TOOL HISTORY - Porter-Cable

Porter-Cable is a high quality power tool manufacturer that has been in business since 1906 originally located in Syracuse, New York. Power tool aficionados might argue that Porter-Cable’s quality has suffered since Black and Decker purchased the Company in 2005. I would differ somewhat by saying one man built the Company and its reputation.

The Company began life when R. E. Porter, G. G. Porter and F. E. Cable agreed to open a jobbing machine and tool shop out of their garage in Syracuse, N.Y. with an investment of $2,300. That was still a lot of money back in 1906. You could buy a very nice house with that amount of money at the time. Years later even a new Model A Ford was just a fraction of that amount.

It wasn’t until 1914 when they turned their business toward the production of power tools and started marketing a line of small production lathes. Their niche was a lathe that could produce small parts. World War I brought greater demand for their products and soon they purchased larger property to handle the greater output needed to meet this demand.

THE ORIGINAL PORTER-CABLE COMPANY

An "inventor," Art Emmons, was hired as chief engineer in 1921 and in 1926 his first and best-known power tool was the “Take-About Sander.” It allowed workers to take the power tool to the work rather than taking the work to the power tool. It wasn’t a matter of logic. It was a matter of not being able to produce an electric power tool small enough to carry until that point. Electric power was still a relatively new invention at the time. This began Porter-Cable’s portable electric power tool niche and forever changed the Company. This was 20 years after it first opened its doors for business. By the way, "inventors" of the period could be best likened to what we now call engineers. Remember, this was during the Industrial Revolutions and it seemed everyone was an "inventor."

Through the Great Depression years (1930s), the “Take-About Sander” was increasingly popular as a tool that provided increased productivity to users yet one tool cost as much as a person’s monthly wages.

By 1929, Emmons came up with yet another previously unknown marvel, the helical drive circular saw. Its compact design, which was lightweight and powerful, has become the most widely used circular saw design in the United States. And this was followed shortly by the world’s first electric floor sander.

By the late 1930s, the company began recognizing the home-shop market by launching the lower-priced "Guild" product line of tools, which were sold exclusively through dealers.

As the G-8 Belt Sander was being brought to market, World War II began and Porter-Cable once again did its part in the war effort. In 1948, Porter-Cable acquired the Unit Electric Company and their woodworking tools were added to the product mix. This added a line of routers, shapers, planers, hinge-butt templates and related accessories to the product line. One year later, Sterling Tool Company of Chicago was also purchased and more woodworking tools were added to Porter-Cable’s product line.

New products were also added in the late 1940s, the Orbital Finishing Sander and the Model 100 Router. These two products are the foundation of Porter-Cable’s brand name recognition in the woodworking market.

In the 1950s, Art Emmons was also still hard at work developing new products. He introduced yet another first-of-its-kind power tool, the portable band saw. Emmons also investigated the idea of interchangeability, which is still a competitive advantage for the Company today. In other words, router motors could be used with different bases. This expanded the tool into several different applications, working as though it was more than one type of tool.

FALL FROM GRACE

In 1960, Rockwell International purchased Porter-Cable. Rockwell mistakenly dropped the Porter-Cable name and the tools became Rockwell tools. Emmons finally retired in 1964. Porter-Cable was truly an innovative company up to this point, no doubt driven in large part by the visions of Art Emmons hired back in 1921. I would add that most of the Company’s products were designed to fulfill a need or unique niche in the market place. Some old-timers might argue that Porter-Cable was never the same Company that it used to be after this point in time.

Under Rockwell, the Company began producing a low-quality brand called the “Green Line.” Rockwell’s product failures hurt the Company’s reputation. Rockwell took note and decided to sell Porter-Cable to Pentair, Inc. in 1981. Twenty years in rough business waters is bad enough to sink most companies, but not Porter-Cable.

RECOVERY

The first thing the new owner, Pentair, decided to do was to restore Porter-Cable tools back to its original name. Pentair also allowed Porter-Cable to reinvent itself and refocus its efforts on professional grade tools, much the same as it did in the 1920s.

One of the first innovative tools brought to market in 1987 was an affordable Biscuit Joiner. A 12-volt cordless drill and an electric random orbital sander followed in 1989. A cordless drill wasn’t exactly a new idea in the late 1980s, but a 12-volt drill was. These aren’t quite the innovations that Art Emmons had brought to the Company in the past but things were beginning to percolate once again.

Porter-Cable was finally recognized once again as a viable power tool maker and received several awards for various tools. Popular Mechanics and Popular Science were among them as well as the Smithsonian Institute adding some of their innovative power tools to the museum.

By 1995, Porter-Cable introduced their Pneumatic Nailer. By this time their distribution network was strong and gave them an advantage over competitors. The Company was also averaging 50 new products per year.

In January 2000, the Company “consolidated” with Delta Machinery. They began sharing resources in order to become more efficient. DeVilbiss Air Power Company was also added to the group further adding production efficiencies.

And finally, in 2005, Black & Decker purchased Porter-Cable and Delta Machinery from Pentair Inc.

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Sources:

Wikipedia, Porter-Cable Tools

Delta Porter-Cable Tools