Milwaukee Electric Tool and the “Hole-Shooter”

5316 W. State St, Milwaukee, WI. Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp. Headquarters 1940-1965.

Milwaukee: Wisconsin’s Industrial Center
Milwaukee Electric Tool Co., along with Allis Chalmers and Harley Davidson, helped define Milwaukee as an industrial center for mechanical innovation at the turn of the 20th century. This came about because Milwaukee was located next to Lake Michigan, so manufacturers from various industries could easily import materials and export goods. Milwaukee Electric, whose moderne-style manufacturing facility was located on West State Street from 1940 to 1965, first came to prominence with its hole-shooter drill developed to ease the manufacturing of Ford cars. A.H. Petersen Company

Milwaukee Super Hole Shooter 5/16” drill ca. 1927-1935

A.H. Petersen Company
A young Milwaukee-based machinist and mechanic, Arno Petersen was approached by Henry Ford in 1918 with a request for the design and production of an electric drill light enough to be operated in one hand and powerful enough for his workers to use on the Ford assembly lines. By 1922, Petersen had developed the hole-shooter drill in his workshop on Fratney St. in the Riverwest neighborhood. The hole-shooter, a ¼” capacity power drill that weighed a mere 5 lbs. was much lighter than other drills available at the time. Ford and other manufacturers appreciated the lightweight, yet capable design, of this new power drill.

5316 W. State St, Milwaukee, WI. Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp. Headquarters 1940-1965. [link]

Milwaukee Electric Tool
Following a series of disastrous factory fires, Petersen decided to sell the company and rights to the hole-shooter drill to his marketing manager, Albert Seibert in 1924. Seibert re-incorporated the business as the Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation. From 1924 to 1939, Milwaukee Electric continued to improve the drill’s original design based on product repairs and research at a shared manufacturing facility with the Kempsmith Manufacturing Co. in West Allis. Due to its superior design, the hole-shooter was adopted by the U.S. military during WWII to aid in the production of aircraft and armament. During this time, Milwaukee began to expand its product lines to include grinders, sanders, and larger capacity drills.

US Patent D59,678. A.H. Petersen Co. Hole-Shooter Drill. Nov, 15, 1921 [Link]

Modern Innovations
Due to Milwaukee’s expansion of product lines and growing customer base, the company moved to a new 36,000 sq. ft. manufacturing facility and headquarters at 5316 W. State St in the Quarry Heights neighborhood in 1940. The streamline-moderne structure reflected Milwaukee’s innovative ideals and modern branding. The building features a two-story office building that is highlighted by the rounded red brick corners and glass-block construction. The manufacturing facility, connected to the modern structure is a one-story sprawling machine shop that expands from State St. down to the end of N. 54th St. Many of Milwaukee’s major electric tool advances such as the right- angled drill, and the Sawzall were developed in this facility. Milwaukee would eventually outgrow this location in 1965 and moved to a new 200,000 square-foot headquarters in Brookfield, Wisconsin, where they remain today. New ownership and globalization of the Milwaukee Electric Tool brand in the early 2000s led to advancements in cordless tool technology, and much of their manufacturing was sent overseas.

The 5316 W. State St. facility has been occupied by Beyond Vision (formerly Wiscraft) since 1965 and provides technical career opportunities for the blind and visually impaired.

Milwaukee Hole Shooters in use in the production of an aircraft during WWII. Location and Date Unknown. via Magnificent Machines of Milwaukee by Thomas Fehring

Demonstration of the use of an early Milwaukee Sawzall cutting sheet metal on an automobile. via Milwaukee Tool’s social media.

Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation headquarters from 1940-1965 at 5316 State St. Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Milwaukee Electric Tool logo ca. 1940s

1918 Henry Ford approaches Petersen to build a lightweight drill for assembly line work.
1922 1⁄4” capacity 5lb Hole Shooter is built by Petersen and sold to machine shops and Automotive manufacturers.
1924 A fire destroys Fratney St. factory, and a combination of insurance and health issues cause Petersen Co. to be forced into “receivership”.
1925 Petersen hires Albert Siebert as a sales manager and rents industrial space from Kempsmith Manufacturing Co in West Allis.
1926 Siebert and Ray Beckwirth purchase the rights to Petersen Mfg Co. to establish Siebert and Beckwirth.
1927 Siebert buys out Beckwirth and re-incorporates business as Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp.
1927 - 1930 Builds fractional horsepower motors in-house.
1930 Milwaukee achieves Government Spec. ratings for electric drills.
1934 Electric hammer drill for masonry is developed.
1938 Electric Sanders and Polishers are developed.
1940 5316 State St. headquarters and factory is built in Milwaukee.
1941 Milwaukee drills are used extensively in the war effort to build planes, ships, and other munitions.
1949 Spring Clutch added to sanders and grinders.
1950 Develops right-angle drill. Die-Cast Housing with dust-proof switches. Reverse-motor switch is added.
1951 Sawzall is developed.
1965 Headquarters is moved from State St location to 200,000 ft2 facility in Brookfield, WI.
1974 Opens additional mfg. plant in Jackson, MS
1976 Amstar acquires the company
1979 Milwaukee manufactures the first US-made angle grinder
1980s International expansion (manufacturing goes overseas)
2005 Lithium-ion cordless technology patented. The company is acquired by Hong Kong- based TTI (Techtronic Industries)

Population then: 578,249

Common occupations: Manufacturing, leather tanning, Food processing

Average life span: 53 years

Population today: 569,330

Common Occupations: Nursing, customer service reps, general office clerks.

Average life span:79.6 years

Why did I choose this object?

I am an MFA candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I received a BFA from Tyler School of Art at Temple University. I am an artist and printmaker with interests in material culture and industrial history. I decided to research the Milwaukee Electric Tool Co due to their presence in the current construction industry. I felt compelled to research the 1924 Hole-Shooter drill for its design aesthetics, and ended up learning that early innovations in power tool development by Milwaukee has had lasting effects on how tools are made and marketed today.

David Love

History 401 [Spring 2023]

Leslie A. Bellais