Equipment India | January 2009


Rock-Drill On
Simon Ingersoll revolutionised the rock drilling industry with his steam-powered, tripod-mounted rock drill and carved out a place for himself among the pioneers and innovative inventors of all time.

Born in 1818, Simon Ingersoll, a native of Stanwich, Connecticut, USA, was one of the pioneering American inventors in the mining and construction machinery. His name is associated with the development of several significant inventions and he has 27 US patents to his credit. His first patent, in 1858, was a steam engine shaft and marked the beginning of an illustrious career which included a long catalogue of inventions ranging from a gate latch to a scale to a friction clutch.

His best claim to fame came as the inventor of the first steam-powered, tripod-mounted rock drill. It came about when Ingersoll, who worked at truck farming, accepted a contractor’s commission to develop a drill that would work on rock. Ingersoll worked on the invention in a New York machine shop owned by entrepreneur José F. de Navarro; he was successful in his endeavour and thus, the first rock drill came into being. Patented in 1871, it was the catalyst for significant changes for the construction industry and quite revolutionised the rock drilling industry. It also laid the foundation for the Ingersoll Rock Drill Company which started as a construction and mining machinery maker and later became the Ingersoll-Rand Corporation, a renowned international firm with an eclectic portfolio of machinery with a wide variety of applications.
Before the invention of the steam-powered, tripod-mounted rock drill by Simon Ingersoll, all drilling was a tedious, gruelling and expensive job, since all mining and tunnelling operations were done by hand. Underground drilling was done by striking a length of steel rod repeatedly with a sledgehammer, which amounted to back-breaking labour, to say the least. However, the scenario changed after Ingersoll’s invention, which was capable of automatically turning the drill after each strike to continually advance the steel through the rock. Ingersoll’s rock drill had several advantages: it was tripod-mounted, required less manpower, was significantly lighter than other drills, saved on time and effort, and was considerably faster with a longer lifespan. Though initially his invention was steam-powered, later on it was designed to operate on compressed air.

The industry soon caught on to the advantages offered by Ingersoll’s drill, realizing that the machine could be instrumental in significantly escalating the productivity of workers involved in mining and tunneling operations. Ingersoll’s drill also ensured greater safety and helped to secure the wellbeing of the workers to a certain extent. Moreover, the steam-powered machine could accomplish the work of ten men, further speeding up the process.

Thus, the rock drill invented by Simon Ingersoll played a vital role in construction and excavation for more than a century, as a result of its practical and ingenious applications. Percussion drills used in excavation, mining, tunneling, and highway construction were derived from Ingersoll’s design. Even in present times, all rock drills integrate Ingersoll’s innovations and are to be seen on almost every major construction or excavation site across the globe.

Simon Ingersoll received only a grade school education; however, he was a whiz at mechanics with a natural flair for the subject. His innate talent for the workings of different mechanisms and his ingenuity are the qualities that enabled him to achieve success and subsequent glory, through his pioneering and practical inventions. His story is a lesson in grit and determination as well as in innovation and resourcefulness. He was inducted into the Mining Hall of Fame in 1992, as a tribute to his leadership and technological contributions.


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