The Little Cities Archive

Shawnee, Ohio

Robert Owen, Inventor of the Ratchet Wrench (Double Acting Wrench)

Posted by littlecitiesarchive on July 7, 2010


Editor’s Note: Little did persons who are promoting the rich history of the village of Shawnee know that missing from the town’s story was the important fact that one of its former residents had played a significant role in the tooling of America’s industrial revolution. Thanks to his son, William Owen, Sr. (Shawnee High School Class of ’25),the discovery has been brought to light. The imagination begins to roam…a tool museum…ratchet ear rings…a new sign at the village gates…

Robert Owen, Jr., 1881 – 1956, formerly of Shawnee, invented the ratchet wrench. He patented it September 9, 1913. U. S. Patent number 1, 072,980. (Also listed in the World Almanac, and Book of Facts, under inventions). The ratchet wrench is today a necessary part of every mechanic’s tool-box. Owen’s patent was described in the patent papers as “…having two heads, having nut receiving sockets mounted in the handle, the heads being geared to each other and being provided with ratchet teeth…”

His wrench had two handles and was designed to remove or replace a nut or bolt with both a forward and backward motion of one handle, while the other handle was held motionless by the other hand. Owen was a cutting machine operator in a coal mine near his farm home in Perry County, Ohio. After the benefits of electricity revolutionized mining operations in the early 1900’s he was sent to the manufacturer’s main plant in Columbus, Ohio, to be trained in its operation and use. The new machine took the place of 30 men, increasing coal production dramatically. But, it also broke down very frequently, and the operator’s proficiency would be sorely taxed in making repairs.

Owen knew what was needed to make those repairs: a double acting wrench. It was his idea and dream, and he went about designing it. The months of planning, research and sketching (Owen had taken a mail-order course in drawing and sketching) as well as employing a draftsman and a patent attorney involved a great deal of time and money. He was required to construct a working model of his patent wrench. The patent attorney that he had hired placed an advertisement for the wrench in national magazines, and many companies responded, but their answer did not solve Owen’s problems.

After several years of trying to sell his patent, he finally stopped talking about it. He invented several tools, but never again applied for a United States Patent. As far as I am aware, Owen never did sell his patent for the Double Acting Wrench (ratchet wrench). After my own retirement, I remembered that invention and wrote to the patent office in Washington for information. When I received a copy of the patent the vast full knowledge of my father’s contribution to our nation’s industry came to me. What would our nation’s status as an industrial power be without the ratchet wrench? It is an indispensable key element to our nuts and bolts society – not just here, but also around the world. The patent rights of my father to this tool, expired in 1930-long before it came into prominent use, as it certainly did at about the same time the vast assembly lines erupted in Detroit.

Excerpts from Owen’s 1913 Patent

Be it known that I, Robert Owen, Jr., a citizen of the United States residing at Shawnee, in the county of Perry and State of Ohio have invented certain new and useful improvements in double-acting wrenches, of which the following is a specification, reference being had to the accompanying drawings.

This invention relates to improvements in wrenches, and more particularly to that class of wrences which are provided with a rotatable head having ratchet teeth formed thereon and a lever having a pawl for engagement with ratchet teet for the pupose of rotating the head.

An object of this invention is the provision of a wrench of this character in which two heads having nut receiving sockets are rotatably mounted in the handle, the heads being geared to each other and being provided with ratchet teet, and an operating lever having pawls adapted for engagement with the ratchet teeth on the heads, whereby one head will be turned in the opposite direction so that either left threaded or right threaded nuts may be turned without changing the position of the handle of the srench.

Another object of this invention is the provision of a wrench of this character in which the heads will be rotated continually in opposite directios upon oscillation of the operating lever.

A still further object of this invention is the provision of a wrench in which heads having sockets of different sizes are readily interchangeable in the handle, so that different sized nuts may be turned with the same handle.

With these and other objects in view, my invention consists in certain novel constructions, combinations and arrangements of parts to be hereinafter more fully described, claimed and illustrated in the accompanying drawings, in which……..(the application then goes into a page and one-half description of all facets of the drawings and tools. The document closes as follows.)

In testimony whereof I hereunto affix my signature in the presence of two witnesses.



2 Responses to “Robert Owen, Inventor of the Ratchet Wrench (Double Acting Wrench)”

  1. Carolyn said

    I remmber hearing the news in the 70’s abouta man who sued ,Sear& Robot for stealing this patient. How ture is this

    • MARK N HOWELL said

      In the 1970s Sears inappropriately used an invention related to a ratchet wrench – the quick-release button on top of the wrench to easily pop off the socket with just a press of the thumb. Ratchet wrenches had been around for years by then, but the pop-off button was a new feature.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: