Henry Frank Phillips

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Henry Frank Phillips

Birthplace: Bolivar, Mississippi, United States
Death: 1958 (68-69)
Baker, OR, United States
Immediate Family:

Husband of Nell Merdes
Father of Harry Leland Phillips; Dorothy Phillips; Private; Private and Frank Phillips

Occupation: Inventor (Phillips Screw)
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Henry Frank Phillips

Henry Phillips invented the Phillips Screw, the BarMaster and the Kindle Stick.

Henry F. Phillips (1890 – 1958), a U.S. businessman from Portland, Oregon, has the honor of having the Phillips-head screw and screwdriver named after him.

The importance of the crosshead screw design lies in its self-centering property, useful on automated production lines that use powered screwdrivers. Phillips' major contribution was in driving the crosshead concept forward to the point where it was adopted by screwmakers and automobile companies.

Although he received patents for the design in 1936 (US Patent #2,046,343, US Patents #2,046,837 to 2,046,840), it was so widely copied that by 1949 Phillips lost his patent.

The American Screw Company was responsible for devising a means of manufacturing the screw, and successfully patented and licensed their method; other screw makers of the 1930s dismissed the Phillips concept since it calls for a relatively complex recessed socket shape in the head of the screw — as distinct from the simple milled slot of a slotted type screw.

The Phillips Screw Company and the American Screw Company went on to devise the Pozidriv screw, which differs from the Phillips in that it is designed to accommodate greater torque than the Phillips.


Henry F. Phillips invented both the screw and the driver that bear his name. The Oregon businessman patented two versions of a fastening device for crosshead screws in 1934 and 1936. Phillips intended the screw for use with automatic screwdrivers and marketed it for mass-production industries such as auto manufacturing.

The Phillips screw can be driven with more torque and holds better than slotted screws. The Phillips system is also self-centering. If you press the tip of the screwdriver against the screw head, it takes only a little wiggling to seat it properly. The speed with which Phillips screws can be used was crucial to the auto assembly line. In addition, Phillips screws are almost impossible to over screw, which was also very important for industry.

Phillips persuaded the American Screw Company to manufacture his screw design, and the company convinced General Motors to use the screw on the 1936 Cadillac. By 1940, most American automakers used Phillips screws. When the U.S. needed to crank out jeeps and tanks for World War II, Phillips screws were an essential component in the war effort.

Interestingly enough, Phillips was not the first to improve on the old slotted screw. In 1908, Canadian Peter L. Robertson invented a square-head screw. The Robertson screw was the first recess-drive fastener that was practical for mass production. It had all the advantages of the Phillips, but Robertson was unable to get it used by American industries. This screw is standard in Canada and is favored by woodworkers on both sides of the border.


Why do we all rely on a basic device whose shortcomings are so maddening?


HENRY F. PHILLIPS, of Portland, Oregon, patented a new kind of screw and screwdriver in 1936. Within a decade his screws were holding things together all over the world. Why? Wasn’t one kind enough? For the average person tackling a minor do-it-yourself project, the advantages of the Phillips can seem elusive. Perhaps it was a scheme by the tool industry to make people buy twice as many screwdrivers.

But the ordinary screw and screwdriver are far from perfect, and the spread of assembly lines and mass production highlighted their deficiencies. To seat the business end of a screwdriver into a slot screw, you have to make sure the blade and slot line up exactly. That takes only a moment, but in high-volume manufacturing those moments add up. The slot design is particularly ill-suited for use with power tools. Unless the screwdriver is centered with absolute precision, the blade tends to go flying out.

Screws that replace the slot with a socket, such as the cavity that fits an Allen wrench, offer a snugger fit. But punching deep sockets into screw heads tends to deform or damage them, so slot screws were always far easier and cheaper to manufacture. Then, in 1907, a Canadian named Peter L. Robertson patented a square-socket screw that could be efficiently massproduced, and a number of Canadian factories adopted it. But he failed at marketing his design beyond Canada, apparently because of both the disruption of World War I and his insistence on retaining complete control over his technology.

Phillips’s five 1936 patents describe a fastening system involving a shallow cruciform recess and a matching driver with a tapering tip. His first application, filed in 1934, envisioned a screwdriver that ended in a sharp point. A second application, filed a year later by Phillips and Thomas M. Fitzpatrick, of Portland, described the blunt-ended design that remains in use today. Like Robertson’s square-socket design, the Phillips system is self-centering: Press the tip against the socket, and a little wiggling will seat it properly.

Phillips founded the Phillips Screw Company to license his patents. After three years of rejection, he finally persuaded the American Screw Company to manufacture the screws. Engineers there balked until the president of the company threatened to fire anyone who said it couldn’t be done. American Screw then spent $500,000 developing a manufacturing process and induced General Motors to use the screws on its 1936 Cadillac. By 1940 virtually every American automaker had switched to Phillips screws.

The conveniently selfcentering driver turned out to be conveniently self-ejecting as well. The combination of a shallow socket and a tapered blade made the driver pop out of the socket whenever it encountered a lot of resistance, a phenomenon known as “camout” or “torque-out.” This, the most vexing shortcoming of the Phillips system for casual users, proved to be an advantage for automakers and other manufacturers, cutting down on overscrewing.

During World War II, tanks, jeeps, and aircraft held together by Phillipshead screws began rolling off assembly lines. The screws boosted industrial productivity, but, for the weekend handyman, they only created problems. Cam-out makes tightly driven Phillips screws fiendishly hard to remove and often damages the screw, the driver, and anything a suddenly loose driver happens to hit. Whereas a dime or a piece of scrap metal can often be used to loosen a slot screw, nothing takes the place of a Phillips screwdriver. A flat-bladed driver or even a wrong-size Phillips one just makes cam-out worse.

Phillips himself died in semiobscurity in 1958 at the age of 68, long after his invention had become a household name. The Phillips Screw Company, now based in Wakefield, Massachusetts, continues to research and license fastener technology. The company has developed a number of improvements to the basic Phillips design. Its ACR Phillips II employs interlocking ribs in the driver and socket to eliminate cam-out; its Pozidriv system uses flanges between the driver blades, and matching grooves in the socket, to reduce wear and allow firmer engagement.

The Robertson squaresocket screw is still popular in Canada and is used by a number of U.S. furniture and mobile-home manufacturers. Other socket designs in common use include the hexagonal Alien socket and the star-shaped Torx. The Phillips, however, remains the international socket screw of choice. Once a standard is in place, it can be as difficult to dislodge as a tightly driven Phillips screw.

2006 Family History Article by Great Great Grand daughter: Nell Zaloom:

The Phillips Screw

My family is comprised of many fascinating characters. I decided to interview my grandmother, Marynell Phillips Stone, whom I was named after. My grandmother is a woman of intelligence and wonder. She is someone who loves to talk about anything. She knows everything about her family history. My grandmother believes that when you know about your family history, you gain more insight into who you are and what your future may hold. I chose to interview my grandmother because of her wisdom, knowledge, and eagerness to share our family history. The interview was set up on the 6th of September at 6:30 P.M. over the telephone. My grandmother believed that the story of the Phillips Screw should be most remembered about the history of our family.

The two inventions of the twentieth century were the hoola hoop and the Phillips Screw. My great-grandfather, Henry F. Phillips, invented the Phillips Screw. He was born in Bolivar, Missouri, on June 4, 1889. Henry lived in Portland, Oregon with his wife, Nell Phillips, and his five children. Henry was a brilliant mastermind and a young inventor. Some of his ideas helped create the Presto Log, kindel stix, and the flow spout. His mind was always running in high gear. He often would write down his ideas on his bedroom wallpaper. In 1933, Henry invented the Phillips recessed-head screw that was the first major improvement in the single-slot screw industry in eight decades. He tried to sell his invention to every major screw manufacturer in the U.S., including the American Screw Company, but was originally turned down. In 1932, the American Screw Company got a new president and bought Phillip’s idea. Henry founded the Phillips Screw Company, obtaining ninety licenses with every automobile and aircraft manufacturer. His company was very successful. Billions of Phillips Screws were made and are still used today.

Listening to the story of the Phillips Screw made me feel proud to be part of my family. This story was inspiring and informative. This invention helped define my family history. I now know that there are many important people in my family that have given out their ideas and creations to the world. The Phillips Screw is a widely used product throughout the entire nation. The man who invented the screw was my relative. It is important to know about a family member who created an invention that is used very often around the world. This piece of family history inspires me to achieve the greatest. If I want something, I must do whatever it takes to make it happen.

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Henry Frank Phillips's Timeline

June 4, 1889
Bolivar, Mississippi, United States
October 15, 1919
Spokane, wa, United States
Age 68
Baker, OR, United States
Spokane, Washington, United States