander/grinders. Milwaukee® rose to the challenge, designers soon developing an easy to handle, single-horsepower sander/grinder that weighed only 15 pounds. It could stand up to any abuse it received in the field.

  • • In response to the armed forces' increased demand for power tools during World War II, the Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation began working even harder to develop tools that were more powerful than ever. Milwaukee® Hole-Shooters became vital to the manufacture of military aircraft, and, pleased with the fact that tools were being built to their standards, the United States Navy placed a significant number of orders with the company.

  • • In 1949, Milwaukee® Tools took their line of sander/grinders to the next level by adding a spring clutch to them. This design update created a smoother-running tool with very little recoil. It was so successful this feature was also added to the company's circular saws.

  • 1949 also saw the Milwaukee® invention and introduction of the first 1/2" right-angle drill, which allowed plumbers and electricians to drill holes in wood and steel, even in very tight quarters.

  • Milwaukee® yet again revolutionized the power tool industry in 1951, when they unveiled the Sawzall® Reciprocating Saw. The Sawzall®, still a defining Milwaukee® tool to this day, was the first portable hacksaw to have a reciprocating mechanism. To meet their customers' demands for versatility, Milwaukee® followed the Sawzall® up with a full line of blades for cutting all types of materials.

  • • Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation grew steadily, and in addition to expanding their product lines, they transitioned into larger facilities as well. In 1965, the company moved out of their headquarters on State Street in the City of Milwaukee; and set up shop in a 212,000 square foot facility in nearby Brookfield, Wisconsin.

  • • In response to a new and significant market that had developed for their products in the Southeast, Milwaukee® made their first move outside the state of Wisconsin in 1974. While headquarters remained in Brookfield, the company opened an additional 60,000 square foot manufacturing plant in Jackson, Mississippi.

  • • • During the 1970's, Milwaukee® had another prolific burst of product development, and introduced the Hole Hawg®, the first drill ever created for large hole drilling of the studs and joists in new home constructions. Not long after, the company debuted the Magnum Hole-Shooter, their first 1/2" professional pistol drill, and became the first American manufacturer to produce a 4-1/2" angle grinder.

  • • In 1991, after two full years of testing, the Milwaukee® Super Sawzall reciprocating saw was put on the market. With a built-in counterbalance, a gear-protecting clutch and 5 different patents, the Super Sawzall® set a new worldwide standard for fast, vibration-free reciprocal saws.

  • • Throughout the 1990s, Milwaukee® developed a new line of miter saws, and further expanded their offerings by manufacturing an extensive lineup of 18-volt contractor cordless tools, all of which could be powered using the same battery and charger system.

  • • In 2008, Milwaukee® developed Ice Hardened™ strengthening technology, a cryogenic hardening process that enables a variety of its accessories to last up to 50% longer than those of their competitors.

  • Milwaukee® spearheaded its hand tools solutions business unit in 2010, with part of the group’s innovation to redesign tools with groundbreaking features. This was the same year the company created REDLITHIUM™ batteries, a new style of lithium-ion batteries.

  • • In 2012, the company developed its M18 FUEL™ line of cordless systems including grinders, circular saws, impact wrenches, brad nailers, and deep cut band saws.

  • • Today, Milwaukee® is a company with an international presence that continues to innovate with new products consistently added to its lineup.

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