The Men Behind the Tools

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iStock

You may not realize it, but you've got quite a few proper names in your toolbox or hanging above your workbench. Let's take a look at a few of the names that have helped make drilling, screwing, cleaning, and tightening a bit easier for all of us.

Ettore squeegees

squeegee
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The squeegee takes its name from the sound it makes as it cleans a window, and no brand name is as closely linked to clean windows as Ettore. It's fitting, then, that Italian immigrant and window cleaner Ettore Steccone perfected the modern single-blade squeegee in 1936 with a model he called "the New Deal."

Steccone's improved design made it easier for window washers to replace worn-out blades while they were dangling high on buildings' facades, but he had to resort to some trickery to get stores to stock the New Deal. When Steccone was still operating his business out of his garage, he tried to convince the New York window cleaning supply giant J. Racenstein Company to buy an order of his squeegees. They declined. Undeterred, Steccone bet the owner that within a month the company would place an order for his squeegees. The stakes? Only the finest hat in New York City.

Here's where the trickery comes in. Steccone then went around town and gave his window-washing colleagues free squeegees to try for a day. When they came back to him with rave reviews and asked where they could buy more, Steccone directed them to the J. Racenstein Company. Sure enough, Racenstein placed an order for Steccone's wares within a month. The luxurious Borsalino hat that Racenstein bought Steccone still sits in the Ettore Products Company's offices as an oddly dapper trophy.

Black & Decker

drill
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In 1910, S. Duncan Black and Alonzo G. Decker pooled $1,200 to open a machine shop in Baltimore. At first they built machines to make bottle caps and dip candy, but in 1916 they hit upon an interesting idea: What if they made a portable drill? The pair worked to obtain a patent for a drill with a pistol grip and a trigger, and the drill was suddenly a lot handier than it had been. Within three years, the Black & Decker was racking up over $1 million in annual sales.

Stanley

Although it merged with Black & Decker earlier this year, the Stanley Works' name lives on in the new corporate name Stanley Black & Decker. The company got its start in New Britain, CT in 1843 when Frederick Trent Stanley opened a shop to make door bolts and hinges from wrought iron. In 1857, his cousin Henry Stanley started a hardware company of his own, the Stanley Rule and Level Company. In 1920, the two companies finally merged to become the Stanley Works.

Allen wrenches

allen wrenches
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Connecticut is a surprisingly fertile location for hardware designs. The familiar hex wrench takes its common name from the Allen Manufacturing Company of Hartford, which introduced a popular line of hex keys in 1943.

DeWalt

Carpenter using radial arm saw
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Although DeWalt is now a subsidiary of Stanley Black & Decker, it traces its roots all the way back to 1922. That's when farm superintendent Raymond DeWalt ran into a problem. He needed more men to help him cut lumber to specific lengths, but his bosses wouldn't shell out any extra cash for payroll. DeWalt addressed the problem by hooking a saw to a moving yoke and an arm, which allowed one man to cut wood far more efficiently. Yes, DeWalt invented the radial arm saw, which made cutting lumber easier than the old table saws and handsaws that people had been using. DeWalt formed the DeWalt Products Company in 1924 and introduced the "Wonder-Worker," an electric woodworking machine that included his radial arm saw design.

Phillips head screw

phillips head screws
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Yes, there's actually a Mr. Phillips. In the early 1930s, assembly lines were facing a conundrum. Powered mechanized screwdrivers could make production far more efficient, but they were incredibly irritating to use with the traditional flat-head screws. As soon as the tip of the screwdriver would slip into the slot, it would pop back out again.

Henry F. Phillips of Portland, OR solved all of that in 1934. His crosshead screw centered itself, and once a screwdriver was seated in the slot, it wasn't coming out. Phillips began licensing his screws to industrial plants, and they were an immediate hit. By 1937, General Motors had begun using Phillips head screws, and now you can find Phillips' name in most any toolbox.

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6 Amazing Facts About Sally Ride

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

You know Sally Ride as the first American woman to travel into space. But here are six things you might not know about the groundbreaking astronaut, who was born on May 26, 1951.

1. Sally Ride proved there is such thing as a stupid question.

When Sally Ride made her first space flight in 1983, she was both the first American woman and the youngest American to make the journey to the final frontier. Both of those distinctions show just how qualified and devoted Ride was to her career, but they also opened her up to a slew of absurd questions from the media.

Journalist Michael Ryan recounted some of the sillier questions that had been posed to Ride in a June 1983 profile for People. Among the highlights:

Q: “Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?”
A: “There’s no evidence of that.”

Q: “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?”
A: “How come nobody ever asks (a male fellow astronaut) those questions?"

Forget going into space; Ride’s most impressive achievement might have been maintaining her composure in the face of such offensive questions.

2. Had she taken Billie Jean King's advice, Sally Ride might have been a professional tennis player.

When Ride was growing up near Los Angeles, she played more than a little tennis, and she was seriously good at it. She was a nationally ranked juniors player, and by the time she turned 18 in 1969, she was ranked 18th in the whole country. Tennis legend Billie Jean King personally encouraged Ride to turn pro, but she went to Swarthmore instead before eventually transferring to Stanford to finish her undergrad work, a master’s, and a PhD in physics.

King didn’t forget about the young tennis prodigy she had encouraged, though. In 1984 an interviewer playfully asked the tennis star who she’d take to the moon with her, to which King replied, “Tom Selleck, my family, and Sally Ride to get us all back.”

3. Home economics was not Sally Ride's best subject.

After retiring from space flight, Ride became a vocal advocate for math and science education, particularly for girls. In 2001 she founded Sally Ride Science, a San Diego-based company that creates fun and interesting opportunities for elementary and middle school students to learn about math and science.

Though Ride was an iconic female scientist who earned her doctorate in physics, just like so many other youngsters, she did hit some academic road bumps when she was growing up. In a 2006 interview with USA Today, Ride revealed her weakest subject in school: a seventh-grade home economics class that all girls had to take. As Ride put it, "Can you imagine having to cook and eat tuna casserole at 8 a.m.?"

4. Sally Ride had a strong tie to the Challenger.

Ride’s two space flights were aboard the doomed shuttle Challenger, and she was eight months deep into her training program for a third flight aboard the shuttle when it tragically exploded in 1986. Ride learned of that disaster at the worst possible time: she was on a plane when the pilot announced the news.

Ride later told AARP the Magazine that when she heard the midflight announcement, she got out her NASA badge and went to the cockpit so she could listen to radio reports about the fallen shuttle. The disaster meant that Ride wouldn’t make it back into space, but the personal toll was tough to swallow, too. Four of the lost members of Challenger’s crew had been in Ride’s astronaut training class.

5. Sally Ride had no interest in cashing in on her worldwide fame.

A 2003 profile in The New York Times called Ride one of the most famous women on Earth after her two space flights, and it was hard to argue with that statement. Ride could easily have cashed in on the slew of endorsements, movie deals, and ghostwritten book offers that came her way, but she passed on most opportunities to turn a quick buck.

Ride later made a few forays into publishing and endorsements, though. She wrote or co-wrote more than a half-dozen children’s books on scientific themes, including To Space and Back, and in 2009 she appeared in a print ad for Louis Vuitton. Even appearing in an ad wasn’t an effort to pad her bank account, though; the ad featured an Annie Leibovitz photo of Ride with fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell gazing at the moon and stars. According to a spokesperson, all three astronauts donated a “significant portion” of their modeling fees to Al Gore’s Climate Project.

6. Sally Ride was the first openly LGBTQ astronaut.

Ride passed away on July 23, 2012, at the age of 61, following a long (and very private) battle with pancreatic cancer. While Ride's brief marriage to fellow astronaut Steve Hawley was widely known to the public (they were married from 1982 to 1987), it wasn't until her death that Ride's longtime relationship with Tam O'Shaughnessy—a childhood friend and science writer—was made public. Which meant that even in death, Ride was still changing the world, as she is the world's first openly LGBTQ astronaut.