Originally written by Mike Jackson and published by Architect Magazine on March 4, 2021.

This post is part of a monthly series that explores the historical applications of building materials and systems through resources from the Building Technology Heritage Library (BTHL), an online collection of AEC catalogs, brochures, trade publications, and more. The BTHL is a project of the Association for Preservation Technology, an international building preservation organization. Read more about the archive here.

Construction tools, equipment, and machinery is a special niche within the Building Technology Heritage Library’s collection of 19th- and 20th-century trade literature. The oldest documents are mid-19th century catalogs from Stanley Tool Co. and feature basic carpentry measuring tools. Starting from an initial product of the carpenter’s folding wooden rule, Stanley grew into one of America’s largest tool companies. The BTHL also contains tool catalogs for specific trades or industries; hardware catalogs that encompass many different types of tools; and catalogs for materials, such as paint, that include associated tools. Concrete also has a strong presence in the BTHL with catalogs covering different aspects of concrete construction, such as formwork and finishing. The BTHL also contains catalogs of manufacturing machinery for woodworking, metalworking, and brick-making equipment.

The documents in the BTHL also trace the evolution in manufacturing power, with 19th-century catalogs featuring hand tools and later catalogs featuring equipment operated by belts and a central power source. By the early 20th century, electric tools begin their rapid advancement with Black & Decker Co., founded in 1910, setting the trend for portable electric tools. Sears, Roebuck & Co. introduced its Craftsman brand of tools in 1923. By 1940, it was promoting the “world’s most complete line of power tools.”

Catalogs of specialized construction equipment are also included in the BTHL, with entire catalogs devoted to concrete lifts and chutes. The BTHL library does not have much featuring equipment for larger infrastructure projects, but it does have several catalogs from construction equipment companies offering both road and building equipment. The BTHL, with its broad range of topics and 200 years of coverage, provides users with ample opportunities to explore the history of building tools.

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