HomeTown – 14 – Screwed Over

HomeTown - 14 - Socket Head
Crown Graphic – Schneider-Kreuznach Symmar-S 1:5.6/210 – Ilford FP4+ @ ASA-64 – Pyrocat-HD (1+1+100) 8:00 @ 20C

Like most history, there is always a bit of legend mixed in with fact and a fair amount of embellishment. That statement is even true when it comes to PL Robertson. If you live in Canada you know well the socket or square head screw, it’s standard across all provinces and all trades. Peter L. Robertson would often tell the story of how, as a screw salesman, a slotted screwdriver slipped during a demonstration and sliced his arm. Being both a salesman and an inventor, Robertson decided to invent a safer head for the standard screw. Although the more likely story is that Robertson saw Waldie (The blacksmith) punch a square hole in a screw to better aid in speed and safety in screwing it down. Now the square head was nothing new, an American had attempted the socket head but could not find an effective way of making one. Using a cold forming method, Robertson created not only a safer screw but one that was materially sound. In 1908 he opened up his new factory in Milton right next to the Grand Trunk Rail line on Bronte Street. Despite tough competition, the Robertson screw provided that using it instead of the standard slot would save not only time but also money. When Robertson presented his screw to Henry Ford, Ford found that it cut down the time it took to build a Model T by two hours and saved over two dollars. But when Ford wanted an exclusive license to produce the Robertson Screw in the United States and also have a say over how the screw was made, Robertson turned him down flat. Robertson would twice attempt to expand into the US; in both cases, he was not happy with the demands of the Americans. Another socket style screw, the Philips’s head, proved far more successful mostly because the inventor was more than glad to let Ford have a say in how they were made. But that didn’t stop Robertson; he used his controlling share in a British firm to bring the Robertson screw to England in 1912. Of course, when the Great War came, Robertson plants switched to wartime production, not producing screws but rather using the cold-forming method to produce pins, fuses, and gas checks for grenades and shells. But the war also earned Robertson a worldwide name as he spread across the globe mostly producing large kegs for industrial use but also into furniture, electrical, and shipbuilding. The second war proved even more profitable as both naval and airforce build-up required millions of screws, all of which Robertson happily provided. It also put him into the millionaire club, a club he did not belong to for long as illness took his life in 1951. But for Milton, the PL Robertson Plant by 1950 employed some 600 people and was at the time the majority employer for the town. Today the firm operates out of Burlington and China and is a part of a multinational firm. And while the plant is only a shadow of the original works, the deco style building still sits in its original location on Bronte Street, its fate a mystery. I desired to capture the building on film that started this entire project and more specifically the deco style front facade as much of the original building is now covered in steel siding. It only made sense to capture the building from across the street.

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