C Marshall Fabrication Machinery, Inc.

The most popular screw in the world

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Pretty much anything that can be bought or sold is available in the US. With a few notable exceptions, including medieval castles. You have to to to Europe (preferably) to see those.

If you do travel to Europe as a tourist, chances are that you will end up touring at least one medieval castle. They are truly fascinating places to visit for children or grown-ups alike. Of course, the best part of any castle tour are the dungeons. If you’re like most tourists, you’ll visit a castle that still has a reasonably well-equipped torture chamber. Completely morbid and jarring to see, but also highly memorable.

Inside the castle you will nearly always find a display of ancient medieval weapons and armor, some of the finest historical examples of metalworking in the world, to look at and sometimes even to touch. The intricacy of the chain mail is mind-boggling. The sharpness and geometric perfection of the swords, daggers, spears, lances and other pokey metal objects is impressive even by modern standards.

If you bother to read the little printed signs under these displays, you can learn more about these weapons and suits of armor: in particular, their specific uses, and when and where they were made. After a while, you might notice a predictable pattern: the majority of these metal items were made in Germany. This does not necessarily mean that most weapons and suits of armor were made in Germany (although this too could be argued); but it definitely means that the majority of ancient metal weapons to have survived more or less intact to this day were made in Germany (or its historical geographic and cultural equivalent).

Even to this day, Germany makes some of the finest blades and knives on the planet. Witness Wusthoff and J.A. Henckels, to name only a few. The history of metal and metalworking is so entwined with Germany that even the word “smith” can be traced back to a prehistoric German word which means “worker or craftsman”. Incidentally, that same word (“Schmied”) is still alive and well in the German language to this day, and it still means the same thing. Just another testament to the consistency of metalworking and metallurgy throughout Germanic history.

One reason that German metalworking gained such a foothold in medieval times was by revolutionizing plate armor. Although plate armor had been in use since ancient Greek and Roman times, it didn’t evolve much at all until the early 1500’s, with the German production of so-called Nuremberg armors, many of which are some of the best examples of incredible workmanship and beautiful design in the metalworking industry to this day.

As a result of this quantum leap in plate armor evolution, it naturally followed that weaponry had to be improved, if it were to have any chance of penetrating the Nuremberg armor suits. This “theory of natural evolution” as applied to the metal industry seems to go a long way in explaining Germany’s consistent history of excellence and predominance in the area of metalworking.

Although the slotted head screw still exists practically unchanged to this day, it was finally eclipsed in the early 20th century, by a new type of screw invented by a Henry F. Phillips. After a successful trial run on the 1936 Cadillac, the Phillips screw became successfully entrenched in the American auto industry and just took off from there. By the beginning of World War II, the Phillips head screw had become and still remains “the most popular screw in the world”, as Wikipedia puts it.

You had to read the whole thing, but now you know how I came up with the title of this article. In any case, I hope you found it informative, relevant and entertaining.

-Anja Wulf

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© C Marshall Fabrication Machinery, Inc. 2011


C Marshall Fabrication Machinery, Inc.