Collectors, hunters, outdoorsmen, and everyday workers all rely on a certain little tool- the pocket knife. In most department stores you can find basic pocket knives, and if you go to a flea market you can find just about any knife you could ever imagine. Being such handy and versatile tools today, with so many options and functions, sometimes you may wonder how it all began.
The oldest pocketknife known of, is the jackknife. The jackknife was a blade with a bone handle found in Hallstatt, Austria, which dates back to 600 BC. Then, sometime during the 2ndcentury, the Roman’s got a little creative in order to make a collapsible pocketknife. Without using springs or locks, the Roman’s invented a friction-based close for the knife. It required friction to stay closed, but pressure from the hand or thumb to stay open. The handle of the knife was carved from wood, and being in the Bronze Age, the blade was made of bronze. You could consider this the first step towards a modern pocket knife with the knife having the ability to close.
The next advancement was around year 200, when the Roman’s advanced their friction folder more and made the first multi-tool. It was the first sort of Swiss Army Knife, having a blade, fork, spoon, spatula,spike, and pick. However, this multi-tool was not among the common man, but rather belonged to the wealthier class of travelers. While Roman’s made lots of headway developing the pocketknife, so did other cultures. The Vikings around the 8th century had friction folding knives, but also had developed a knife which had a catch to keep the blade out without needed to use pressure; these were called clasp knives.
Not any known advancements were made between the 8th century and 16th century. However, in the 17th century, the pistol grip Gully knife was invented. Traditionally the Gully knife is longer than a regular pocket knife, with the tip of the blade curved in slightly and the handle having the same shape to accommodate it. It is believed that this knife was most popularly used for fighting. Shortly after the Gully knife, the peasant, or “penny”, knife was made. This knife is the first to have a similar look to our common pocket knife today, having a wide wooden handle and collapsible blade. This knife spiked in popularity because it was the first pocketknife to be mass produced. England mass produced them and made them very affordable, making them popular among farmers and workers. While this knife looked like our modern day pocketknives, the knife which followed its invention is used as the base of our knives today.
In 1660, the back-spring was introduced to the pocketknife. This was the first slip-joint knife ever made. The point of the back-spring was to keep the knife in the open position. While these were not popular at the time, upon the arrival of the Industrial Age, the slip-joint was mass produced and made widely popular. This design is the base of so many of our common day knives such as the Barlow knife, congress knife, peanut knife, whittler, and so many more. Still, after the invention, there were several more knives introduced all over the world. For example, in the late 1600s, the navaja Spanish knife was invented and in later produced was made into the first lock-back knife. Then in 1710, the French created the butterfly knife; this knife had two handles that would pull apart and come together on the other side of the knife to form a singular handle.
In 1750, the first spring-loaded blade was created, the blade springing from the handle with just the push of the button; these are called “switchblades”. Then, in 1920, the Defender pocketknife was conjured up. This special pocketknife had a .22 caliber pistol built into it. In 1981, the pocketknife was enhanced by Spyderco, making the first pocketknife with a round hole in the blade to make for faster opening.
As you can see, pocketknife has come a long way since its invention in 600 BC. Not only do you get hundreds of options when it comes to mechanics now, there’s so many different styles, materials, and colors the knives come in. What was once just sharpened metal on a small bone, now has springs, locks, and even small guns built in!