All of us have something in common, but most often it's too little and, it's my belief, there should be more. All of us probably have a healthy love of Mom, apple pie, street rods, and, since last September, the Stars and Stripes and what it represents.
For starters, all of us must have a great deal in common about things mechanical, which is why we all read STREET RODDER. We enjoy sunny days with a light breeze blowing over a long road with no traffic and no deadlines looming in the distance. That's a prefect day for a ride in any street rod. But there's something else. I am confident every last one of us at one time or another has visited a Sears and Roebuck store, or owned one of their appliances, purchased clothing, bedding, batteries, or tools from them. Ah yes, tools. I am willing to bet the mortgage that it's a rare rodder indeed who hasn't at some time in his life found himself ratcheting, twisting, or plugging-in a Craftsman's tool of some sort.
Over my some 50-plus years of existence I have managed to accumulate a rather substantial collection of Craftsman tools, tool boxes, compressors, drill presses, paint and tune-up equipment, and so on. (Although, I do take a great deal of grief from Tech Editor Ron Ceridono, who complains that my tools are too clean, too neat, and too unused. But that's fuel for another fire.) So, with that in mind, how about a happy 75th anniversary for the Sears Craftsman Power and Hand Tools catalog.
In 1927, for $500, a trademark certificate was issued to Sears, Roebuck and Co. for the brand name Craftsman. Craftsman's first appearance was in the 1927 Hardware and Cutlery catalog. One of the first Craftsman tools was a hand-honed, razor-sharp axe with a 3 1/2-pound head for $1.75. I think Ceridono still has his? I know I have seen him chasing fellow staffer Eric Geisert and Chris Shelton through the hallways with an axe!
Craftsman tools first appeared in the 1928 Sears spring general catalog. This issue contained the likes of bench planes, chisels, hammers, and hatchets. It was in 1929 that the first Craftsman power tools, including 1/4- and 1/2-inch electric drills, were introduced. Another name you should recall was also featured in the Sears catalog, that of Henry Ford, who introduced the Model A in 1928. If you like baseball you will recall (well, maybe) Babe Ruth hitting 60 home runs in a single season.
It was toward the end of the Model A-era (around 1931) that Sears introduced the Electrical Power Tools and Shop Equipment specialty catalog. Homeowners received the first edition of the Craftsman and Companion Power Tools and Accessories catalog in 1933. This mail-order publication evolved into one of the country's most popular ways to shop: the Craftsman Power and Hand Tools catalog. Customers could order an 8-inch bench-top table saw with a cast-iron base for $38; a Craftsman 6-inch Electric Hand Saw (comparable to today's circular saw) for $36.50; or a Craftsman Garage Vise with Anvil for $2.50. Again, all tools techie Ron still employs.
Ron also tells me that this was the era of the Great Depression, that the average annual salary was $1,368 (similar to today's), and that Congress passed the first minimum wage law at .33 cents per hour. Again, he tells me little has changed. Also, 80 percent of Americans owned radios, except Ron.
In 1940, sales of Craftsman tools had increased 1,550 percent since 1929. During World War II, a member of the 56th Construction Battalion stated that Craftsman tools were utilized heavily on projects in the Pacific islands. After a five-year hiatus, the Craftsman Power Tools catalog returned in 1948. These were lean times and an estimated 8,120,000 people were unemployed. The first computers were developed in the 1940s (Ron says he still has his!) and 17 million TV sets were sold by 1951, again, Ron still has his. It was during this time that frozen dinners were invented, and yet again, Ron still has several leftovers that he enjoys to this day. Oh yes, 55 percent of U.S. homes had indoor plumbing, but not Ron's.
During the '60s, Craftsman introduced the quick-release ratchet, a tool that would revolutionize the mechanics hand tool industry. It wasn't until 1966--the same year Batman appeared on television and the Beatle's Revolver album hit the shelves--that the Craftsman Power Tools and Hand Tools catalogs merged. This was a time that many of us will remember for its incredible social unrest as well as for the Detroit musclecar and how it nearly killed off hot rodding, or at least redefined it. Do you recall The Bay of Pigs and the subsequent Cuban Missile Crisis; the assassination of President John F. Kennedy; The Beatles; The Vietnam War; Campus Unrest; Woodstock (which Road Tour chauffeur Jerry Dixey says he still has fond memories of--reoccurring and otherwise); and Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon? If you can't, well that's okay, but if you can, it would serve you well to remember the lessons of the past.
It was also at this time that the very beginnings of our current street rod industry began to grow, with the likes of Wescott Auto Restyling, Poli-Form, and shortly thereafter, Total Performance. The early to mid-'70s saw many of today's rodding giants get their start and, we should be thankful, fueled the street rod industry to make a very strong and significant comeback. And, I am willing to bet that every one of these companies had a Sears catalog somewhere around as well as a box full of tools of the trade.
It goes without saying that Sears and their brand names, Craftsman and DieHard, have served rodders well for many a decade, through good times and bad. Just like STREET RODDER, it's good to know that you have a friend who can weather the storm and be there with you through your next project. Happy 75th to Sears Craftsman Power and Hand Tools catalog.