Before my last trip to the Midwest I called Klein Tool and asked if they would give me a tour of one of their plants because I knew they had some in the Chicago area. They said, "Sure, come to or headquarters and we'll show you the plant where we make screwdrivers."
On the day of the visit I drove to Lincolnshire, Illinois. When I turned into the road where Klein is located I thought maybe I'd written down the wrong address because it didn't look like the sort of place a factory would be. I was expecting smokestacks and train tracks and instead I was seeing low-rise warehouses and office buildings. At the end of the road was a sign for Klein and when I pulled into the lot I saw a modern office building with the company logo above the entry. I had the right place, but where was the factory? That question was answered when went around the corner to park. Connected to the back of the office building was a huge nearly windowless structure with a loading dock. It was obviously a factory – albeit a modern one without smokestacks or a rail siding.
Before entering the factory I met with some folks in a conference room and they filled me in on the company. Aside from all of the tools it produces, the most interesting thing about Klein is its history. The company was founded in Chicago in 1857 by Matthias Klein, a German immigrant who ran a forge. The first tool he ever made was a pair of pliers for a telegraph linesman. If you're ever wondered why Klein is so strongly associated with the electrical and communications trades – well, that's where it comes from. Another interesting thing about Klein is that it is owned and managed by the descendants of the man that founded it. One of the people I met during my visit was Mark Klein, a 6th generation descendant of the founder and one of many family members who work for the company.
And now – on to the tour of the Lincolnshire plant, which in addition to producing screwdrivers produces nut drivers, driver bits and a number of other hand tools and power-tool accessories.