Black & Decker Corporation
BLACK & DECKER CORPORATION
Under its original name—the Black & Decker Manufacturing Company—the Black & Decker Corporation was founded in September 1910 when S. Duncan Black and Alonzo G. Decker joined forces to set up a machine shop in a rented warehouse in Baltimore, Maryland. After several years of contract manufacturing such products as a milk bottle cap machine and a cotton picker, Black and Decker began to design and manufacture their own electric powered tools in 1916. Black and Decker designed a universal motor—the first for electric tool use—which used either alternating or direct current, and also a trigger switch modeled after the mechanism in the Colt revolver. The first tool incorporating these innovative elements was a 1/2–inch portable drill with the innovative "pistol grip and trigger switch" that have remained standard for electric drills ever since.
In 1917 the company was awarded patents for its pistol grip and trigger switch and it constructed a factory on the outskirts of Towson, Maryland. By 1918 sales surpassed $1 million. Immediately after World War I (1914–1918), additional portable electric tools were introduced, including a 3/8–inch drill, a grinder, and a screwdriver.
Black & Decker used aggressive salesmanship and product services to build its client base. The company's first service centers were opened in Boston and New York in 1918. Black & Decker also organized clinics to teach distributors how to use and sell the tools. The firm began its first mass media campaign in the Saturday Evening Post in 1921.
Despite significant layoffs, Black & Decker nearly went bankrupt during the Great Depression. Only loyal employees, some of whom worked without pay, and a large influx of capital from outside investors kept the company afloat. During World War II (1939–1945) Black & Decker switched to the production of fuses, shells, and other products that contributed to the war effort.
After World War II Black & Decker became very successful. The company founders, who led Black & Decker into the 1950s, anticipated the postwar economic boom and targeted the consumer market, then a largely unexplored niche. In 1946 Black & Decker introduced the world's first power tools for the consumer market: the inexpensive Home Utility line of 1/4–inch and 1/2–inch drills and accessories. In the first five years one million 1/4–inch drills were produced. This success led to the addition of other products to the Home Utility line. A set of circular saws was introduced in 1949, and a finishing sander and jigsaw in 1953. It was through these and other new products that Black & Decker established itself as the firm most responsible for the creation of the post-World War II consumer market for power tools.
During the 1960s and 1970s Black & Decker diversified its product line. Through the 1960 acquisition of DeWalt, the company added radial arm saws and other woodworking equipment. Black & Decker entered the lawn and garden care field in the late 1950s, with the debut of electric lawn edgers and hedge trimmers in 1957. The first electric lawn mowers were unveiled in 1966, while a cordless model went into production three years later. In 1973 the Workmate portable worktable and accessories were first marketed in England, and they soon proved very successful around the world.
By the early 1980s the firm's future looked dim in the face of growing competition from Japanese and German toolmakers offering lower-priced, high quality tools. Black & Decker responded in part by diversifying still further into the area of small household appliances. The company had already achieved an immediate success in this area through the 1978 introduction of the Dustbuster cordless vacuum cleaner. It was the 1984 acquisition of the small appliance operations of General Electric, however, that placed Black & Decker squarely in this new market niche. Through this purchase Black & Decker gained the largest U.S. producer of irons, toaster ovens, portable mixers, coffeemakers, and hairdryers. This line of small appliances was subsequently expanded to include the Spacemaker series of under-the-cabinet kitchen appliances and additional cordless appliances, including a mixer and an electric knife. To help emphasize its transformation, the company in 1985 revamped its hexagonal trademark and changed its name to the Black & Decker Corporation. The change was meant to help the marketing and sales side of the company.
In 1989 Black & Decker expanded still further through the $2.7 billion acquisition of Emhart Corporation, a conglomerate that included True Temper lawn and garden tools, Kwikset locks, GardenAmerica sprinkler systems, Price Pfister faucets, and various fastening systems. In 1992 Black & Decker relaunched the DeWalt brand as a line of professional power tools. The company was now able to offer the low-end Black & Decker line of power tools aimed at do-it-yourselfers and the high-end DeWalt line aimed at professional contractors. This strategy was immensely successful and the company's share of the domestic professional power tool market increased from eight percent in 1991 to more than 40 percent in 1995.
With the DeWalt line proving so successful, Black & Decker again decided to emphasize power tools, and in 1998 it sold the bulk of its household appliance operations. At the turn of the twenty-first century, Black & Decker contimues to be one of the world's leading producers of power tools, electric lawn and garden tools, and building products.
"A.G. Decker of Black & Decker," Nation's Business, December, 1969.
Barrett, Amy. "Home Improvement at Black & Decker." Business Week, May 11, 1998.
Black & Decker Corporation. Highlights of Progress. Towson, MD: Black & Decker Corporation, 1987.
Huey, John. "The New Power in Black and Decker." Fortune, January 2, 1989.
Saporito, Bill. "Ganging Up on Black & Decker." Fortune, December 23, 1985.
Schifrin, Matthew. "Cut–and–Build Archibald." Forbes, September 23, 1996.
Weber, Joseph, and Brian Bremner. "The Screws Are Tightening at Black & Decker." Business Week, September 23, 1991.