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Snap-On: Early Sockets and Drive Tools

[Snap-On Early 5/8-Drive Ratchet]
The Bold Logo from An Early 5/8-Drive Ratchet.

Table of Contents


Snap-on is one of the largest and best known makers of hand tools today. This article will look at the development of the company during the 1920s, covering its first ten years of operations.

Company History

The Snap-On Wrench Company was founded in 1920 by Joseph Johnson and William Seideman, with its initial location at 134 Reed Street in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The company's founding principle was the superiority of interchangeable socket tools over fixed (or "tight") socket wrenches, and their first product was a modest collection of five drive handles and ten sockets.

[1920 Notice of Incorporation for Snap-On Wrench Company]
1920 Notice of Incorporation for Snap-On Wrench Company. [External Link]

The small notice at the left appeared on page 1215 of the April 22, 1920 issue of Iron Age, citing the capital stock as $25,000 and noting the company's attorney as J.N. Marshutz. Somewhat oddly, the notice doesn't mention the founders or provide the company address.

[1920 Notice with Address for Snap-On Wrench Company]
1920 Notice with Address for Snap-On Wrench Company. [External Link]

This second notice appeared in the following week's April 29, 1920 issue of Iron Age on page 1291. It again notes the $25,000 capital for the company, and this time provides company's address as 134 Reed Street in Milwaukee.

[1920 Advertisement for Snap-On Wrench Company]
1920 Advertisement for Snap-On Wrench Company. [External Link]

An early advertisement can be seen at the left, as published on page 112 of the December 30, 1920 issue of Motor Age. The illustration shows the five handles and ten sockets that made up the company's first product, referred to as a "General Service" set here. The text notes that the collection would make up 50 wrenches, which was sometimes summarized in a "5 Do the Work of 50" catch phrase.

[January, 1921 Notice for Snap-On Wrenches]
January, 1921 Notice for Snap-On Wrenches. [External Link]

A slightly later notice on page 76 of the January 1, 1921 issue of the Automobile Trade Journal nicely summarizes the tools available from Snap-On Wrench at that time. Notice the display board at the top right with the "5 do the work of 50" slogan.

A similar notice (but without the display board illustration) was published on page 64 of the February 15, 1921 issue of the Commercial Car Journal.



[1921 Trademark Publication for Snap-on]
1921 Trademark Publication for Snap-on. [External Link]

Table 1B below lists the various trademarks filed by the Snap-On Wrench Company (or its Blue Point subsidiary) during the 1920s. The entries are presented in order of the first-use date.

The first entry in the table seems to have a curious status, as it has "disappeared" from the USPTO "TDR" database, which usually has an entry even for very old trademarks. The notice at the left shows the information for trademark #147,515 as it was published on page 667 of the October 18, 1921 issue of the USPTO Offical Gazette. Note particularly that the first use date is claimed as February 2, 1920 -- preceding the company's incorporation date.

Table 1B. Snap-on Tools Corporation: Trademarks Issued
Text Mark First Use Date Filed Date Issued Registration Notes
Snap-on 02/02/1920 03/14/1921 10/18/1921 147,515 Stylized logo
BLUE POINT 09/15/1923 12/07/1929 05/06/1930 270,479 Logo with two arrowheads. Filed by Blue Point Tool Company, Chicago.
Renewed May 6, 1950.
FERRET 08/05/1926 09/20/1929 06/03/1930 267,881 Filed by Snap-On Wrench Company, Chicago. Renewed March 4, 1950.
BOXOCKET 12/01/1927 02/03/1927 01/24/1928 237,970 Filed by Blue Point Tool Company, Chicago. Renewed January 24, 1948.

Tool Identification

Snap-On tools are generally clearly marked and consistently numbered, but the tools from the 1920s are the exception to this rule. These early tools were marked in several different styles, or not marked at all, making it somewhat tricky to identify them. This article will look at some examples of early Snap-On tools with different marking styles. and will attempt to develop guidelines for estimating the date of manufacture.

Manufacturing Dates

Beginning in 1927 Snap-On introduced a system of date codes and started marking sockets (and other tools as well) with the codes. The date code was generally a single digit (later, a symbol or character) to indicate the year of production, with the digit sometimes preceded or followed by a dash. For 1927 through 1930 the system was very simple: one of the digits 7, 8, 9, or 0 indicated the year. In later years though, symbols and script styles were added in order to extend the system, and you'll need to consult a date code chart to determine the date. Date codes were applied in 1927 and later without regard for the socket marking style.

In its early years the date code system had a very specific function: tool warranties were of limited duration at the time, and the date code determined the start of the warranty period. As a result, date codes were applied more consistently at this time than in later years, after Snap-On had started offering a lifetime guarantee on its tools.

Early Snap-On Sockets

The first sockets offered in 1920 were available in 1/2 (square) drive only, and were broached for either single-hex (6-point) or single-square (4-point) openings. Additional drive sizes were offered later, 5/8-drive in 1923, 7/8-drive around 1924, 9/32-drive in 1925, and finally 3/8-drive in 1928. Double-hex (12-point) and double-square (8-point) broachings were introduced in 1927.

The very earliest socket markings were certainly minimal: according to folklore, the first Snap-On sockets (and drive tools) had only size markings, or no markings at all! Such sockets would be difficult to identify and authenticate if found, but could be compared to known marked examples for an indication of possible Snap-On origin.

The earliest standardized marking for sockets consisted of an "S" and "O" overstrike to indicate Snap-On, together with the socket size in fractional notation. (The size marking was usually on the opposite side from the S/O-Overstrike.) This marking style was used up until about 1923.

Around 1924 Snap-On began marking sockets with their full logo instead of the S/O-overstrike. Snap-On also introduced a socket numbering system at about the same time, which consisted of the abbreviation "NO." followed by the model number, a variation on the size expressed in 32nds. For example, a 1/2-drive 6-point socket of size 7/8 was marked "NO. 280", the "28" being derived from the 28/32 size. Sockets marked in this fashion will have the model number, Snap-On logo, and fractional size, all on the same side of the socket.

The above numbering scheme was simple and useful, but apparently it was not implemented consistently, as some sockets continued to be marked with only the Snap-On logo and fractional size. This state of affairs wasn't just a temporary delay in adding the model numbers, but persisted through to the end of the 1920s, so that examples of both styles can be found with late date codes.

As a result of these changes, we can recognize three basic marking styles for the early sockets: the S/O-Overstrike, the marked but un-numbered sockets, and the model-numbered sockets. Even this is a bit of an oversimplification; in a large collection of early sockets, there may be a number of other recognizable changes in design and marking.

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