How Jackhammers Work

The First Real Rock Star

In the middle of the 1800s, the Industrial Revolution's effects were being felt all around the world. Machines and power tools of all kinds made labor easier and less physically taxing. But men working in mines and quarries still had to work with pickaxes and shovels, cussing their way through the day.

Brawn just wasn't enough for these exhausting jobs. What these laborers really needed was a more powerful way to break through rock to reveal minerals or release stones for construction.

Their salvation came from the mind of a car man in Detroit. Although Henry Ford is popularly credited with inventing the first automobile, it was actually Charles Brady King, an inventor and engineer, who created and drove the first motorized carriage. In March of 1896, King roared along the avenues at about, well, 7 miles (11 kilometers) per hour.

In addition to the first motorized car, King created more than 60 different machines in his lifetime, including a range of pneumatic tools, among them, the jackhammer.

Jackhammers were a godsend of sorts, particularly in the mining industry. In the 1800s, mining was downright treacherous and miserable work. Breaking up rock by hand in damp, dark tunnels was not a joyful experience for most laborers. Steam engine technology of the day might have helped expedite the process, but because these machines required combustion, they were far too dangerous for use in tight quarters that often filled with explosive gases.

Compressed air was a much safer option. That's exactly what King had in mind when he created the first pneumatic (air-powered) jackhammer. On the next page you'll read about the various types of jackhammer technologies, including the long-lived pneumatic versions.