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A Brief History of Mole Grips

A brief history of mole grips

Shop for Mole Grips

Early designs

Wonkee Donkee Blacksmith shop The first locking pliers were invented by William Petersen in De Witt, Nebraska around 1924.

After arriving in the U.S. and setting up a blacksmith’s shop, Petersen must have required a tool that combined the gripping power of a vice, with the easy-operation of pliers.

Many pairs of Mole grips After producing a few prototypes from wood and cardboard, he created a metal version, and so the ‘vise grips’ or ‘locking pliers’, as they were known back then, were born.

Despite the Depression, the tool was extremely popular with local mechanics and farmers, and soon the government were ordering large stocks for use in the defence industry.

Liberty ship for transporting Mole grips/locking pliers It’s said that builders of the Liberty cargo ships were so impressed with the pliers that they began welding them in place on the ships they worked on, rather than removing them from the parts they were clamping together. Vast quantities of the tool were also shipped to England for use in the aircraft industry.
Wonkee Donkee Factory Petersen’s company opened more manufacturing plants in the U.S. and the one in their home town of De Witt continued to make the tools until its closure in 2008.

The company incorporated and are now known as Irwin Industrial Tools – a division of Newell Rubbermaid, Inc.

Wonkee Donkee Can you believe that locking pliers were initially sold for £1.25!?

Mole grips

Mole grips old poster In 1947, Thomas Coughtrie went to work for the Birmingham engineering company, M K Mole and Son, and, after the death of the joint managing directors and Mole brothers, became the managing director.

In the 1950s Thomas Coughtrie patented his own version of the locking pliers and called them ‘Mole grips’. The name stuck and the tool became extremely popular with mechanics and engineers across the UK.

Brynglas tunnels, Newport, Wales, UK A decade on, the company transferred to Newport, Monmouthshire (just off the M4 by the Brynglas Tunnels) and Coughtrie used advertising and the excellent reputation of the ‘Mole grips’ to help the area through a time of high unemployment.
Wonkee Donkee It was said that you could see the Mole sign as you entered the tunnel. It must have been a big mole!

Old and new

1924 locking pliers next to modern day models Coughtrie’s version and the ones produced by Petersen are very similar in appearance, with any differences between the two being unclear. This has meant that despite ‘Mole grips’ becoming a household name, Petersen is often credited with being the true inventor of the tool.

More recent developments

Examples of different types of Mole grips Over the years, numerous forms of the ‘Mole grips’ have arrived on the market, many with different shaped jaws to allow the tool to grip objects of varying shapes.

There has also been the development of an extended release lever for the ease and comfort of the user (For more info, see: What are the parts of Mole grips?).

Despite the new bells and whistles, the sheer genius of the tool’s simple design and its ease-of-use make it a popular addition to many toolboxes.

Wonkee Donkee Tools