Let’s Not Play Hide & Seek With Our Tools

Let’s Not Play Hide & Seek With Our Tools

Sami Windle Behind The Scenes, Treasures From The Collection

Commercials during the holiday season portray these objects as something every man wants.  Put a bow on it and it’s ready to go!  Despite the fact that advertisements are geared toward the male population, many females also use this object.  What is this gender bending object?  A tool chest!

Tool chests or toolboxes came about because of a need to store hand tools.  Hand tools have been used since at least 8000toolbox BC and many of the hand tools we have today were used during the Roman times.  To learn more about hand tools visit here.  While the original inventor of the tool chest is unknown, these objects have had a plethora of makers over the years.  The first tool chests may have been a bag or box, something to get the hand tools from job to job.  Eventually carpenters and companies started to produce tool chests for their own private use and to sell to the public.

Tool chests were made by established carpenters to hold their own various tools.  Some, like this tool chest from the New York Historical Society, had removable compartments and slots to slide tools that would hold up to 430 tools.  Henry Studley, a piano maker in Massachusetts, built his own tool chest over thirty years!  He used ebony, mother of pearl, ivory, rosewood, and mahogany to create this masterpiece.   Although the tool chest is actually rather small – nine inches deep by thirty-nine inches high by eighteen inches wide, when closed – when packed with tools it takes at least three men to lift it!

Harry Gerstner started his business H. Gerstner & Sons in 1906 in Dayton, Ohio.  He started his business with a tool chest that was leatherette covered and had five drawers.  107 years later, H. Gerstner & Sons is still in business, run by descendants of the family, and they continue to produce tool chests.  Sears is another business that has produced tool chests.  Founded in 1886 by Richard Sears of Minneapolis and later adding Alvah Roebuck as a partner, the Sears, Roebuck and Co. allowed people to buy in bulk which helped make the company into a powerhouse of the time, both in catalogue orders and eventually retail stores.  In the 1920’s, with business booming, Sears was able to offer exclusive items of their own under Sears brand names.  These names included Craftsmen, Kenmore and DieHard.

Craftsman was created in 1927 to produce superior tools, with the first tool appearing in stores being a line of saws.  When Tom Dunlap was made head of the hardware department he appealed the tools to a wider audience than just farmers.  Now tools had chrome plating, trim on wrenches and sockets, and high impact plastic handles.  Today Craftsman makes 225 tool storage objects, mainly from metal.

High Plains Museum | MC543 Toolbox
High Plains Museum |

The main use for a tool chest is to hold hand tools, but a tool chest can have different uses.  They can be used for organizers of do it yourself projects, a way to store items for a hobby or some like the Pink Tool Box are used as organizers for hair and makeup products.  The tool chest in our collection at the High Plains Museum is made of wood and has a metal handle.  It was probably used by a farmer from Sherman County and held his tools.  The object is currently on exhibit in our permanent gallery.

Tool chests or toolboxes have been used throughout history.  Notable companies like H. Gerstner & Sons and Sears have made a name for themselves not only in the United States but throughout the world, by manufacturing tool chests.  Individuals have also made some stunning examples of craftsmanship with their own, such as Henry Studley’s elaborate tool chest.  Objects like the tool chest have played a part in carpenters, piano makers, and farmer’s lives and have helped make keeping their tools organized easy.  It may seem like an insignificant object but it has made quite the impact and will continue to be used.  Can you think of other objects that at first glance appear nothing more than an organizer but have made an impact?  Please leave your comments in the comments section below.

Look for more posts in this series about our wonderful collection of Sherman County history.