Although it’s unclear exactly when the pipe stretcher was invented, it’s believed to have occurred approximately in the mid- to late-1800s in North America, shortly after the integration of galvanized iron pipe in indoor plumbing applications. As indoor plumbing gained in popularity, lack of tradesmen expertise, limited availability of raw materials, and relatively precise length requirements in order to meet supply lines to fixtures quickly created a widespread need for the ability to lengthen a piece of pipe by up to one centimeter per three meters of pipe.
Early examples of pipe stretchers are extremely rare. In fact, to date, none have actually been recovered. What is known about them is learned by way of word of mouth passed down by succeeding generations of plumbers and pipefitters throughout our nation’s history. Early models were very cumbersome and difficult to operate. They utilized heat, pressure, and leverage in order to soften and gradually stretch lengths of pipe that were incidentally cut too short. According to early plumbers’ journals discovered in recent decades, because they weren’t portable and required a great deal of fuel oil and manpower in order to operate, they were frequently forgotten or left behind when heading to and from job sites.
Modern Pipe Stretchers
As technology has facilitated miniaturization, the size and usability of pipe stretchers has dramatically improved. Today, they are relatively lightweight and compact, easily deployable by one able-bodied worker. Unfortunately, even modern examples are regarded as rather rare. This is most likely due to the improvement in accuracy of measurements and subsequent cuts, which has detrimentally impacted the market demand for pipe stretchers.
In spite of their rarity, however, pipe stretchers are reported to be found in toolboxes and truck storage bins of the most savvy and well-equipped of journeymen plumbers. Thus far, however, research attempts have come up short in obtaining a modern example. Additionally frustrating research efforts, they don’t appear to be sold in any of the national brand tool retailers’ stores. But what is known regarding pipe stretchers is repeatedly corroborated by the firsthand testimony of apprentices across the nation who’ve been sent to the truck, repeatedly in some cases, to find the pipe stretcher.