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collage of photos of driving car, cattle, rain, mechanic
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Driving cattle, driving a screw, driving rain, driving a car… how many ways to drive can you think of?

Today’s post is inspired by a recent episode of Mike Rowe’s podcast, The Way I Heard It.  If for some reason, you don’t know who Mike Rowe is, check his somewhat irreverant bio here.

 The Way I Heard It is a series of short mysteries for the curious mind with a short attention span.

Episode 94 is titled On the Importance of Better Driving.  Driving has several definitions and I’m guessing your first idea may differ from mine.  To avoid any spoilers, I recommend you listen to the podcast first, before you read any further.  Don’t worry – it won’t take long.  The episodes are only about 10 minutes long.  (Note, I am unable to link directly to the specific episode so page down in the list of episodes to get to #94, published on March 13, 2018.)

I immediately thought of driving a car (a thought process reinforced by the intro segment of the episode and also the character named Henry who I thought was maybe Henry Ford) but there are other types of driving.  ( offers 39 variations!)

  • vehicular travel (out for a Sunday drive through the country)
  • guiding the movement of an animal (driving the cattle across the prairie)
  • a psychological urge for activity (a strong drive towards success)
  • sending away (drive away those annoying flies)
  • movement toward a goal (driving to the end zone)
  • strong military offensive (Stalin wanted to drive back the invading German army)
  • to be forced along (the strong wind drove the ship towards the rocky shore)
  • in relation to golf (he drove the ball to the far end of the fairway)
  • relaying power (a good screwdriver and muscle power are needed to drive the screw into the wood)

Needless to say, a screwdriver was not my first thought.  In fact, when the episode ended, my exact words were, “Wait, I don’t get it.”  So I did what any confused person does these days and asked Google.  “Who is Henry Phillips?”  It turns out he is the guy getting all the credit for inventing the Phillips-head screwdriver, a tool I have used many times.  He wasn’t the original inventor – that was John Thompson – but Phillips was the guy with the drive and the influence to turn all those engineers’ No’s into Yes’s.  And yes, he did also patent a few modifications to Thompson’s original design so it wasn’t just Thompson we should thank.

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The original patent by John Thompson
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The modified patent by Henry Phillips


Obviously John’s idea was good – we use Phillips-head screws all the time now – but he met a lot of resistance from the engineers that said it couldn’t be done.  The shift to automated manufacturing in the 1920’s revealed the weakness of using the single-slot screwhead.  The design of the recessed screw would allow the automatic screwdrivers to engage and self-correct.  This saved time and reduced waste produced by errors with the single-slot (flathead) screws.  The engineers did not think the recessed slot could be stamped into the screwhead without compromising it.  Their boss, convinced of the product by Phillips, thought otherwise and told them to figure it out or be fired.  That motivation worked in 1934 and still works today in many cases!

So, now I know.  And so do you!  I feel a little bad for Thompson.  It was his idea after all.  But I guess a good idea will only get you so far.  You also need good marketing skills, good persuasive arguments, and the ability to know when to find a partner or other resource to help you.

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Necessity is the mother of invention. Find out how the increasing automation of the automobile assembly plant created a need for a new type of screw- the Phillips Screw.
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Websites referenced in writing this post:

Mike Rowes’ website  – where it all started for this post

Brief history of Phillips screwdriver on (note- only 4 free articles per month so be careful if you’re a frequent free user about to go over quota)

Wikipedia page on Henry F Phillips

History of Phillips Screw Company

A little more background on the original inventor, John P. Thompson

A record of Thompson’s original patent (are you a tech person really interested in the patent details?)

A history of screws and screwdrivers

Why did we need a new type of screw?

How to make the word No plural (because sometimes you’re just not sure if the grammar and spelling are correct!)


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