It’s not an exaggeration to say that pneumatic tools built the modern world. Wherever you’re reading this article: whether in a house, apartment, office or even on a street you can stare up and see something built with pneumatic tools. Reading in the middle of a forest? The device you’re reading on likely used pneumatics to some degree and the infrastructure to ship it to you certainly did.
Despite creating the tools that built the modern world, that same modern world knows almost nothing about Simon Ingersoll, inventor of pneumatics.
Ingersoll created the pneumatic drill, patenting it Mar. 7, 1871. The drill was more efficient than anything before it, moving through wood and even rock far more efficiently than people could relying on human power. Prior to Ingersoll’s drill, each part for a house, building, or ship had to be created by hand.
The Ingersoll drill, specifically, and pneumatics in a generalized sense vastly decreased the cost of construction. Coupled with standardized parts and other modern techniques, they also enabled standardization. Higher quality, higher value, and lower cost are the result of Ingersoll’s work.
Despite that the drill worked far more efficiently than people doing the same tasks, there doesn’t seem to be any reference to a decrease in laborers. Instead, people went from hand-drilling pieces of wood and rock to doing more interesting work. They built bigger buildings, erected larger ships, and created ever-more infrastructure. The drill freed laborers from drudgery but, like much automation equipment, did not eliminate jobs.
Besides the tools, Ingersoll also invented an early steam-powered car, a friction clutch, a gate latch and a spring scale. Ingersoll sold all those patents.
Forced to sell most of his patents to feed his family, Ingersoll died destitute. Even while inventing his various machines, he was forced to work as a farmer and in other odd jobs to feed his family.
In 2018, Ingersoll Rand, the company that bears his name, has a market cap of $24.8B. 2015 revenue (latest reported) was $13.3B. There is no record that Ingersoll ever had anything to do with the Ingersoll company.