Tomkins was founded in 1925 as F.H. Tomkins Buckle Company, a small manufacturer of buckles and fasteners. It was first listed on the London Stock Exchange in 1956.
In 1983, ex-Lord Hanson employee Greg Hutchings acquired a 22.9% stake in the company, and subsequently was appointed Chief Executive. Hutchings expanded Tomkins in a classical conglomerate form through leveraged buyouts, and during the 1980s and early 1990s the company embarked on a succession of acquisitions which rapidly grew its revenue, product range and global reach. Major acquisitions included Smith & Wesson in 1987,RHM in 1992, the US-based Gates Corporation in 1996, which signalled a move into the industrial and automotive markets, and the Stant and Schrader businesses that further bolstered this division. During this era, Tomkins was regarded as the archetypal multi-industrial conglomerate, with a portfolio of assets that had little or nothing in common with one another - and indeed the media delighted in referring to Tomkins as the 'buns-to-guns' company because of its ownership of RHM (baking) and Smith & Wesson (firearms).
Hutchings was forced to resign from the Company in 2000, over a series of allegations of executive excess. Tomkins sold RHM shortly thereafter, and Smith & Wesson the following year.