Have you ever wondered why lineman (or linesman) pliers are called by their name? Almost every toolbox has at least one set of these handy tools, but where on earth did they get their unique name? Lineman pliers are named for the occupation of electrical linesmen.
The job of being an electrical linesman was born in the 1840s, with the invention of the telegraph. Telegraph lines were able to be strung between trees, however soon wooden poled were the preferred method of installing lines. Linemen were those laborers who set the poles in place and strung the telegraph wires or lines between them. These same workers installed telephone lines after their invention in the 1870s, and continued when electrical wires were first created in the 1890s.
Working with electrical lines was far more dangerous than telegraph or telephone lines, as there was a high risk of workers being electrocuted; in fact, from 1890 to the 1930s, being a lineman was widely considered to be one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. As many as a third of linemen died as a result of electrocution on the job. High safety standards were implemented from the 1930s.
Many linemen were travelling workers; they followed jobs around and they were paid very well for the time – sometimes one job could financially sustain them for weeks or even months.
Part of the safety standards implemented for linemen included creation and use of the proper tools. The first linesman pliers were created in 1857 by Mathias Klein, a German immigrant in Chicago. A telegraph lineman brought a broken pair of side-cutting pliers to Klein’s forge shop. Klein forged a new half to repair the broken tool, only to have the lineman return soon after to have the now broken original part remade.
Klein took advantage of the demand for good quality and durable hand tools for telegraph work after the US Civil War. The small forge shop belonging to Klein became a big business and eventually production manufactured tools for a worldwide market.
What makes lineman pliers unique is that they are safe for electrical work and their design maximizes force through leverage. Grips are insulated and ergonomically better than bare metal, as well as much safer to use.
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