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]

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

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Civil War Edward Barnes & Sons Sheffield Bowie Knife C.1856-1865.Will & Finck S.f. Cal. 1863-1932 Dirk/dagger Bowie Knife-orig.box-rare!R H Ruana Bonner Montana M Hunting Knife, Vintage & Collectible W/orig Sheath Vintage 80's Custom Morseth Fix Blade Knife. Orig. SheathPuma Made In Germany 8" Genuine Stag Full Tang Hunter's Pal Fixed Blade Knife Randall #14 Exposed Tang Brown Micarta Fighting Knife Vietnam Era1990~case Xx~large Stag Handle Dagger Style Hunting Knife W/orig. Leather Sheath Wwii Us M3 Trench Fighting Knife Imperial Blade Mrk Dagger Airborne Usa In M8Marbles Vintage Fixed Blade Hunting Knife With No Sheath Used Condition 12 1/2"Wwii Us M4 Bayonet Aerial For M1 Carbine Fighting Knife Usa In Usm8 ScbdWwii Union Fork & Hoe Ufh 1905 Pattern 1942 M1 Garand Bayonet & Usn Mki ScabbardVintage Al Mar Fang Dagger / Knife With Leather Sheath ~ 10" ~ Seki-japanRare Western 13" W46-8 Fixed Blade Military Knife With Sheath Unused ShapeVintage Al Mar Knives #4011b Pathfinder Ii Aka Quest Ii- NewWwi Remington 1917 / Winchester 1897 Trench Bayonet & Green Leather ScabbardUnused Vintage Randall 8 4 Stag Bird Trout Hunting Knife, Rough Sheath Near MintVintage Ww2 Western L77 Fighting Knife With Sheath ~ Blued BladeVintage Puma White Hunter 6377 Stag HandlesVintage Al Mar Knives #3005a Sere - NewVintage Early Puma Solingen Abercrombie & Fitch Stag Boot Hunting Knife + SheathRare Western "w45" 14 3/4" Bowie Knife "d" Dated Unused W/original Sheath Vitnage Cold Steel Peacekeeper Carbon V Combat Knife Dagger & Sheath Made In UsaVintage Randall Hunting Knife. Vintage Al Mar Knives #4006 Scout - NewVintage Al Mar #4003 Tanken Utility Knife With Leather SheathAnton Wingen Jr Original Bowie Knife Othello Solingen Germany Stag HandleVintage Kinfolks Knife And Hatchet Combo W/ Sheath 1950's Nice!Case Xx U.s.a.. M5f Stag Knife 64-69 VintageVintage Original Gerber Lmf Survival Knife With SheathAntique Rare Vtg J Rodgers & Sons Er Sheffield England Bowie Knife Stag HandlesVintage Case Xx Usa 1966 Model 1 Astronaut Moon Landing Mint In Display KnifeVintage Al Mar Knives #5004 Pack Rat I Usa/seki Black - NewVintage Randall Sheath--model 14 ?--18? Riveted 8" Blade--viet Nam Era ?1964 Puma 6396 Stag Bowie Knife. No Case But Has A Sheath. Great Vintage Bowie Knife With Stag Handle-blade Marked Froster Bros-mark 12Vintage Western Green Handle Bird Trout Type Hunting Knife 48a W/sh Used N/mCase Xx U.s.a.. 516-5 Stag Knife 64-69 VintageHoffritz Ny German Stag Handle African Hunter Large Bowie Knife/collection--mintCase Tested Xx Knife Hatchet Set Missing Hatchet Hunting KnifeRalph Bone Custom Knife Stag Hunting Camping Johnson SheathBuck Knife Frontiersman 124Puma Original BowieVintage Winchester Knives Store Display-4 Panels-thanksgiving & Christmas--signNew/unused Vintage Western W47 Smaller Medium-sized Bowie Knife--w/belt Buckle*vintage Buck Usa Knife Akonua W/ Leather Sheath, Box & Papers Late 70's Nice! Vintage Gerber Mk2 Mark Ii Combat Knife Dagger & Sheath Portland UsaWwii Victory Plastics Us Navy M1905 Training Rifle Bayonet & Usn Mk I ScabbardWwii Us Navy Mk2 Fighting Knife Usn Mark 2 Camillus Guard Mrk SeabeeVtg Puma-werk Solingen German #3591 Game Keeper Hunting Knife W Orig. Sheath NrBeautiful Vintage Dan Harrison Custom Made Hunting Knife & SheathVintage Case's Fishing Boating Sailing Knife With Marlin Spike In Leather SheathRare 1950s Birch Burl Mora Sweden Knife & Case Vtg Puukko Hunting Fighting BowieCase Xx Usa 1965-69 Stainless Mint 5347 Hps Red India Stag 3-7/8" Stockman KnifeCase Tested Xx Hatchet Knife Combo - Oct 22 1935Vintage Marble's No.2 Hatchet Marble Arms Gladstone Michigan Signed Hand Axe Western Boulder Colo Imitation Pearl 9.5" Fixed Blade Knife & Axe Combo SetVintage 1944-1946 Ruana 13b Tapered Knife Stamped "little Knife/sheathNew Mint Randall Non-catalog Triathlete Knife, C. Present Vintage Marbles KnivesVintage Original Beautiful Usa Schrade 153uh Skinner Knife Barn Find Unused