The Cutting Edge

The official blog of Knife Depot

Category: Knife History (page 1 of 2)

Forgotten Knives: Imperial Schrade ‘Swiss Army Knives’

Right now there is only one true maker of the Swiss Army Knife — Victorinox.

However, it wasn’t long ago that Victorinox had some competitors, including the esteemed and just as old Wenger. But what most people don’t know is that another company wanted to make a multitool that could rival the Swiss Army Knife.

That company was Schrade.

The story about the former owner of Schrade, sometimes known as Imperial Schrade Corporation depending on the time, trying to make a Swiss Army Knife has been out there for a while. But a recent story published in the February 2019 edition of Knife Magazine gave some additional details about the knives.

Here’s an excerpt:

In the early 1980s, these knives with their corkscrews, screwdrivers, can openers, cap lifters, hooks, and who knows what else were becoming ever more popular. Yes, ‘Scout’ and ‘Utility’ knives had been around for many years, but that red handle, iconic logo, mirror-polish, and tight-fitting tools that closed with an audible snap — that was the knife that Albert Baer [then-owner of Schrade] wanted to produce.

I became obsessed with this story and attempted to dive even deeper.

Early Swiss-Like Schrade Multitools

Before Schrade developed the series of knives that would become a near identical copy of a Victorinox Swiss Army Knife, the company had already come out with a few multitools.

I wasn’t able to go too far back, but one of the earliest Schrade versions of a folding multitool can be seen in a 1957 catalog with a model known as the 906 Officer’s Knife.

This specific model was interesting because although it was inspired by the Swiss Army Knife, it had a different designe and a unique “beverage piercer.”

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7 Knives Sent to Space

According to the aptly named website howmanypeopleareinspacerightnow.com, there are currently three people in space.

Although NASA retired the Space Shuttle program a few years back, there are still grand plans for sending people back to the moon and eventually to Mars.

In honor of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, when Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon (with Buzz Aldrin a close second), we thought it’d be interesting to take a look back at the knives that have gone into space.

Camillus Mil-K

Close-up view of pocket knife, part of the Friendship 7 Survival Kit (A19670176001), August 8, 2013. Smithsonian

Since the first people were sent into space, they have almost always had a knife within reach. I’m not sure whether the first man in space — cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin — carried a knife (though I’m sure he did). However, we do know what the first American man carried into space.

According to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Alan Shepherd carried the Camillus Mil-K Demo Knife in his kit during the United States’ first manned mission to space on May 5, 1961. This was the US-equivalent of the classic Swiss Army Knife made by Victorinox. The version Shepherd carried had a tang stamped with 1959.

Unfortunately, Camillus filed for bankruptcy in 2007 before being bought out by Acme United.

Randall Made Knives Model 17 Astro

This knife has one of the coolest stories. At the time, NASA had this philosophy that if something didn’t exist, it would simply make it. The team needed a survival knife for emergencies and couldn’t find one suitable for them. So astronaut Gordon Cooper and NASA doctor William Douglas reached out to Bo Randall of Randall Made Knives to create a special design.

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WWII Demand for Blades Led to Knife ‘Crowdsourcing’

A photo of San Antonio Iron Works knives by Peter McHugh

World War II was the biggest and deadliest war in history.

Most people are aware of the role knives played in the war — millions of fixed blades were carried by soldiers who fought so valiantly for freedom.

For Armed Forces Day in 2018, Blade Magazine took a look back on many of the fixed blades carried during the Second World War.

However, the San Antonio Express-News recently explored a lesser-known aspect of knives during WWII after someone asked about mysterious knives labeled “San Antonio Iron Works.”

It turns out these were likely makeshift knives made from historical sabers issued to cavalry, including the George Patton-designed 1913 cavalry saber — the last to be issued to cavalry. Apparently swords were no match for guns starting in the World War I so they stopped issuing them.

A cavalry depicted in the Mexican War

But all these historical swords lying around were put to use during WWI. Here’s an excerpt from the San Antonio Express-News article:

At the start of World War II, “there was a great need for fighting knives,” said John Manguso, former director of the Fort Sam Houston Museum and author of several books about the historic Army post. Besides those made by arsenals and by cutlery and farm implement manufacturers, he said, “The Army elected to take some of its inventory of swords stored away and make them into fighting knives.

“Typically, a sword blade was cut into three pieces, and a tang (the portion that extends down into the handle) and point were fashioned onto each piece,” Manguso said.

Looking at a photograph of the SAIW knives, Manguso identified them as having been made from a 1913 Patton cavalry saber, possibly 1840 dragoon sabers or 1860 light cavalry sabers.

“With the San Antonio Arsenal here,” he said, “it is likely a lot of this type of work was done there and contracted out to local shops.”

While it’s sad to see many of the old swords from as far back as the U.S.-Mexican War, it’s great to hear they were repurposed into knives that potentially saw action.

Save a Life with a Knife Committee

One of my favorite factoids from the article was about the Save a Life with a Knife Committee. Along with turning old swords into new knives for combat, a committee was set up to receive knives from the public to be sent to troops who needed them.

Screenshot of 1943 Life Magazine article

During the war, a night-club owner in San Francisco named Frank Martinelli heard that knives were of urgent need in the southwestern Pacific.

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History of the Wharncliffe Blade

KA-BAR Wharnstalker

Tracing the origins of anything related to knives is difficult.

The sheer length of time knives have been used by humans makes going back to the first anything often impossible. Who made the first knife? Well, it depends on what you classify as a knife, but it was probably some unnamed Australopithecine dude more than two million years ago.

But when you have the ability to trace a single invention related to knives to a single moment, it’s always cool.

In a series of posts, I will be examining the history of specific innovations and evolutions in the knife community.

This first post will deal with the Wharncliffe blade.

The Origins of the Wharncliffe

The year is 1820 (or thereabouts). For a look at what was going on in the world, Maine had recently become the 23rd state in the burgeoning United States of America.

According to the 1878 edition of “British Manufacturing Industries,” the first Lord of Wharncliffe — James Archibald Stuart-Wortley-Mackenzie — was having dinner with his relative Archdeacon Corbett in Great Britain.

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The Legend of the Bowie Knife

It must be long enough to be a sword, sharp enough to use as a razor, wide enough to use as a paddle, and heavy enough to use as a hatchet.

That quote from a historian perfectly sums up the versatility and diversity of design represented in the legendary Bowie knife.

There is no single item with a stronger connection to the American experiment than the Bowie knife. So where exactly did the Bowie knife come from and just what is a Bowie knife? We’re here to answer your questions.

What is a Bowie Knife?

Before we delve deeper into the history of the knife, here’s what the experts say is the consensus Bowie knife design.

I fooled you. There isn’t one. Different historians and knife enthusiasts will tell you different things. Some say any large knife with a blade exceeding five inches is a Bowie knife. Other says a Bowie knife must have a double-edged point.

In general, most would say a Bowie knife is a large fixed blade (although you will find the occasional folding Bowie like the Spyderco Slysz Bowie) with a clip point blade. A hand guard is often a staple of the Bowie but not necessary.

This Winchester Bowie is something that’s reminiscent of a knife people think you would see in the old American frontier.

I wouldn’t say it’s the quintessential Bowie knife because there are better quality versions out there, but this is what many see when they think Bowie knife.

The Man Behind the Knife

It’s impossible to trace the lineage of the famed Bowie knife without an earnest look at the knife’s namesake: James Bowie. Back in 2010, one of the contributors to this blog wrote a nice profile about Bowie, but it’s important to provide some context.

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Buried 3,000-Year-Old Sword Dubbed ‘Find of a Lifetime’

If some catastrophe were to happen in my city and humans started excavating at the former location of my house thousands of years from now, they’d undoubtedly find a cache of folding knives and fixed blades like few others.

It seems like archaeologists may have found a blade addict’s house from the Bronze Age after discovering a hoard of metalwork, including an incredibly well-preserved sword from 3,000 years ago.

Archaeologists were digging at a construction site in Scotland and found a cache of weapons from the Late Bronze Age. A group called GUARD Archaeology was commissioned to evaluate a field in Scotland before starting construction on two soccer fields. That’s when the group made the once-in-a-lifetime discovery.

What the discovery looked like. Photo from GUARD Archaeology

Apparently, the artifacts were found in a pit close to a settlement from the Bronze Age. Scientists are stoked about the discovery.

“It is very unusual to recover such artefacts in a modern archaeological excavation, which can reveal so much about the context of its burial,” said GUARD Project Officer Alan Hunter Blair. “Owing to the fragile nature of these remains when we first discovered them, our team removed the entire pit, and the surrounding subsoil which it was cut into, as a single 80 kg block of soil.”

Here they are working on the block in the lab.

A few cool things were found, including a spearhead, bronze sword, a pin, and the remains of a sheath.

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SOG Specialty Knives Celebrates 30-Year Anniversary

SOG Logos

This year marks the 30th anniversary of SOG Specialty Knives. For three decades, SOG has created some of the most innovative knives on the market. Considering the sheer amount of competition and knives that have come out since 1986, that’s saying something.

Let’s take a deeper look at the brand and what they have in store for their 30th anniversary.

The History of SOG

The origins of SOG date back to the Vietnam War when members of a highly classified U.S. special ops unit carried a unique combat knife on covert missions. At one point, the U.S. Government denied the existence of the group, which was known as the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG).

Here’s more about the group from an article by Leroy Thompson published in 1986.

Separate from “conventional,” unconventional operations of the 5th Special Forces Group were the clandestine operations of Military Assistance Command Vietnam/Studies and Observations Group (MACV/SOG). The Studies and Observation Group (SOG) was a cover name to disguise SOG’s real function, and the name “Special Operations Group,” as it was sometimes called, described its real mission more accurately. Activated in January of 1964, SOG was a joint services unit composed of members from all four branches of the armed forces, including Navy SEALs, Marine Recons, Air Force Special Operations pilots of the 90th Special Operations Wing, but predominantly Army Special Forces.

MACV/SOG’s missions included: cross border operations into Cambodia, Laos and North Vietnam to carry out intelligence gathering or raiding missions on the enemy’s ‘home ground’; gathering intelligence about POWs and carrying out rescue missions when possible; rescuing downed aircrews in enemy territory (“Bright Light” missions); training, inserting, and controlling agents in North Vietnam to gather intelligence or form resistance groups; carrying out ‘black’ Psy Ops such as operating fake broadcasting stations inside North Vietnam; kidnapping or assassinating key enemy personnel; retrieving sensitive document so equipment lost in enemy territory or in enemy hands; and inserting rigged mortar rounds or other booby-trapped ordnance in enemy arms caches (OPERATION ELDEST SON).

Needless to say, this group of heroes was no joke.

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History of Roman Daggers & Swords

gladiator-and-tiger_lr

In honor of our current giveaway of the Roman-inspired Thraex XII Tactical from US Gladius, we’re taking a more in-depth look at the swords and daggers from Ancient Rome.

When it comes to swords from history, it’s hard to think of better-known weapons than those from the Roman times. Due to the countless parallels with modern day society and the drama that took place during the time, our fascination with Ancient Rome is almost as old as Rome itself.

Before we venture into the swords and daggers, we’ll start with what Ancient Rome was like.

Life in Ancient Rome

Even though the peak of Ancient Rome was way back between 753 BC and 476 AD, Roman society was extremely advanced. Most of the wealthy Romans lived extravagant lifestyles with luxurious furnishings. The poor were on the other side of the spectrum. They didn’t have such lavish lives, but they did kill some time watching things like chariot races and gladiator fights.

After a hard day’s work, Romans from all backgrounds would head over to the public baths—where they would relax, gossip, mingle, and recuperate.

Rome wasn’t all fun and games, though. The Roman Empire—and the Republic to a lesser extent—were bent on expanding its territories through conflicts and conquests. Along with the gladiator events, weapons came in handy during battles.

Types of Roman Swords and Daggers

Maybe it’s just because of the countless movies set in Ancient Rome (such as Spartacus and Gladiator), but Roman weapons are very distinct. Let’s take a look at a few.

Gladius

The gladius was the primary weapon for the foot soldiers of Ancient Rome. The name was derived from the words gladiator, which means swordsman, and gladiolus, which means little sword. In general terms, the gladius sword features a double-edged blade that’s meant for thrusting with a few slices. Its other discerning feature is a knobbed hilt, which was typically ornate.

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Why Switchblades Should Be Legal

At Knife Depot, we pride ourselves on being a business that works toward giving customers the greatest selection of products possible.

So, when we were finally able to sell automatic knives (better known as switchblades), we were downright stoked. We posted on Facebook and sent out an email to our subscribers announcing the arrival of automatic knives for authorized military personnel and law enforcement officers.

Microtech Combat Troodon DE Automatic Knife

Microtech Combat Troodon DE Automatic Knife

Let’s just say that the reception was less than enthusiastic.

We received emails from disgruntled fans attacking our automatic knives policy as dumb, ridiculous, and discriminating.

The truth is we whole-heartedly agree with the hate mail. Unfortunately, as a business that conducts interstate commerce, we’re bound by the federal law of the United States.

The Switchblade Knife Act of 1958 prohibits the manufacture, importation, distribution, transportation, and sale of switchblade knives between states, but there are a few exceptions in terms of what can be mailed across state lines found in 18 USC 1716 (G) and 15 USC 1244.

If you didn’t click on the links to the actual code (and we don’t blame you), they basically say switchblades can only be shipped across state lines to certain people, which includes authorized government personnel and those who have the use of only one arm.

Benchmade Bedlam Automatic Knife, Axis

Benchmade Bedlam Automatic Knife, Axis

So how did we get to this point? Let’s go back to the development of automatic knives.

History of the Switchblade

A switchblade is a folding knife that uses a spring-loaded button to fully engage a knife. (If you’re curious, I wrote an article about the difference between a switchblade and assisted-opening knife.) The blade’s natural position is to be open and the button is absorbing that pressure. Once that pressure is removed, the knife opens up.

Switchblades were around in ewhe form since the mid-18th century, but those mostly used levers and weren’t very practical.

It wasn’t until the late 1800s did George Schrade help pioneer the modern and functional iteration of the switchblade. By 1916, Schrade had created what we know as the switchblade today. He used a button to engage the knife instead of the old lever system.

A switchblade from Flylock Knife Company from between 1918 and 1929.

A switchblade from Flylock Knife Company from between 1918 and 1929.

Legend has it that the automatic knife was developed in order to make it easier for women to open folding knives without breaking a fingernail. While this is a slight exaggeration, early advertisements did use this aspect as a selling point.

Here’s a Schrade advertisement from 1904, according to Gizmodo.

Operated With One Hand.

No Breaking of Finger Nails.

Will Not Open in Your Pocket.

Will Not Close on the Fingers When in Use.

The Schrade Safety Push Button Knife, of which we are the exclusive manufacturers, is rapidly becoming the leading knife on the market because of its many advantages over the ordinary pocket knife. Being easily operated with one hand it is far more convenient than the old style pocket knife which necessitates the use of both hands to open and frequently results in broken finger nails… This novel knife is especially suitable for a gift or souvenir, as it is something out of the ordinary, very useful, and when furnished with one of our attractive handles makes an ideal gift.

What made the knife go from a tool that wouldn’t break your nails to a weapon that was destroying society? We turn to the 1950s for the answer.

How the Switchblade Was Banned

Let’s set the scene of the time. The U.S. was undergoing a major economic boom in the wake of WWII, while the onset of the Cold War had shifted the politics of the country right. The Civil Rights movement was gaining steam. Rock-N-Roll was emerging on the scene with artists like Sam Cooke, Buddy Holly, Howlin’ Wolf, and others were captivating teens. Juvenile delinquency was up during the time, and movie stars like James Dean weren’t helping matters.

The seed that germinated the movement against the automatic knife can be traced back to a 1950 article that appeared in the Women’s Home Companion called “The Toy That Kills.” It basically lays out how the switchblade will quickly become the weapon of choice in gang warfare if it’s not taken care of.

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Parker River Knife Company Embraces the Past with Classic Pocket Knives

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Even though the knife market is continually dominated by huge brands like Kershaw, Buck, and Spyderco, smaller companies also make fantastic knives and offer personal touches that those larger companies simply can’t. That’s where the Parker River Knife Company comes in.

Parker River Knife Company’s story began nearly 100 years ago along the banks of Parker River in Newbury, Mass. A restaurant and gift shop opened right on the water, but after many years it was converted into a marina. Once the owners decided to retire, Jim Bowes and his wife decided to take over the family business and write a new chapter in the family story.

Here’s more about the start of the company from the Parker River site:

Drawing on years of experience working along the Parker River, we’ve designed a line of knives that are as beautiful as they are functional. The river has taught us to respect and love nature. Our products are designed to last a lifetime and to be cherished as much as we love this little river.

What really sets Parker River knives apart from some of the other knives you see on the market is just how much these knives look and feel like the same ones your granddad might have carried. This ensures the knife not only features a handsome design but also boasts a look you know will never go out of style.

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