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Origins & Applications of The Robertson Drive

Origins and Applications of The Robertson Drive

Ford vs Robertson vs Phillips

The Canadian square-shaped Robertson Drive was invented in 1908, shortly after its inventor, P. L. Robertson, injured himself when his slotted Screwdriver slipped from the head of a slotted screw. The goal of the Robertson drive was to improve upon the most dominant screw type of the time by preventing drive slippage, which was, and still is, a common complaint with simple slotted drives.

One of Robertson’s very first customers was Henry Ford, who praised the Robertson drive for its efficiency and swift installation time, and eventually approached Robertson to include Robertson fasteners in Ford automobiles. A partnership with Henry Ford could have been catalyst Robertson needed to push his fastener design into the worldwide market, but it was not to be. Despite meetings between Robertson and Ford to discuss the inclusion of over 700 Robertson drives into every Ford Model T, Ford would only settle for the exclusive rights to manufacture Robertson heads in the US, and with both refusing to give up complete control of their own product, the deal was abandoned. Ford ultimately chose the fledgling screw company of Henry F. Phillips to be his supplier, catapulting the Phillips drive into the mass market.

The Robertson head’s inclusion into the first affordable automobile would have skyrocketed its popularity, and established it as the screw of choice for later automobile imitations. Today, over 100 years after its invention, the Robertson drive is rarely found outside Canada, but if events had played out differently, it may have been the Robertson fastener holding the significant worldwide market share which Phillips enjoys today.