According to Marvin Hirsch, who was present that evening in the
mid-1950s, it all began when a group of veterans meeting at the
Winsted, Minn., Legion Hall came to the sage conclusion that
they could buy a lot more beer if they had more money. "Reuben
[Miller] said we gotta invent an automatic nailer that works
like a machine gun," Hirsch recalls.
Many of the guys sitting at the club that night —
including Hirsch — had returned from service in World War
II and were familiar with machine guns and how they worked.
Seizing the inspiration, Hirsch, Miller, and their buddy John
Ollig began designing just such a product in Ollig's garage.
After developing several workable demonstration models, they
received three patents for the power nail-driving tool and the
multiple nail clip, giving them exclusive rights to the
Next, backed by $10,000 in private-investment money they'd
scrounged up, Hirsch and Ollig boarded a train to pay
Independent Nail Co. a visit.
The duo showed their nail gun to the company president, who
asked if it required electricity to work. Hirsch and Ollig said
it did not and proceeded to demonstrate the tool, using
compressed air. Several company engineers were summoned; they
were sufficiently impressed to offer Ollig and Hirsch $25,000
to let them keep the gun for 30 days and send it to MIT for
Ollig and Hirsch declined. Ultimately, they decided to make a
go of it themselves and started Port-A-Matic Tools in
Grantsburg, Wis. But the fledgling company ran into financial
difficulties almost immediately and was forced to shut down.
Eventually the bank foreclosed on the business and took
everything — including the three patents, which it sold
at auction. The highest bidder was a company called
"Every time I see a roofer using a pneumatic nailer gun, I
always think of my dad and those young men who had a dream and
got to live it for a while," says Mark Ollig, John's son. "It's
a good story," Hirsch agrees, with a smile. "The only bad thing
about it is how it turned out."
Following the demise of Port-A-Matic, John Ollig and his family
moved back to Winsted, where they owned and operated the
Winsted Telephone Co. "In 1979, my dad showed me the nail gun
and explained how it worked," Mark Ollig says. "I will never
forget the whimsical look he had as he slowly shook his head
while looking at the gun, no doubt remembering how it was, and
the regret he had that it did not turn out the way he had
envisioned it might have."Adapted from an August 1, 2005, article
in the Winsted, Minn., Herald Journal.