Pliers, in the form of tongs with a central fastening/pivot point, have been around since at least ancient Rome. While there were other forms of pliers that popped up, such as cobbler’s pliers, pliers remained as basically tongs for centuries until the modern world erupted from the Industrial Revolution. This modernization created a need for more and more specialized tools and pliers were one of the tools that has diversified the most and something that people have been able to tweak in a surprising number of ways.
One of the earliest modern offshoots of the original tongs-type pliers was Klein Tools’ Lineman’s Pliers which came about in 1857. The oldest set of Klein pliers that have been found is a set from 1904 that, despite having seen some action, look good enough to use today. Klein continued the innovation they started with the Lineman’s Pliers and by the time they’d been around for 50 years, they had more than 100 sizes and types of pliers. They’ve probably single-handedly been the largest American innovator in regards to pliers.
Another great innovation occurred in 1924 when an immigrant from Denmark started work as a blacksmith growing his business over 20 years and eventually inventing the VISE-GRIP pliers in 1924. It’s said that he came up with them because he needed an extra pair of hands in the shop. It took several prototypes before the tool gained its key feature, the locking mechanism. Today the design has been honed to look more and more modern and has even been tweaked into something as smooth as the “Auto-Grip” Locking Pliers. Vise-Grip type pliers are one of the “handiest” pliers to have around and it’s a design that’s been adapted by many other manufacturers such as Knipex.
The year of 1933 was also a good year for an iconic brand. The first tongue and groove, slip joint pliers was made by ChannelLock, and it’s a name that has come to identify many pliers of the same type made by other brands. ChannelLock has expanded to include many other types of pliers, but their initial contribution to the tool helped them cement their place in tool history.
While there are probably hundreds of different types of pliers, these three companies were at the forefront driving innovation in the last 150 years. They’ve also lasted as long as they have because of their passion for quality, and this makes them tools we are either proud to sell, or hope to sell in the future.