From the Phillips DNA Project—
Featured Family Stories
Henry F. Phillips and the Phillips Screwdriver
Complied by Nancy Kiser
Henry F. Phillips (1890–1958) was a U.S. businessman from Portland, Oregon, but he was born and raised in Polk County, Missouri. The Phillips-head (“crosshead”) screw and screwdriver are named after him. The following information is from the Phillips-screw.com website:
Like everyone else, you’ve undoubtedly used countless Phillips screws, with their distinctive cruciform driving recesses. But did you ever wonder why such a new and innovative screw driving method came about in the first place, and why it became so universally used?
The answer emanates from the old but true axiom “invention is born of necessity.” In the 1920’s, traditional slotted screws were becoming a hindrance to American industry’s move toward mass production. The alignment time of the driver within the slot became significant when multiplied thousands of times in a factory, and as tightening torques increased, the driver inevitably “cammed” out of the slot, damaging the screw and often the component they were attempting to assemble.
Manufacturers needed an improved and more efficient screw driving design. An Oregon inventor named J.P. Thompson received a patent in 1933 for a cruciform-recessed screw that possessed self-centering of the driver to create correct engagement of the driver in the screw recess.
Over the next six months, Thompson approached many screw manufacturers, all of which said his screw was impossible to reproduce because the punch needed to create the recess would destroy the screw head. Thompson decided the whole idea was not doable. He revealed his idea to an acquaintance named Henry Phillips, who became intrigued with the idea and offered to buy the rights to the patent.
Phillips, an engineer, immediately formed the Phillips Screw Company and in 1934 began revisiting many of the same manufacturers that had rejected Thompson. He recontacted the nation’s biggest screw operation, a Providence Rhode Island company called American Screw, where a new president named Eugene Clark had taken over. Clark was captivated by the design despite his engineer’s reservations.
By 1936, after some modifications by Henry Phillips that earned him several patents of his own, the improved cruciform recess fastener patent was issued and quickly became known as the “Phillips® Screw”. The American Screw Company and Phillips Screw Company consolidated their efforts to introduce the Phillips screw to various industries and began licensing screw and driver manufacturers to produce the new fastener system. Eugene Clark reportedly said, “I finally told my head men that I would put on pension all who insisted it could not be done.”
Industry had been clamoring for an improved screw, so the Phillips design was rapidly welcomed into American factories. General Motors became a quick convert by using the system in its 1937 Cadillac automobiles. By 1940, 85% of the screw manufacturing companies had a license to produce the Phillips screw recess design. As testimony to its success, almost the entire automotive industry shifted to using it. Usage of the Phillips drive system continued throughout the Second World War on many wartime products and vehicles.
By that time, however, Henry Phillips was out of the picture. Deteriorating health forced his retirement in 1945, and he maintained a low profile until his death in 1958. The following obituary appeared in The Oregonian newspaper in April 1958:
Henry F. Phillips Sr., founder of the Phillips Screw Co, died Sunday at his Portland home in the Ione Plaza Apartments. Mr. Phillips, president and general manager of the company that bore his name until his retirement in 1945, was born in Bolivar, MO, June 4, 1889. He was an honorary member of the University Club and a member of the Catholic Church. Surviving are the widow, Nellie Helen Phillips; four sons, Harry L, Piedmont, Calif.; Norman A, Los Angeles; Henry F. Phillips Jr., Portland; and John Phillips, Baker; a daughter, Mrs. Dorothy Rees, San Francisco, and 20 grandchildren. Funeral arrangements will be by the Colonial Mortuary.
We have attempted to research the ancestry of Henry Phillips, and it appears that he may belong to Phillips Family DNA Group 10, which is our second largest family group. Many of the participants in Phillips Family DNA Group 10 trace their Phillips roots back to Chatham County, North Carolina. Henry Phillips’ pedigree probably runs as follows:
1. Probably Sion/Zion Phillips dc 1820 Chatham Co NC, m Polly unknown
2. Thoar/Thrower/Theodore Phillips bc 1790 Chatham Co NC, m Rosanna unknown
3. Allen/Alan Phillips bc 1812/13 NC, m Margaret Ann Ladd
4. Allen Phillips bc 1861 Polk Co MO, m Matilda Florence Forgey
5. Henry Frank Phillips b 4 June 1889 Polk Co MO, m Helen “Nellie” unknown
Here are some census records that help support his Phillips pedigree:
1930 PORTLAND, MULTNOMAH COUNTY, OREGON, CENSUS
Page 6A, Enumeration District 509:
Henry F Phillips, head, 40, born about 1890 in Missouri
Nellie Phillips, wife, 38, born about 1892 in Iowa
Harry L. Phillips, son, 15, born about 1915 in Washington
Norman A. Phillips, son, 12, born about 1918 in Washington
Francis H. Phillips, son, 10, born about 1920 in Washington
Dorothy Phillips, daughter, 7, born about 1923 in Washington
Jack E. Phillips, son, 4, born about 1925 in Oregon
1920 SPOKANE, SPOKANE COUNTY, WASHINGTON, CENSUS
Page 4B, Enumeration District 172:
H.L. Phillip, head, 31, born about 1889 in Missouri
Nellie Phillip, wife, 28, born about 1892 in Iowa
Harry Phillip, son, 5, born about 1915 in Washington
Norman Phillip, son, 2, born about 1918 in Washington
H.J. Phillip, son, 2/12, born about 1920 in Washington
1900 POLK COUNTY, MISSOURI, CENSUS
Page 1B, Enumeration District 126:
George W. Watham, head, 49, born Oct 1850 in Missouri
Florence Watham, wife, 45, born Aug 1854 in Missouri
Carl J. Phillips, stepson, 14, born Oct 1885 in Missouri
Jason W. Watham, son, 14, born Oct 1885 in Missouri
Minnie A. Watham, daughter, 12, born March 1888 in Missouri
Frank H. Phillips, stepson, 10, born June 1889 in Missouri
Vernie E. Watham, daughter, 8, born Aug 1891 in Missouri
1880 POLK COUNTY, MISSOURI, CENSUS
Page 325C, Enumeration District 117:
Thomas Phillips, head, 32, born about 1848 in Tennessee
Nancy J. Phillips, wife, 26, born about 1854 in Missouri
William A. Phillips, son, 6, born about 1874 in Missouri
Thomas H. Phillips, son, 4, born about 1876 in Missouri
Clayton N. Phillips, son, 2, born about 1878 in Missouri
Nancy J. Phillips, daughter, 1 month, born about 1880 in Missouri
Allen Phillips, brother, 19, born about 1861 in Missouri
Margaret L. Pickering, sister, 13, born about 1867 in Missouri
1870 POLK COUNTY, MISSOURI, CENSUS
Jonathan Pickerin, head, 60, born about 1810 in Tennessee
Peggy Pickerin, female, 48, born about 1822 in Tennessee
Jane Pickerin, female, 19, born about 1851 in Missouri
Jonathan Pickerin, male, 12, born about 1858 in Missouri
William Pickerin, male, 6, born about 1864 in Missouri
Mary C. Pickerin, female, 4, born about 1866 in Missouri
Margaret Pickerin, female, 2, born about 1868 in Missouri
Key R. Phillips, male, 23, born about 1847 in Missouri
Cornelia Phillips, female, 11, born about 1859 in Missouri
Allen Phillips, male, 9, born about 1861 in Missouri
1860 POLK COUNTY, MISSOURI, CENSUS
Allen Phillips, male, 47, born about 1813 in North Carolina
Margaret Phillips, female, 39, born about 1821 in Tennessee
Ira Phillips, male, 16, born about 1844 in Tennessee
Thomas Phillips, male, 12, born about 1848 in Tennessee
Corelia Phillips, female, 10 months, born about 1859 in Missouri
1850 ROANE COUNTY, TENNESSEE, CENSUS
Allen Philips, male, 38, born about 1812 in North Carolina
Peggy A. Phillips, female, 29, born about 1821 in Tennessee
Nelson I. Phillips, male, 6, born about 1844 in Tennessee
Rosanna E. Phillips, female, 4, born about 1846 in Tennessee
Thomas R. Phillips, male, 2, born about 1848 in Tennessee
An affidavit dated November 6, 1878 by Alexander Milliken that states “the said Allen Phillips died in Polk Co. in Jan., 1861, leaving as his heirs a widow, Margaret Ann Phillips, and four children Nelson, Thomas R. Phillips, Allen Phillips and Cornelia O. Phillips, that the said widow afterwards married Jonathan Pickering.”
According to a book entitled “Roots of Roane County, Tennessee” written by Snyder E. Roberts, Thrower or Throar Phillips of Roane County, Tennessee was married to Rosannah unknown and his estate was settled in March of 1844 in Roane County. Mr. Roberts wrote that Thrower and Rosannah had a son named Allen Phillips (1812-1861) who married Margaret “Peggy” Ladd.
Mr. Roberts also put forward the theory that Thrower was the son of Clemmon(s) Phillips who was born 18 February 1763 in Dobbs County, North Carolina, but this theory has been disproven through DNA analysis. We have a proven descendant of Clemmon(s) in the project and his YDNA indicates he belongs to Phillips Family DNA Group 2. We have two descendants of Thrower Phillips in the project and their Y-DNA reveals that they belong to Phillips Family DNA Group 10.
Finally, there is probate in Chatham County, North Carolina, for a man named Sion or Zion Phillips who died in August of 1820. This probate indicates he had a son named Thrower who was living outside of the state of North Carolina at the time of Pleas and Quarters for 1820. There is apparently more information on Henry F. Phillips contained in the Polk County Museum in Bolivar, Missouri. A woman named Bertha Annis Ables Lawson kept a huge scrapbook of newspaper clippings concerning her many relatives and friends which was donated to the Museum upon her death.