Thursday, May 16, 2013

"A Tool With All the Features Missing in Ordinary Screwdrivers: The Invention of the Screwball Driver

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

Many are familiar with the story of how Lloyd Smith "saved" the Old Mill building from the wrecking ball in 1974. (if not, it will be a story for another time). The Old Mill, however, was preserved to be used and as a result became a success story in rehabilitating historic structures for modern uses insuring preservation.

Before the Old Mill project, Lloyd Smith was a successful Harvey County inventor and businessman.  Recently, the family of Lloyd Smith donated a wonderful collection of artifacts, drawings and photographs related to Smith's work as an inventor.

In 1969, Smith and Dr. Harold Vogt bought Rains Manufacturing Co in Hutchinson, Ks.  Rains produced and sold specialized hand tools designed by Smith.  They renamed the company S/V Tool Co. and moved to a  property on 6th street in Newton. 

At first the business was a part time venture.  Smith still worked at Hesston Corp and Dr. Vogt was a clinical psychologist in Wichita. By mid-1971, Smith resigned from Hesston to devote full time to S/V Tools. He bought Dr. Vogts interest and developed a five year plan.  His first success was the "Ice Breaker", a line of plexi-glass ice scrapers that were virtually unbreakable.

"Ice Breaker"
Lloyd Smith Collection

Promotional Flyer
Lloyd Smith Collection

Due to the successful introduction on a nationwide scale, Smith was in a position to consider expanding. While looking for a place to expand, he became aware of the vacant Warkentin Flour Mill in Newton.  He felt the structure should be saved and had possibilities if remodeled correctly.   

Promotional Flyer
Lloyd Smith Collection

Smith was able to save the structure and it became the corporate headquarters and manufacturing plant for the S/V Tools Co..

One of Smith's most successful inventions was the Screwball Driver.  With the success of the ice breaker, Smith began to look around for a new challenge.  He noticed the screwdriver. There were several things he did not like about the design of the screwdriver; "the handle that cut into your hand; the one-size, one-type-of-screw blade; the lack of a ratchet; plus a non-magnetized tip that failed to hold screws in tight places," Smith went to work.  The result was the brightly colored Screwball, "a tool with all the features Mr. Smith found missing in ordinary screwdrivers." 

First Screwball Driver
The Screwball was made in Newton and became widely popular.  
Promotional Flyer, 1980
Lloyd Smith Collection

Product lists, 1974
Lloyd Smith Collection

Lloyd Smith with a Screwball
Newspaper clipping, Lloyd Smith Collection
Screwball was later purchased by Sears for its Craftsman line of tools.
Smith continued to develop new products throughout the 1980s.

S/V Tool Co./Economy Screwdrivers
Richard Ten Evek Assoc. ltd, Wichita, KS
23 July 1980

SV 904 Economized Ratcheting Screwdriver Concepts/GE
7 July 1983

In the early 1980s, Smith sold S/V Tools Co. to Fiskars Manufacturing Corp., Wausau.  The purchase of S/V Tools allowed Fiskars, known for their orange handled scissors, to expand into the hand tool market.  All 40 of S/V Tools employees kept their positions and the screwdrivers continued to be produced in Newton. Smith served as a consultant to Fiskars on the development of additional hand tools for several years.

Lloyd Smith, "Newton entrepreneur and philanthropist"  died December 29, 2009 at the age of 86.

  • Fisher, James, "Human Angle is Figured In", unidentified newspaper source, Jan. 23, 1984, Lloyd Smith Collection, HCHM Archives.
  • "Fiskars buys S/V Tool Co.", newspaper clipping, n.d., S & V Tool Co Publicity & Promotion, Lloyd Smith Collection, HCHM Archives.
  • S&V Tool Hardware Products, Patents, Etc. Lloyd Smith Collection, HCHM Archives.
  • "'Gem' of community Lloyd Smith dies"Newton Kansan, December 31, 2009.
  • "Lloyd Thomas Smith" Obituary,  Newton Kansan, 13 January 2010.


  1. Thanks for archiving this information. I was glade to severerl pieces of my work included, and I have more S/V history to contribute some day. Glen Ediger, former S/V employee.

  2. This article brought a smile to my face. I loved working for Lloyd at our offices at the Old Mill Plaza - and then when they moved to the South Spencer location. Glen - I look forward to seeing your additional contributions.

    Phoebe (Merryfield) Garcia
    former S/V Tool Employee

  3. Related newspaper article:

  4. I have the Sears version in the original packaging. I bought it for my mother who had arthritis but she rarely if never used it. I found it in my garage recently.

  5. I was working for Mr. Smith in the 70s, when he won a Smithsonian design award. It wasn't for this tool; he developed clear formed-plastic packaging. It's the ubiquitous clear bubble package that we all cut our hands on today!

    1. Mine is in a cardboard box with a plastic window so you can see the tool.

  6. I found this old screwdriver when cleaning out an old house. I had left it in my car and grabbed it when I needed a screwdriver fast. I was amazed how wonderful this driver worked. I am a small woman and don't have the strength of a man. This screwdriver was so easy to use and I loved the design. I thought I would google it to find out when it was made. I found what I was looking for and also that it was invented not far from me in Nebraska.

  7. I have a screwball that I bought at a flea market in the 70s one of the best screwdrivers I have ever used keep it in the kitchen in a drawer

  8. James Lanouette has left a new comment on your post ""A Tool With All the Features Missing in Ordinary Screwdrivers: The Invention of the Screwball Driver":

    Looks like I'm late to the party, but I wanted to note that, growing up, one of my dad's prize possessions was a red and yellow Screwball. We used it all over the house, despite my father being a very able mechanic and electrician with a full complement of traditional tools.

    He passed away a while back, and, recently going through his things, I found the Screwball. What a blast of good memories! It now has a place of honor in my own kitchen junk/tool drawer, as it did Dad's.

    Thanks to all who worked at S/V, and I'm happy to hear Mr Smith was a great guy.