July 7, 2024

On July 7, 1936, U.S. Patent No. 2,046,343, 2,046,837, 2,046,838, 2,046,839, and 2,046,840 issued to Henry F. Phillips all relating to a “screw having a head, a tool receiving recess formed in the head of the screw, said recess comprising a plurality of radially disposed tool receiving grooves,” i.e., the Phillips head screwdriver.

However, Phillips was not the first to invent a screw with a cruciform recess — that honor belongs to J.P. Thompson, who obtained U.S. Patent No. 1,908,080 three years before Phillips:

So why is it a Phillips Head Screwdriver, not a Thompson Head Screwdriver?

Thompson approached many screw manufacturers, all of whom said his screw was impossible to manufacture because the punch needed to create the recess would destroy the screw head. Thompson concluded the whole idea was not manufacturable, confiding in an acquaintance named Henry Phillips who became intrigued with the idea and offered to buy the rights to the patent.

Phillips, an engineer, immediately formed the Phillips Screw Company revised the design and began revisiting many of the same manufacturers that had previously rejected Thompson. Finally, he met with success at American Screw, the nation’s largest screw manufacturer. Phillips convinced General Motors to use the screws on the 1937 Cadillacs. By 1940, 85% of the screw manufacturing companies had a license to produce the Phillips screw recess design.

This is another lesson in successful inventing: Not only do you have the envision the benefits of the invention, but you have to be able to get others to envision those benefits as well.