What Is a Phillips Head Screwdriver?

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The phillips head screwdriver (otherwise known as the "cross-head screwdriver") is one of the most common variety of screwdriver, and one of the most popular hardware tools today. It is recognizable by its cross or + shape, in contrast with the flat head of a typical screwdriver. Developed by John P. Thompson and Henry F. Phillips in the 1930s, the Phillips head is substantially easier to use with electric and industrial tools, making it one of the dominant forms of the modern era.


In contrast with traditional straight screws, the Phillips head is self-centering. With a manual screwdriver, this difference is incidental, but in an electric screwdriver, it enables far greater stability and control. It is also designed to cam out, meaning that once the screw as in as tight as it can go, the screwdriver naturally pops out.

With conventional screws, camming out damages the screw and is to be avoided, but with the Phillips head, it is a normal part of the screwing process. These two advantages are essential for electric screwdrivers, especially in industrial settings.

Modern Use

Later, the Phillips Company developed the Pozidriv for more specific mechanical use, and today the Phillips head is common even on non-electric screwdrivers.


The Phillips head screwdriver was named after Henry F. Phillips born in 1890 and living through 1958. Henry was a businessman from Portland, Oregon. He was responsible for introducing the cross-head screw design into our homes and businesses around the country.

The Phillips head screwdriver was originally patented in 1936 by Henry, but it was so widely copied by other individuals and companies, that by 1949 Phillips lost his patent.

The Phillips Head Screwdriver and the American Screw Company

The American screw company held the responsibility for implementing a method for manufacturing the screw deigned for the Phillips head screwdriver. Other companies did not want to take on the complex design of the screw, so the American screw company became the sole supplier for the screw that became so popular and was used in almost every manufacturing line.

We all use the Phillips head screwdrivers in our home today, and many appliances requiring assembly come equipped with the cross-head screws that require a Phillips head screwdriver.