History of the Drill

Old Drill

In modern times, drills are a common household and construction item. Gone are the days of hand drills, though they do sometimes serve a very useful purpose, and have largely been replaced by the cordless models. The original purpose of a drill was to make a hole in stone, metal, or wood. That use has not changed significantly over the years, but its use has expanded.

There are a number of types of drills, such as the bore drill, which simply drills a hole. This type was developed in Egypt around 3000 B.C. The auger, still used today, was created and used in the Roman and Medieval ages. However, I am going to focus more on the electric and power drills that we are familiar with.

Connecting the Electric Motor to a Drill

Give credit to the pair of Australians, Arthur Arnot and William Brain, for making the connection and combining the drill with an electric motor. This first happened in 1889, making the electric drill just over 125 years old. Just over five years later someone had the idea to take the electric drill and design it to fit in a user’s hand and make it portable. Germans Wilhelm and Carl Fein of Germany get credit for that evolutionary idea. And while this may surprise you, the trigger switch operated, pistol handled drill was created in 1917, by Black and Decker.

This evolution of the electric drill brought about a number of designs for attachments that could be used with the drill. This improved its versatility and functionality. No longer did it just drill holes, but could now be used as an orbital sander and power saw. Instead of just being used by carpenters, it could now be used by plumbers and electricians as well.

Black and Decker once again advanced the technology of the power drill by creating the cordless drill in 1961, whose primary target for using it was industrial and commercial concerns. (There are those who claim that Japanese tool maker Makita created the first cordless drill in 1978, which may have been true as far as it relates to becoming the first to be made to the general public.) While this is not something that generally impresses us today, for people such as contractors who worked with a variety of drills for a variety of purposes, the technology was mammoth. There are not many power outlets on a construction site, so for the professional carpenter to have a power tool available whenever they need it saved time and money.

Another factor that changed how people used the power drill was the advances in portable electricity stored in batteries. The available drill power went from 4.8 volts in the 1960’s, to 9.6 volts in 1980’s, and today we are at 36 volts and higher.

Major Companies

Though there are a select few number of people and companies (notably Black and Decker) that created major changes in the development of the drill, there are a number of other companies that have advanced the drill and placed it into the hands of virtually anyone.

Raymond DeWalt founded the famous DeWalt Power Tool Company in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1923 which sells a line of some of the most rugged and reliable drills on the market. In that same year, the Milwaukee Electric Tool Company was created by A.F. Siebert, another best selling power drill manufacturer.  1924 saw the Michel Electric Hand Saw Company enter the market with the brand name of Skil.

No small power tool history would be complete without including the Sears Craftsman brand, started in 1927. While the retail store does not have the same reputation it once did, it is still an important part of the evolution of the drill.

These are some of the highlights in the development of the drill in history. There are only a few that influenced the design and construction of the drills we know today. Yet the commercialization and popularity was made possible by a number of companies who saw their usefulness to the general public. Regardless of who was responsible for the advances in drill technology, none of those advances would be possible without the application of electricity and battery power to the device.


  1. Makita created the first cordless drill with rechargable batteries in 1969. 🙂 and in 1978 they introducéd the first hand held cordless drill with the battery in the tool ( drills before this had the battery pack connected trough a small cable.

  2. Great article Eric. Doesn’t neighbor Tom has a hand drill like the pic on this page? I thought I saw you guys using it maybe a year ago (maybe more now)? I love these vintage tools, but nothing beats the power drills. Laters TIA

  3. I have heard that lady production line workers at wartime Californian aircraft factories borrowed their drills for weekend diy and this lead to
    the manufacturers getting into the domestic market. Is there truth in
    this ?

  4. I was watching Mindhunter. In season 2, episode 7, Holden is using a cordless drill. This takes place in the late 70s-early 80s.

    Does this fit reality?

    I don’t remember cordless tools becoming widespread until the 2000s. And I don’t think the FBI would have sprung for a cordless drill/screwdriver in the time frame of the show.

  5. I have a tool like the one on this page can anyone tell me the name of it and what it was used for and when was it made

  6. I went to work for general telaphone company in Lexington Ky, I worked pre wirer for several month before I went into insatall. We had battery powered electric drills that had a long cord connected to a large battery, the power cord was about 25 foot long and the batteryabout8 inchec by 8 inches and fairly heavy. At the end of the shift I would take the battery or batteries that I had used that day an install them on a rack to rechard. The drill itself was heavy and powerfull, I drilled lots of holes while wiring an appartment building. I do not remember the name of the drill itself or the Battery. This was in !965 as I left and went to work for IBM in Jan 1966


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