P. L. Robertson

robertson-screwdriversRed Robbie, green Robbie. If you know what that means, you’re a Canadian. Or a connoisseur of screws and screwdrivers. The Robertson screw and screwdriver, with square socket heads, the best design there is. The screwdriver does not slip or strip the screw head.

The red and green refers to the size of the square in the screw head, larger and smaller. There’s also a black (largest) and yellow (smallest).

The Robertson screw was invented in 1908 by P. L. Robertson. He called his invention the Socket Head Screw, but we all call it a Robertson or just Robbie.

I now have even greater affection for the Robbie. P. L. Robertson is my cousin. What a thrill! I had no idea until I happened across his full name: Peter Lymburner Robertson. Lymburner? Start the googling. He’s the nephew by marriage of my 2nd cousin 4 times removed.

Robertson and Lymburner Families

p l robertson and lymburner families
Click image for larger view

His parents were John Robertson, born in Scotland, and Annie Brown, whose father was born in Renfrewshire, Scotland. Annie’s sister Janet married Peter Swick Lymburner. He was my grandmother’s grandfather’s 2nd cousin, and P. L. Robertson’s uncle.

So was Peter Lymburner Robertson named after his mother’s sister’s husband? Possible, I suppose. Lymburner is not a middle name one would give a child without there being some reason.

I wonder if there’s another Lymburner connection in there too. The families lived relatively near each other in Scotland and in Ontario. I p-l-robertson-collectionscanada.gc_.cacan’t find the parents of John Robertson or the grandparents of Annie Brown. Could there also be a Lymburner among them?

P. L. Robertson was born in Haldimand County, Ontario in 1879. He worked as a salesman for a tool company and, while demonstrating a new screwdriver, it slipped out of the slot head screw and cut his hand. It’s happened to us all, but he went home and designed a better screw and better screwdriver.

Robertson Screw Company

He began producing them in Milton, Ontario. He went to the United Robertson_screw_ad-1909-LAC-Ken-Lamb-wikicommonsStates to market them. Henry Ford was interested, but wanted an exclusive licence for them in the US. Robertson would not agree, so no deal. Unlike Robertson, Henry Phillips did not quibble about rights, so Ford bought his star-shaped socket screw. That’s why the Phillips screw is ubiquitous even though it isn’t that much better than a slot screw.

Robertson returned to Milton and continued production for the Canadian and international markets. He died there in 1951. Robertson Inc. still has its headquarters in Milton although it is now owned by the US Marmon Group.

robertson screwWhen I told my husband about my newly discovered cousin, he said “I’m jealous.” He said his dad, who was American, discovered Robertson screws on a visit to Ontario. Despite always buying American, he went straight to the hardware store and stocked up on Robertson screws and screwdrivers and took them home with him.

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2 thoughts on “P. L. Robertson”

  1. Any idea exactly where Peter was born? I understand it was the village of Canfield in Seneca Township. I’m surprised that no-one has erected a sign in Peter’s honor. People think he was born in Milton . Not so. A great little book called “One Good Turn” was commissioned to name the greatest tool innovation of the millennium. The screwdriver took that honour. What surprises people is how late in the millennium it was before the threaded fastener became a viable product. It didn’t really become commercially possible until the advent of the copy router. The book relates the history of the screw and the fascinating story of Peter and how he ticked off Henry Ford. Dumb move!

    1. Hi, Alistair, and thank you! More googling and I found an article “One truly great Canadian” in a 1966 newspaper The Canadian Champion. The writer, Frank Hadley, says Robertson was born in Canfield in December 1879 and moved to Milton to set up his factory in 1908. I also found the book One Good Turn and will add an Amazon link to it in my post. You’re right, Canfield should put up a sign or something to honour him.

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