TOOL HISTORY - Craftsman Tools
The Sears Company registered the Craftsman name in 1927 after purchasing the rights from the Marion-Craftsman Tool Company for $500. During those years the vast majority of the U.S. population were farmers by occupation, although many were beginning to move to cities for the greener pastures of the first and second Industrial Revolutions. That trend has continued until recently. Today U.S. manufacturing is in full retreat.
One of the main characteristics of farmers is that they tend to be very independent, often building their own furniture, homes, barns etc. This helped Craftsman get its start during very difficult economic times of the 1930s. As society shifted from rural to industrial economies, Craftsman also adjusted by creating tools for automobile owners as the U.S. automotive boom was in its infancy. Craftsman introduced their first power tools in 1929 and their first lawn mowers in 1934.
All Craftsman tools from the beginning were manufactured by other major toolmakers. In addition, Craftsman began offering different quality tools in a tiered system where they offered several lines such as good, better, and best tools. The best tools were initially branded as "Craftsman Vanadium.” During this period, alloyed steel was highly prized and recognized for its strength. Later, the “Vanadium” portion of the name was dropped from the tools. I can't be certain of this, but I think later tools branded or stamped with a "V" or similar mark were often their best quality tools.
Craftsman used markings or stamps that often help to identify who it was that made them as well as the quality. Some of first such markings are C, BE, H-circle, --v--, --vv--, =V=, and =VV=. These marks/stamps can still be found today such as the VVZ and the VV.
The "Circle U" Series Tools
During World War II Craftsman contracted with Plomb (early Proto) to make their Circle-U hand tools. These were top quality tools by any standard. These came after the BE and Circle-H tools. The time frame is roughly early 1940s to around 1947. Sometimes the U can be mistaken for an H unless you use a magnifying glass.
The "V" Series Tools
Craftsman's most widely known "V" Series tools began production in 1945-46 and continues today. However, there are a number of manufacturers that have produced these tools. The Garage Journal forum's Gary Lauver has compiled an extensive list that shows the manufacturer's stamp for the tools. Craftsman Hand Tool Manufacturers & Date Ranges One of the early ones shown here is a "V" stamped boxhead (aka pearhead) ratchet manufactured between 1946 and 1956. Also notable is that the ratchet pictured above has 22-teeth in the ratcheting mechanism, and that was state-of-the-art at the time.
The Fulton brand was an early low-priced tool line offered by Sears. Another was the Dunlap brand and it first showed up in a catalog around the beginning of the 1940s. Sears offered the 6-piece open-end wrench sets by Dunlap at $1.49 compared to Craftsman’s comparable “Super-Tuff” set at $3.95 in 1949. (From the 1949 catalog)
Also in the 1940s, Craftsman’s quality ¾” drive sockets were produced by Sherman-Klove (S-K) tools of Chicago Illinois, an industrial tool manufacturer. Those branded as Sears and Dunlap were the lower grade tools until around the late 1950s. The Companion tool line replaced the Sears line in the late 1980s and then Companion was replaced by the Evolve tool line around 2008. But I think Evolve tools were being made for some years prior to taking over. These lower tiered tools were and always have been marketed to homeowners and do-it-yourselfers primarily.
In general, most Craftsman tools have a “guaranteed for life” warranty. There are exceptions though such as power tools, torque wrenches, and others. As most of us are aware, we tend to lose our tools long before they ever would be exchanged under the warranty. These are very good high quality tools and have decades of working history to the point where most people know and identify the Craftsman brand over any other manufactured tool brand.
Today, many Craftsman tool owners are apprehensive about Craftsman’s future and whether they will succumb to economic pressures to produce these fine quality tools overseas. Many if not all of the Evolve group are currently made in Taiwan, but that is still better than most mainland Chinese manufactured tools. But what good is the warranty if you trade in a high-quality American-made tool for a low quality Chinese-made tool?
However, when we look back at history as shown here, we often find that low-quality tool brands don’t stay around as long as high quality, higher priced tools such as the Craftsman flagship tool brand.
Wikipedia - Craftsman Tools
Garage Journal - Craftsman Hand Tool Manufacturers & Date Ranges
Alloy Artifacts - Craftsman BE and H-circle Tools