Document 44: Inventor of the Combination Woodworking Tool, Shopsmith

Adapted from HandsOn! No 7 September-October 1980.          
For much more background on Hans Goldschmidt's Concept and Production of the original Shopsmith see Appendix 22 and/or Chapter 6.5

“The basis of being an inventor is recognizing a need, then trying to invent something that fills the need.”

In the 1980s, John Folkerth, president of Shopsmith, Inc.,  visited Hans Goldschmidt and his wife Ilse.

The record of their talk includes the nature of invention, the needs of woodworkers, and the events leading up to the Shopsmith:

There are many things I’ve been curious about. You were born in Germany and came to the United States.

Goldschmidt: Yes, I came in 1916, went back in 1919, and came back to stay in 1937.

 Did you leave Germany because of Hitler?

Goldschmidt:  I guess so. My father was Jewish and I’m half-Jewish.

 You received your doctorate of Philos¬ophy in Germany?

Goldschmidt: Actually, I got a doctorate of engi¬neering. It was a Ph.D. that covered practically every field. I think at the time, engineers did not make doctorate degrees. Today you’ll find doctors of engineering, but in those days newspaper people wrote it up as a doctorate of philosophy.

    How old were you when you came to the United States in 1937?

Goldschmidt:I was 29. 1 started fiddling around in woodworking with several little jobs and nothing really worked out, so I bought myself some wood¬working machines and started making wooden models. I made napkin holders and other things. At a later date, I worked in a job in San Francisco and made novelties — unfinished things like jigsaw covers (puzzles?), trays and coasters.

    Did you make good money?

Goldschmidt: No. I just barely made out. This was still the depression and kids coming out of school couldn’t get a job. I was told not to mention that I had a doctorate and I never did mention it.

 What happened after making the novelties?

Goldschmidt: The war started and I went to work in the shipyards where I got a job with a man that was hiring special people and he was interested in me because of my schooling. I did use my schooling.

 How did a thought about a Shopsmith or a business or an invention come about? And approxi¬mately when?

Goldschmidt:The thought that I would invent something was in my mind ever since I was 12 years old. That was my goal. In fact, when I graduated from high school, in my final thesis was a question, ‘What do you want to be?’ or something like that. I wrote my future almost correctly: “I want to be an inventor.”

 That’s fantastic. So here’s Dr. Goldschmidt who says, ‘It’s time to get going on my dream.’ What step-by-step process got you to the Shopsmith machine?

Goldschmidt: I think the basis of this is to put yourself into the inventive mood and anything you see or anything you hear or anything you read, challenge: What can I do about it? Then I read one day an article that so many GI’s had learned crafting during the war and there was a big demand for home workshops. I decided that was something I knew something about. Then I went through the article again and thought, ‘What are the most important tools and what can you do with them?’ I came up with the idea of combining them.

 So you were actually thinking about the individual tools and what you could do about im¬proving them. This is where the inventive genius came in, the idea that you could combine them. Correct?

Goldschmidt: Right. I tried to list the most important tools and came up with a saw, sander, lathe, drill press, band saw, and jig saw, as I recall. Then I analyzed what all these had in common. They all have a motor in common, for one thing. They all have a turning spindle that cuts. They all have a table or work holding device. Then I eliminated those tools that didn’t fit well into the picture, which were the jigsaw and band saw. And finally ended up with the saw, the sander, the drill press, and the lathe.

Why did you go from a single-post concept to a double-post?

Goldschmidt: Well, in the first place I wasn’t a very good engineer.

 I don’t know if the inventor of the Shopsmith should admit something like that.

Goldschmidt: I would say that the problems of sloppiness in the single post scared me. It probably could have been solved but two posts looked like a nicer solution.

 The next step was to make a model?

Goldschmidt: I made a wooden model, half scale, in our spare bedroom.

 Did you have any tools?

Goldschmidt: Just a jigsaw and a pocketknife. And if you look at the model you can tell exactly where I started and ended. I started with great detail and ended very sloppy.

 What did you do then?

Goldschmidt: I think the first thing I did was to show the model to Bob Chambers. We had worked together and I would show him little inventions. He got enthusiastic and would say, "After the war, you think of things and I’ll sell them." So I brought the (Shopsmith) model to Bob for him to tell me what I should do with it. From there, I bought a drill press and used that as a head stock. I also bought an old saw and a saw table and took a couple of knobs off my chair and built a working machine.

 Was Bob responsible for the successful financing of it?

Goldschmidt: Yes. This lumber company in Berkeley had some spare rooms, so he set me up in those rooms to sit down and design the Shopsmith. Our first customer was Montgomery Ward; ten Shopsmiths were ordered, then they increased that to 250 to be delivered by October 15, 1947.

Ilse, what did you think of the invention of the Shopsmith while Hans was building it?

Ilse: I liked it.

Goldschmidt: She painted it.

 Did you feel it had the potential to be successful?

Ilse: I knew it had the potential.

    What did your friends think of this invention?

 I didn’t show it to any friends. I think the only people I showed it to where people that got involved in it. I’m not that kind of inventor that’s afraid that everyone will steal from me, but I wouldn’t show it off just to get flattery.

    I think you pioneered a whole new industry, quality woodworking tools for the home workshop. Let’s take the Shopsmith and any multi-purpose tools like it out of the picture — do you see anything else that’s needed by the woodworking or do-it-yourself public?

Goldschmidt: If I thought so, I would do something about it.