If folding knives and pocket knives were developed as tools, fixed-blade knives began their history squarely as weapons. Crude stone blades were carried by Neolithic hunters who, we might guess, were anxious to subdue their prey before being preyed upon themselves. The earliest examples of these original survival weapons were made of minerals such as flint, which could be sharpened on both edges, as well as to a deadly point. Of course, human beings used knives as protection from other human beings, too, which is one reason why primitive materials such as stone eventually gave way to copper, bronze, iron, and finally steel.

By the Middle Ages, the term dagger had been coined to describe one of the most common types of fixed-blade knives. It was meant to be thrust at an enemy rather than slashed. Some variations like the rondel dagger were strong enough to puncture armour and had no edges at all, essentially an ice pick on steroids. Another branch in the dagger’s evolutionary tree was the stiletto, whose slender, pointed, double-edged blade made it a stealthy, lethal weapon.

In the 19th century, one of the most popular fixed-blade knives, the Bowie, appeared. Designed by Jim Bowie and fabricated first by Jesse Clifft, the almost 10-inch-long blade had a flat spine and no guard between its blade and handle.

That might have been the end of the story, but the knife and its namesake gained popular acclaim in 1827 when Bowie used it to kill a sword-cane-wielding attacker in a fight near Natchez, Mississippi. Subsequent Bowie knives were produced by New Orleans knife maker Daniel Searles, Arkansas blacksmith James Black, and cutlers in Sheffield England, who copied the Black version, marketed it as an “Arkansas toothpick,” and exported it back to the United States.

Several characteristics distinguished the Bowie. First and foremost was the design of the blade. Although the weapon used by Bowie in 1827 had a flat back, subsequent knives featured a clip point, or clip blade, which looked as if a concave slice had been taken out of the blade’s spine about two-thirds of the way toward the point from the handle. The handle was also a focal point of the knife. Many Bowies had what are known as coffin handles, which is perhaps fitting for a knife that put so many people in them.

Another 19th-century cutler was John Russell of Massachusetts, whose Green River Knife was carried by tens of thousands of westward immigrants in the 1840s, ’50s, and ’60s. Hunters and trappers liked them because the were long and had a rounded tip, making them good tools for skinning animals from buffalo to beaver, while their rugged handles were made of ebony and cocobolo, two of the hardest woods around.

Production of hunting knives continued into the 20th century by Buck, Case, and other cutlers. Rudy Ruana, whose knives are among the most collected today, got his start in the 1920s making skinning knives. But in the first half of the century, with two world wars, the need for fighting knives kept a number of new manufacturers busy producing knives for soldiers who found themselves in close-combat situations. Indeed, a soldier’s knife is a true survival weapon, the last resort when one’s ammunition and good fortune has failed...

During World War II, Ka-Bar knives were carried into battle by members of the Marine Corps, while those in Air Force favored knives made by an Orlando, Florida, cutler named Bo Randall. Beginning in 1966, Gerber Mark IIs were popular with troops in Vietnam. As for 19th-century knife manufacturer Camillus, that storied firm made knives for soldiers from World War I though Vietnam. Some of these knives, regardless of the manufacturer, were customized by soldiers in the field. Tweaking a knife’s handle was one of the most common alterations, and while these theater knives are somewhat similar to trench art, for obvious reasons they remained fully functional.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

The Wheelmen

The Wheelmen

This elegant tribute to turn-of-the-century bicycling includes memorabilia, photographs, and an index of 3140 bicyc… [read review or visit site]

Alloy Artifacts

Alloy Artifacts

A tool collectors’ dream, this site is a deep repository of photos and info on 20th century hand tools and the co… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Machinery

Vintage Machinery

This collective website, which started as an online discussion forum, also includes a large database of manufacture… [read review or visit site]

Drainspotting

Drainspotting

Josh and Cam Larios have created this site enabling people to upload and 'tag' photos of historic or artistic manho… [read review or visit site]

A Millers Falls Home Page

A Millers Falls Home Page

Randy Roeder has carved out a niche for himself with his fine website devoted to the history of the Millers Falls C… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Antique Civil War Era Manson Sheffield Double Edge Bowie KnifeWestern Boulder Cracked Ice 8" Knife W/oak Leaf Sheath A Beauty! Puma Hunter's Pal Knife 6397 Made In Germany Unused Condition With Box Sheath Beautiful Old Bowie Knife - "i Dig Gold From Quartz" - 1849Randall Made Model 3-6 Knife ~ 7 Spacer ~ Stag ~ Rough Back Brown Button SheathBuck 184 Buckmaster Survival Knife W/sheath, 1980’s.R.h. Ruana 1943-44 Era Knife ~ Square Cut ~ Custom Order ~ With SheathVintage Bowie Fighting Hunting Knife M Pric ?? San Francisco Decorated Handle*Vintage Puma Trapper's Companion Knife 1966 Right Hand No. 6385 Marbles Safety Knife Vintage Nice Shape 3 Pin HandleAntique Civil War Era D Guard Bowie KnifeVintage Case Xx Kodiak Hunter Fighting Bowie Knife W/sheath & Box Stag HandleFairbairn–sykes Fighting Knife,ww2 Or Early N.a.t.o?Vintage Bowie Knife & Axe Hatchet Stage Horn Handle ..maker Unknown? Anvil Mark~*~estate Find~*~ Vintage Bone Handel Bowie Knife Hunting By Randall Early ,,old Antique Marble's Woodcraft Stag Handle ,knife & Original Sheath. Early Phil Doc Hagen Fargo N.d. Usa Custom Made Stag Handle Hunting Knife. Super Rare Pre 1901 W. L. Marbles Gladstone Michigan Fixed Blade Knife.Puma 6399 'white Hunter' Hunting Knife W/sheath, 1966 W. Germany.Case Xx #523-6 Matching Stag Fixed Blade Hunting Knife W/ Sheath 1950's Nr Mint ~ 1920-1940 ~ Case Xx ~, Stag ~ Handle, Fixed Blade Hunting Knife An Vtg AntiqueEstate Fresh Vintage Puma White Hunter 6377 Knife With Bone Handle. Orig. SheathRare Case Tested Circle C 516-5 Mint India Stag 9" Fixed Blade Knife & SheathPuma® - White Hunter 6377 Knife Rigid Usa Knife/hunting Knife/vintage KnifeRare Morseth 10 1/2" Hunting Knife Everett Wn Orig Sheath Stag Pommel Lthr RingsAntique Wwii Era German Solingen Fighting Dagger Knifef Trench Art Bayonet~*~estate Find~*~ Vintage Bowie Knife Hunting **shieth Only** By RandallR.h. Ruana Bonner Montana - Little Knife Stamp W/sheath - 6" BladeAntique Marbles 1915 Vintage Stag Bowie Skinner Original Rare Case Gladstone UsaVintage Cutco 1765 White Puma Fixed Blade Knife Explorer Hunting W/ Sheath # Vintage Marbles Knife & Sheath Vintage Marbles Gladstone Hunting Knife & Leather Sheath - BowieVery Rare 1981 Puma Outdoors 6378 Stag Handle Hunting Knife W/ Sheath GermanyRandall Knife Sheath Tan / Brown Button Early - Mid 1960's For Model 7-5 Knives Vintage Marbles Woodcraft Knife With Leather Handle And Sheath ~*~estate Find~*~ Vintage Bowie Knife Hunting By Idaho Knife WorksCamillus Cutlery Co. Fisk Bowie Desert Ironwood HandleVintage Tough Buck Akonua Knife Puma White Hunter - Pre 1964 Model - Vintage Hunting Knife - Bowie - GermanyVintage Western Brand Bowie Knife W49 W/ Original Sheath Near MintCattaraugus 225q Knife Mint Early Alfred Field & Co. Stag Dagger Blade Bowie Knife & Sheath 1800'sVintage Marbles Hunting Knife In Sheath/boy ScoutVintage Sog Govt Model Fighting Knife "seki Japan" "sog Specialty Knives" Vtg Sheath Fixed Blade Hunt Usa Old Westcut-western Stag Knife #1 Rare Bowi CaseAntique Marble' Woodcraft Knife Marked Pat. Pend Marble's Sheath W/ Stag HandleAntique/vintage Ka-bar "trading Post" Model Fixed Blade Hunting Knife, 1920sKabar J Bowie Vintage Stag Handle Bowie Knife Antique Huge Mexican V.hontes Doca Fighting Knife Horn Handle Brass Pommel *Ka-bar, Union Cutlery Co. Olean N.y. Stag On Stag Fixed Bladed HunterR H Ruana 38c Bowie KnifeRare Vintage Puma 915 Emperor Folding Knife Mint Condition - Never Used - In Box1950s Vintage Western 5 Inch Hunting Knife Pickbone Boulder Colorado Puukko UsaOlsen Ok Combat Knife W/bowen Sheath, 1960’s H.c., Mi.Vintage Huge German Original Bowie Knife W/custom SheathVintage Buck Knife 124 Bowie Knife & Sheath U.s.a. Super Rare Puma Solingen Fixed Blade Knife Germany With Original SheathVintage | Puma Skinner | 6393 | Knife And Sheath | Germany | Leather | HuntingWestern W49 Bowie Knife