When Cadillac Helped Revolutionize Screwing

There's certain things that are so common that they become almost invisible. Like screws. We see screws probably hundreds or thousands of times a day, and there's many, many more hidden from view. They're literally one of the key things that hold our world together, so I think they're due some respect. A great many (possibly most) of the screws you encounter daily show you their heads with a familiar cruciform + or x shape. These are Phillips-head screws, and we can thank Cadillac for making them as popular as they are.

What's amazing is how recent Philips head screws are, comparatively. They were introduced in 1935, after Henry Phillips bought and refined the cruciform design from a friend, John Thompson. The reason for the screw's existence at all has to do with the development of motorized screw-driving machines. As anyone who has ever used a power screwdriver can tell you, it's far easier to drive in a Phillips head screw than a slot or flathead screw, for the simple reason that the bit and head are in alignment twice as often, thanks to the two axes instead of one slot. The tapered shape of the cross-shaped indent and the pointed bit help the screw and driver self-align. Simple and brilliant.

When Cadillac Helped Revolutionize Screwing


Phillips got his patent in 1936, and it's possible the screw could have been just another historical footnote if not for the Cadillac of motor cars, Cadillac. in 1937, General Motors contracted with Phillips to use the new screws for the Cadillac assembly lines, speeding up construction times and saving the General big money. By 1940, 85% of American screw manufacturers had licensed the design.

So there you go. Cadillac was the first car to use Phillips head screws, and played a large role in the popularization of those familiar servants of man. They also freed us from the tyranny of cruel Allen and his hex-head bolts, under whom our Swedish friends are still enslaved.