The History of the pliers

“ Tools…serve the purpose for which they are meant for, that means by a competent handling trough one single worker. Therefore tools as well as machines are necessary for the operating, since no work can be done conveniently without them. However, all mechanical equipments have previously been created by the creativity of the nature.”

Acc. to Vitruvius, roman architect and engineer of the army in his opus “De architectura”, which was dedicated to the imperator Augustus, about 25 B.C.

That means that pliers as well as machines have been invented by the nature and the inventors are actually the finders.

It is quite difficult to know when and how the pliers were invented resp. found because in the human history and history of handcraft they appears quite early, long before finds or illustrations, which are still preserved, proof their existence.

You can find first illustrations about the handling of spring pliers on ancient Egyptian sculptures. These pliers were made out of a spring loaded curved stripe. Today we still use this quite simple form of pliers i.e. in the summer for barbeques, in ice buckets for cold drinks or as tweezers.      

Findings out of the Late Bronze Age on Cyprus and in Greece also bear witness of their existence.

The disadvantage of this kind of pliers is that the power you can put on such a tool is not notably high:

The holding force which affects the tips is smaller than the applied man power. Only the invention of the pliers with 2 shanks crossed at the joint, made real improvement possible.

You can apply much more power on an object by using the power on the long shanks ( in connection with the corresponding leverage through the jaws on the opposite side of the pivot joint) than this would be possible with simple spring pliers. Each child on a seesaw can experience the principle of the bilateral lever.      

This construction provided new kinds of applications. Besides gripping and holding cutting became an additional use.     The evolution of the scissors processed quite similar to the pliers.    

Pliers with joints can be found in Europe since 1000 B.C. when people began to forge iron. Therefore illustrations always show a forger together with his gods.   Homer writes in Ilias about him and illustration show him on stone and in ceramics:  

Hephaestus, god of the Greek mythology, patron of the art of forging. In Athens he became God of all handcrafts and was adored together with Athena simultaneously. This position of the god of the handcrafts and forgers within the hierarchy of the other gods indicates the importance of these trades – and this way of pliers – in antique economy.    

With the Romans pliers and hammer are the attributes of their god of fire and forge, of Vulcanus. Again forgers and their art, the so-called Ars Ferraria, were highly respected.  They were the pre-condition for military and economical power.  

A Roman forge on a tomb stele 2. half of 1. century A.C.

With different applications a multitude of different pliers were developed. It was quite easy for the forge to create suitable types. Pliers for special applications came up pretty early, i.e.:

  • Special pliers for surgeons and dentists.
  • Forging pliers or bullet pliers for the production of ammunition.
  • Waffle irons for baking on the fire

A multiplicity which is still typical for pliers.

Among many technical fields, where continuous technical progress demands new fields

  • Dentistry and dental orthopaedics
  • Surgical ward
  • Jewellery handcraft
  • Laboratory 
  • • Kitchen etc.

Due to the importance and consequences of the development of pliers with joints and all their relatives, together with the invention of the wheel, this was determinant for the progress and industrialization till this day.

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