With a heritage that can be traced back to 1889, Chicago Pneumatic remains a long- established brand name within the pneumatic tool industry. Here, we look back at its roots and follow its evolution through the years.
Windy city origins
John W. Duntley had in mind the idea of sourcing and selling construction tools ‘that weren’t yet available’. In Chicago, in 1894, John established the Chicago Pneumatic Tool business, with the Boyer Machine Shop in St Louis, Missouri, becoming the first plant to begin manufacturing products specifically for Chicago Pneumatic.
In 1901, Duntley met steel magnate Charles M. Schwab who invested heavily in the business and on 28th December of that year, the company was incorporated and patented the first single-valve pneumatic hammer.
The company began to expand in 1904, opening offices in England, Canada, and Germany. This coincided with the development of several new lines of products, such as air tools and rock drills. Before, in 1911, production began on a gasoline-driven CPT car and ‘Little Giant’ trucks. Customers of the trucks included Coca-Cola Co., Standard Oil Co., and the St Louis Cardinals, serving to boost the company’s brand.
In 1912, the company produced a horizontal two-cycle semi-Diesel oil engine to power a compressor and, one year later, introduced its Simplate valve which offered controllability with high speeds and brought more capacity.
Thirties & Forties – The war effort
Then, in 1939, CP designed and manufactured the world’s first impact wrench, with both pneumatic and electric versions. This range would grow to the vast offering available today that greatly assists numerous industries of which one is the automotive.
In response to the war effort, the company developed the ‘hot dimpling machine’ a device for heating rivets to 1,000°F and using 100,000 pounds/inch2 of pressure to squeeze the rivet head into its final shape. The Saturday Evening Post published, in 1943, a cover picture by Norman Rockwell portraying a female aircraft worker, Rosie the Riveter, eating her lunch with a Chicago Pneumatic riveting hammer in her lap.
Fifties & Sixties – Testing limits
The 1950s and 1960s were an era of performance research. In this period there were a number of notable developments:
- The company’s drill bits, of which production began in 1925, broke depth records approaching 20,000 feet and were used in oil prospecting.
- The portable broach puller for aircraft rivets was introduced in 1957.
- A Chicago Pneumatic electric motor played a role in the U.S. Apollo space mission to the Moon. It powered a pump that inflated three bags on the capsule upon its splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on 24th July, 1969. The bags ensured the escape hatch was on top and the astronauts could open it safely.
- The same year the company introduced the world’s first speed ratchet, CP728, to the Ford Motor Company.
Seventies onwards – Making an impact in automotive
In 1970, the CP611 impact wrench was used in the steel erection phase of the World Trade Centres in New York City. Sold for several years into industrial markets, the company’s torque impact wrenches were introduced in the 1970s into the automotive market. In 1987, Chicago Pneumatic became part of Atlas Copco.
During 1988, more products were launched than at any other time since the ‘70s, such as screwdrivers, assembly tools and new ratchet wrenches. In 1990, this established brand won a silver award from the AMA with its ‘23 parts’ advertising campaign. The advertisement portrayed how over 250 light assembly tools could be made from only 23 interchangeable component parts – quite the innovation.
2007 marked the inauguration of a new ‘Technology Centre’ in Nantes, France and in 2010, a new global design highlighting the brand colours red and black was adopted.
The company today is still as active as it has ever been. Both across the pond in the US and a little closer to home, CP is constantly developing. To name one example, June 28th 2017 marked the opening of a new tool showroom for customers and distributors at the company’s Rock Hill location (USA). The showroom allows tool distributors to experience the full range of products – from lightweight cordless tools to pneumatic impact wrenches. Indeed, the latest tools include the CP7762 3⁄4″ stubby impact wrench and CP7783-6 Lightweight 1″ impact wrench.
Back in Britain, it was fitting that when the producers of the pop science TV series ‘Wicked Inventions’ sought a company that looks at the way items are invented, manufactured and used to change the world around us, they approached Chicago Pneumatic. Clearly the company’s history and reputation is more than worthy enough for the small screen.