From the very earliest bow drill to the more contemporary breast drill the evolution of the drill varied in construction and efficiency, but never from the fact they were manually operated. The addition of a drill bit to the rotating shaft of an electric motor heralded the arrival of the first electric drill, and as electric motors reduced in size the drill evolved into a portable device.

It is no surprise to many that manufacturing was once common place in Australia, what may be news to some however is that during the heyday of ‘Made in Australia’ power tools were among the many and varied products we once produced.

The first portable electric drill originates in Germany in 1895 developed by Stuttgart based company Fein. It is not until 1917 when Samuel Decker and Alonzo Black develop their electric drill do we see the genesis of what was to become the dominant configuration in portable electric drill design.

The history of the portable electric drill in Australia is not as far removed from what is occurring in Europe and the United States as our remote geographic location might suggest. Australian readers are made aware of overseas developments in electric hand tools in newspaper articles from as early as 1907.

With regards to the availability of portable electric power tools in Australia, the earliest recorded activity is evident when Warburton Franki, a Melbourne based electrical engineering and merchant company publish an advertisement for a Black and Decker portable electric drill in 1927.

A significant milestone is achieved in 1940 when Austrian immigrant William Sher establishes a small manufacturing business in Melbourne, Australia. The company is known as the Red Tool Point Co. and is recorded in a local newspaper as manufacturing ‘ten drills per week’ 1 This is the first evidence of a portable electric drill being manufactured and commercialised in Australia.

The Red Tool Point Co, later renamed Sher Tools Australia is joined by other power tool manufacturers; KBC, Black and Decker, Wolf, Lightburn, Sidchrome and Jamec. The advent of this sector coincides with the unprecedented growth and prosperity of manufacturing in Australia experienced between 1940 and the late 1970’s.

Today the number of power tool brands on the market has more than doubled, but of those seven brands only Black and Decker and Wolf are still producing portable electric drills albeit not in Australia.

The rise and fall of manufacturing in Australia mirrors the trajectory of the portable electric drill. In less than a century the portable electric drill has gone from innovative time saver to an ambitious, fashionable must have accessory to a commodity, mass consumption object every tradesman and home handyman owns.

It is however a history that should be remembered as one of the many contributions to the building of Australia, literally.

Of interest - Arthur Arnot an electrical engineer originally from Scotland but a resident of Australia until his death in 1946, is awarded the patent for the world's first electric drill in 1889.

Berto Pandolfo is creating a collection of historical drills and features his research on his blog.


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