Not all of these went into commercialization,
of course, but more did than one might expect. Parallel to development
of simple ratchet screwdrivers was development of so-called “automatic” or
“Archimedean” screwdrivers; and there were many of them, too, some
considered in an article by Cliff Fales1,2.
Salaman’s Dictionary of Tools states that the
ratchet screwdriver was an American invention.
first U. S. Patent for a ratchet screwdriver went to G. H.
Talbot of Boston in 1858 (Fig. 1).
Figure 1. Talbot's patent of 1858
His claim says, “Improved Ratchet Mechanism for
Screwdrivers,” which implies that the idea of a ratchet screwdriver was not
original with him, but only its improvement.
In the same year Oliver
Bond of Buffalo patented a screwdriver design that incorporated a ratchet
(No. 20,619); but he says, “I make no claim to ratchet wheels or cog gearing
or spring, when used in connation with tool handles.” These two
patentee statements suggest that in some form ratchet screwdrivers were
already in use, but apparently not patented before 18582.
No more patents on this device were issued
until 1874, when G. P. Loomis was issued No. 147,059 and W. S. Kyle was
issued No. 149,587. In 1876 and 1878 there were patents to,
respectively, D. C. Richards - No. 176,811 and R. Munroe - No. 200,747.
I do not know if any of these tools were actually produced.
Then in 1878 the best-known of all the early
ratchet screwdrivers came on the scene in a patent issued to G. E. Gay of
Augusta, Maine (No. 210,942, Fig. 2).
Figure 2. G. E. Gay's patent of 1878
A lot of them
must have been made, and they are not especially rare today, being
sold by antique tool dealers for about $50. What is less known is
that Gay patented three other ratchet screwdrivers over the next 24
years, one of them in partnership with J. H. Parsons, also of
Augusta, Maine. It does not appear that any of these had the success
of the first one.