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Throwback Thursday – History of Porter Cable

Throwback Thursday – History of Porter Cable
By Bill Dickson November 12, 2015 14619 Views

It’s a brand that has endured for over 100 years and earned its place as one of the respected tool brands all across the globe. It’s a brand that also helped innovate and create revolutionary tools…tools that are still in use today. While it has become a subsidiary to a larger corporation, its ideals and mission still remains the same. This week’s edition of Throwback Thursday looks at the history of Porter-Cable Tools.

It Started In a Garage

Photo Courtesy of Notable Characters

Porter-Cable was started by three men in 1906. R.E. Porter, G.G. Porter and F.E. Cable all agreed to open a machine and tool shop out of garage in Syracuse, New York. All three invested over $2300 in the company and manufactured a different array of items. This included automobile tire pumps, gas lighters, machine tools and even pencil sharpeners.

In 1914, Porter-Cable switched its focus to power tools and shortly after...W.A. Ridings joined the company as its president. During World War I, Porter-Cable answered the call and began producing items needed to help U.S. servicemen in the war effort.

Photo Courtesy of Theiet

In order to meet demand, Porter-Cable expanded to a bigger facility in Syracuse. Once the war was over, profits started to slide, but the company would change forever when a young 21-year-old engineer went to work for them.

Enter Art Emmons

In the early 1920s, Art Emmons was hired as Porter-Cable’s chief engineer to lead their R&D department. His vision and inventions would revolutionize the tool industry and the way people worked from a construction and woodworking perspective. In 1926, Emmons invented the portable electric power sander.

Photo Courtesy of American Listed

The fact that workers could, for the first time, take a portable power tool to work changed the construction industry. The sander eventually became known as the “Take-About Sander.”

Three years later, Emmons helped create the helical drive circular saw. It’s lightweight, compact, but powerful design became the most used power tool in the United States during that time. Emmons also created the first floor sander in 1929, which later spun from Porter-Cable as a company.

Thanks to these new inventions and Ridings’ leadership, 1929 became the most profitable year for Porter-Cable up to that point. The company over $550,000 and equaled profits made during the last five years.

Stability during the Depression

When the stock market crashed in 1929, the Great Depression was a time of adversity for many all over the nation. Despite the economic troubles around the country, Porter Cable was able to have consistent sales and in some avenues…even thrived. Sales for the “Take-About Sander” took off and many workers bought these tools from the trunk of a car.

Tools continued to innovate and in the 30s, dust collection was introduced and helped with efficiency.

Photo Courtesy of Worth Point

Porter Cable Helps the War Effort and Prospers Through the 1950s

Photo Courtesy of Time-Life

After Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941, Porter Cable was no different than other companies that immediately helped with the war effort. The G-8 belt grinder was a tool used by all armed services during the war. Porter Cable also contributed to items such as parachute harnesses, disposable gas tanks, torpedo parts, ammo loading bars and others.

As the war effort kicked in high gear, so did the company’s sales. By the war’s end, over $2.6 million in sales was made and the company had 325 employees on its docket. The company also expanded its line of grinder and abrasive belt sanders.

In 1948, the company added a line of routers, planers, shapers and other tools to its accessories line. By decades end, the Porter Cable sought more business from the woodworking market and acquired the Sterling Tool Company in Chicago. They also created the orbital finishing sander and the model 100 router. Thanks to those two tools and other innovations, Porter Cable became the “go-to” tool in woodworking.

In the 1950s, Emmons was driving improvement in the R&D department and helped monitor the creation of the portable band saw. Not only did Emmons continue to develop his vision, but also looked into router interchangeability. Porter-Cable also decided to add drills, chainsaws and other tools to its catalog as well.

The Decade of Change and Trials

The 60s were a decade of change all over the world and Porter-Cable was no different. Porter-Cable was sold to Rockwell International that year and Porter-Cable’s name was changed to Rockwell. While the name changed, Rockwell used duel labels to let customers know they were still buying the same quality tools.

Photo Courtesy of Tool Rank

It was also at this time that Art Emmons stepped down from his post and retired in 1964. During this time, Rockwell also decided to launch a competing line of tool accessories to compete with Black & Decker as well.

Rockwell also decided at this time it would be better for business to leave New York and head south. Rockwell re-established its headquarters and built a new manufacturing facility in Jackson, Tennessee. As a result, many employees followed the company.

Photo Courtesy of Guard 1

The 1970s were a tough time for many companies and Porter-Cable had its share of troubles as well. The economic spiral as well as lower quality tools hurt Porter-Cable’s success and its reputation. In fact, these “green line” tools resulted in numerous returns and product failures. As sales dropped, Rockwell decided it didn’t want to manufacture power tools anymore and began looking for other companies interested in purchasing Porter-Cable.

Resurgence and Relevance

Pentair Incorporated purchased Porter-Cable in 1981. Pentair immediately made investments into Porter-Cable and its strategy to re-vitalize the brand came down to two simple words – quality and innovation. They also re-named the brand Porter-Cable once again. New Company President Tom Ryan immediately took charge and said Porter-Cable would reinvent itself. He demanded high quality tools and purged any tool that was considered not good enough for the professional industry.

After six years, new products were put on the shelves and Porter-Cable also introduced the first 12-volt cordless drill and the first electric random orbit sander in 1989. More tools continued to be produced and Porter-Cable was once again known as an innovator all over the world.

Sales also grew and new distributors sought their products daily. Even mainstream box stores like Home Depot and Lowes started carrying their products. This increased production also allowed the brand to expand at its Jackson, Tennessee facility and built a 125,000 square foot distribution center.

Photo Courtesy of the US Navy

In 1995, Porter-Cable teamed up with the DeVillbiss Air Power Company to balance its line of nailers with air compressors. At its peak, Porter-Cable was introducing 50 new products a year. In January 2000, Porter-Cable consolidated with its sister company Delta Machinery…who moved from Pittsburgh to the Jackson facility.

Finally in 2005, Black & Decker purchased Porter-Cable and Delta Machinery from Pentair. Porter-Cable celebrated its 100th year anniversary in 2006 and continues to be considered a premium brand when it comes to professional woodworking tools. And that does it for this week’s edition of Throwback Thursday. Make sure you keep an eye out for future content from all of us here at ToolPartsDirect.com.

Nov 5, 2015 9:06:47 PM