And the Father-in-Law Didn't Even Ask for Equity

At 16, the Baltimore native got his first job developing a telegraph machine. He rose to factory superintendent 10 years later, enjoying the trappings of success by tooling around town in a Maxwell-Briscoe runabout. He worked with a design engineer, a former supersalesman who had been grinding out a living since age 13. The two began talking about product ideas they wanted to develop, such as a milk-bottle capper. But they had little money to start a company. S. Duncan Black reluctantly agreed to sell his prized car for $600, while Alonzo G. Decker wrung a loan from his father-in-law. Nine years later, in 1919, their investment was worth more than $1 million, largely due to one invention: the portable electric drill.

Published on: Apr 1, 1986