The Golden Age Of Tools

The mass manufacturing of household items started well over 100 years ago when products started to be made in factories. Mass production heralded the birth of a new profession, the industrial designer.

An industrial designer’s job is to conceptualize and design a products function and look. Just about everything in your home has been created by an industrial designer, from your coffee pot to the coach light that illuminates your front door. Many designs are function, but not memorable. However, some designs transcends function and become a cultural icon and sometimes even art.

In 1915 the Coca Cola company wanted to create a distinctive bottle to differentiate Coke from other sodas. Their inspiration came in the form a cacao pod with his scalloped ridges. Everyone knows what a Coke bottle looks like, and its design has become a trademark as it is so recognizable.

The 1930s was the golden age of industrial design when designers turned everyday objects into works of art. The 1935 Electrolux vacuum comes to mind as does the dozen of beautifully molded Art Deco radios made inexpensively due to the introduction of a revolutionary material, plastic.

In the 1940 the US government needed a utilitarian vehicle and commissioned the Government Purpose vehicle, this was shortened to the GP, which then became the slang, “Jeep.” Everyone knows what a Jeep looks like and its rugged functional style is still popular 70 years later.

Industrial design art continues to this very day with such visionary as James Dyson with his stylish vacuum cleaners and fans, and Jony Ives, the former Apple visionary who brought us the iPhone and MacBook, designs so beautiful in their simplicity that they have been copied by a multitude of other manufacturers.

There was a golden age of power tool design was in the 1950s, and I am fortunate enough to own a working example of a beautiful belt sander from Stanley. The Stanley 449 sander that I own was formerly my uncles, who was a cabinet maker. When he retired he gave me the sander, which I still use. Recently, I was looking at its curved and detailed design which resembles the Art Deco train designs from the 1930s. It is a functional tool, but also a work of art. Industrial design at its best.

See the photos below. The photos of the 449 are in black and white, as I think that media better shows off the lines of the tool.

As a contrast, here is a modern DeWalt saw. It is very ergonomic in design. In addition, it is intentionally bulbous and made with strong contrasting colors. I believe that those features were added to give the tool a powerful look, as you can see a similar trend in tools from other manufacturers.

The following are black and white views of the 449. I leave it to you to appreciates its beautiful form and function.