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A Brief History of Fasteners

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Fasteners are a tool that quietly dominate our lives. Sometimes simple and sometimes complex, these unsung heroes make our world go round, and have been doing so for thousands of years. If you take a moment to ponder a world without them, you may just begin to wonder about history as well.

Let us begin with the screw, a fastener that keeps the roof over our heads and the floor under our feet. The screw thread is believed to have been invented around 400 BCE, by Archytas of Tarentum, a Greek philosopher sometimes called “the father of mechanics.” The general principle of the screw was applied early on, in cities like Pompeii, to extract olive oil and grape juice. It was further developed the Greek mathematician Archimedes to alter water levels. The water screw, first mentioned in Mechanica of Heron of Alexandria, was made from wood and aided farm irrigation and rid ships of bilge water.

In 1568, Jacques Besson, a French inventor, created the bolt and screw manufacturing machine. He also made a screw-cutting plate for use with lathes, which was later perfected and put into wider circulation by the English company, Hindley of York. In the eighteenth century, screws evolved again when Antoine Thiout, a French clockmaker, attached a screw drive to a lathe, enabling tool carriages to move semi-automatically.

No one quite agrees on the origin of nuts and bolts, though we believe they came after the screw thread. What we do know is that they came into prominence during the Industrial Revolution, and their most notable process innovations have occurred within the last 150 years. For example, the U.S. Standard Thread was formed in the early 1870s, followed by Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) standard, and so on. By the late 1960s, self-drilling screws, advertised as “pinched point” or “cold forged” self-drills that cut down labor time and costs, were gaining a foothold in the metal building industry.

Fast forward to the last twenty years, and fastener design developments have moved even faster, thanks to the introduction of nickel-based alloys. Unlike steel, Nickel-based alloys can retain their form in high temperature environments like those in engines and turbochargers. Engineers seek to continue fastener development by studying what’s possible with lightweight metal bolts made from materials like magnesium, titanium and aluminum.

This has been a brief history of fasteners. They’ve been with us a long time, and only more time will tell how we will continue to develop together. 

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