A Colt automatic pistol on the kitchen table of Alonzo G. Decker in 1914 was the inspiration for Black & Decker Corp.'s most famous product -- the electric drill with a pistol grip and trigger switch.
Mr. Decker and his partner, S. Duncan Black, were in the kitchen one night, trying to figure out how to build a more manageable drill that could be operated by one man. Until then, electric drills were hefty devices held by two men and requiring a third to turn the switch.
As they talked, Mr. Black and Mr. Decker looked at the gun nearby, said Alonzo G. Decker Jr. "That's it," both men said as they pointed to the gun, the younger Mr. Decker said.
The rest is history. More than 75 percent of American households have pistol-grip drills with trigger switches, and Black & Decker has grown into a multinational business with $4.6 billion in annual revenues.
Why the fateful gun happened to be in the kitchen is unknown.
Alonzo Decker Jr., who was chairman of the Towson-based company from 1964 to 1975, was at the company's Easton plant yesterday with Gov. William Donald Schaefer to mark the 75th anniversary of the granting of the drill patent in 1917. Mr. Decker now holds the title of honorary chairman.
"A man could drill a hole all by himself," Mr. Decker, 84, said about the first drill developed by the company. The company would introduce the cordless drill in 1961 and produce the "first and only drill that went to the moon," Mr. Decker said.
After a ceremony, Mr. Decker and Gov. Schaefer went into the plant, chose one of the drills and designated it the 50 millionth drill made by the company. It will be given to the Smithsonian Institution.
The innovation of a drill with a trigger switch launched the company's success. Innovations have kept it growing. Black & Decker recently introduced a cordless electric mower -- promoted as an alternative to polluting gasoline mowers.
"The culture of the company is continuous innovation," said Joseph Galli, vice president for sales and marketing for Black & Decker U.S. Power Tools. The company has four research and development centers.
Some of the products do not catch on, such as the cordless "Sweep Stick," a portable blowing device for home use, that the company is phasing out. But there are more successes than failures, Mr. Galli said.
Even though the company has plants around the world, about 90 percent of the products sold in the United States are produced domestically, Mr. Galli said. The company plans for it to stay that way, he said. "Our strategy is to maintain a strong manufacturing presence in the United States," Mr. Galli said.