History


During its nearly 100 years of existence, ITW's recipe for success has been focused on creating value-added products for key customers around the world. We do this by growing our business and making acquisitions that provide additional product solutions to our customers. We invite you to learn more about the history of our company.

The beginning
In 1912, on the eve of World War I, Chicago financier Byron L. Smith placed an ad seeking an investment opportunity for “a growing manufacturing business.” Four men answered: Frank W. England, Paul B. Goddard, Oscar T. Hogg and Carl G. Olson. Together, these forward-thinking businessmen formed a company to manufacture and sell metal-cutting tools. The company expands its original metal cutting tool products to include truck transmissions, pumps and other items for America’s World War I effort. The genesis of Signode, which later joins ITW, begins with John (Jack) W. Leslie’s investment in a company that incorporates coil steel strap and seals for packaging containers and products. The DeVilbiss family works diligently to combine an adjustable atomizer with a spray gun. Their innovation results in the development of spray finishing for the application of paint. DeVilbiss later becomes a significant portion of ITW’s business. C.C. Hobart and his sons, Edward A. and William H., incorporate Hobart Brothers Company, another business that will later be acquired by ITW. Initially, the company will market a battery charger.

1920s
ITW engineers develop the Shakeproof twisted tooth lockwasher, based on a design originated by Richard K. Hosking. Hobart Brothers builds its first electric arc welder. Another future ITW welding operation is launched when Niels Miller recognizes a market for small, affordable arc welders that operate from household single-phase power. Using scrap sheet metal, core and coil materials, he hammers together his first AC welder in his basement.

1930s
Harold Byron Smith, grandson of Byron L. Smith, joins the company and later succeeds his father, Harold C., as president. Hobart Brothers produces its first coated electrodes and enters the welding filler metal business. Harold Ransburg experiments with applying high voltage in spray painting to reduce waste and improve even surface coating. Over time, his company grows its electrostatic painting capabilities before being acquired by ITW.

1940s
ITW’s contributions during WWII include representation on the War Production Board and development of a new timesaving wafer cutter to rifle heavy artillery barrels. Led by Harold B. Smith, ITW first decentralizes its operations to better focus on specific markets—a strategy the company maintains today. The Shakeproof business moves its offices from Chicago to Elgin, Illinois. The Elgin site still serves as the unit’s U.S. headquarters today. In its new location, Shakeproof begins manufacturing plastic fasteners and components.

1950s
In order to expand success of Shakeproof’s plastic fastener and components lines beyond automotive applications, the Fastex operating unit is created to develop these products for other mass production industries.
Two new operations are formed to provide major contributions to the general industrial and defense sectors. The Licon division begins production of electric switches and related products, which grows and expands to become ITW Switches. In addition, Spiroid, known for its right-angle gear product, builds upon the company’s original hobs and milling cutter lines to expand the company’s metal fabrication capabilities.

1960s
By its 50th anniversary, the company has been officially named Illinois Tool Works (ITW) and is listed shortly thereafter on the New York Stock Exchange with an initial stock price of $26. Since then, ITW’s performance has been consistently strong—each new decade has added significantly to the company’s growth. Fueled by its product developments for the construction industry, ITW became the only company in the world to produce fastening systems for wood, metal and concrete/masonry applications. Concurrently, the beverage packaging industry was transformed when the new Hi-Cone operating unit invents the six-pack ring carrier. ITW extends its global reach when German components manufacturer Ateco and Australian company W.A. Deutsher are acquired. Ateco joins to provide Shakeproof and other products to European markets, and W.A. Deutsher furthers ITW’s reach into the region’s construction, industrial and packaging markets. Diversifying a portion of Shakeproof’s capabilities results in the formation of Buildex, a new business unit that becomes a leading supplier for the construction industry.

1970s
The 1970s saw rapid growth of ITW’s manufacturing of components, fasteners, filters and assemblies for automotive companies around the world, along with new capabilities to provide sealants, sorbent materials and other specialty chemical products used in industrial maintenance. ITW acquires Chronomatic, which utilizes proprietary polymer technology on dashboard controls and other components, to further its capabilities aimed at the automotive industry. As a result of Fastex’s continuing advancements in the use of plastics, the Deltar operating unit is formed to augment ITW’s capacity to supply automotive components. With the acquisition of Devcon, ITW takes a major step to solidify its ability to supply adhesives and epoxies for a variety of industrial applications.

1980s
In the 1980s, ITW began to increase significantly its acquisition activity and extend its reach. More than three dozen acquisitions serving both existing and new markets were made, including Dykem, Magnaflux, Mima, Minigrip, Norwood Marking, Paslode, Philadelphia Resins, Plastiglide, Ransburg Corporation (with its Gema, Micro-Poise and SIMCO businesses), Shippers Paper Products, Signode and SPIT. The company nearly doubled its revenues with the purchase of Signode, a leading multinational manufacturer of metal and plastic strapping, stretch film, industrial tape, application equipment and related products. By the close of the decade, ITW entered the finishing systems market with acquisitions of companies that provide liquid and powder applications for conventional and electrostatic painting. A portion of Fastex becomes the basis for the new Nexus operating unit, which extends ITW’s role as a supplier of plastic products to a variety of consumer applications. ITW enters a number of joint ventures domestically and internationally, including the formation of Zip-Pak with Dow Chemical. ITW later repurchases Dow’s interest in order to combine Zip-Pak with the Minigrip business.)

1990s
During the 1990s, acquisitions increased ITW’s presence in the important metal fabrication and welding markets. ITW also increased its reach in the consumer and industrial packaging markets with enhanced capabilities in case sealing, carton printing, decorating, protective shipping, shrink and stretch wrapping and palletizing products and systems. Approximately 100 worldwide acquisitions were made during this time, including Akron Standard, Anchor Fasteners and Stampings, CS Packaging, DeVilbiss/Volstatic, Dynatec, Hobart Brothers Company, Miller Group, Orgapack, Trans Tech, United Silicone and Vortec. The acquisition of Premark International, a manufacturer of commercial food equipment and laminate products, marks the largest acquisitions in ITW’s history. Premark’s well-known brand names include Hobart, Wilsonart, Vulcan and Traulsen.

2000
ITW’s proven strategies of increasing market penetration with product innovations, extending current products to new industries and acquiring businesses that improve customer offerings provide the foundation for continued success in the 21st century.Today, our 825 decentralized business units in 52 countries employ approximately 60,000 men and women who are focused on creating value-added products and innovative customer solutions. The dedication of our people is the basis for our success and longevity.