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

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

1800's Big 18" Antique British Bowie Fighting Knife Wm.jackson Co SheffieldMonster Antique Bowie Knife Scottish Dirk? Horn Hilt Dagger Short SwordWwii Us M4 Camillus Bayonet M1 Carbine Fighting Knife Dagger A+ W/ M8a1 Usa UsmcWw2 Era Original John Ek Fighting Knife # 6 Ranger Pattern Knife Hamden Conn.Old Vintage Case Xx Usa Stag Hunting Knife & Axe Hatchet Combo SetVintage~western~s648b~red Handle Stainless Hunting Knife W/leather Sheath~exlentVintage Puma Skinner 6393 Fixed Blade Knife W/puma SheathPuma 6399 'white Hunter' 6" Hunting Knife W/sheath, 1969 W. Germany.Vintage Original Puma-bowie Knife 6396, Stag Handle Vintage 1800s American Bowie Fighting Knife Collins ? Militia Type1935~cases's Tested Xx~antique Knife & Axe Combo W/orig. Leather Sheath~scarce~Vintage Early Ruana Handmade Hunting Knife & Sheath M Stamped1970 Gerber Mk2 Mark 2 Mkii Combat Trench Vietnam Fighting Knife Near Mint U.s.Vintage Original Harry Morseth Hunting Knife Sheath Morseth Clinton Wash. MarkedVintage Marbles Trout Knife W/ SheathVintage Western 13" Knife W/ SheathVintage Rare Gerber Usa 5978 Large 14-3/4" Coffin Handle Bowie Knife No ReserveVintage Marbles Gladstone Mich Usa Ideal Stag On Stag Hunting Knife Wwii Era 1940's~kinfolks~case Brothers 962 Knife & Axe Combo W/original Leather Sheath~1960 John Wayne The Duke Signed Photo Presenting Bowie Knife The Movie Alamo2 Vintage Marbles Bird & Trout Fixed Blade Knives With Leather Sheaths Free S&h13" Vintage Solingen Bowie Knife Fa Bower Stag Handle Made In Germany SheathVintage R.h. Ruana Bonner Montana Hunting Knife With Original SheathVintage Case Xx Usa 5265 "abercrombie & Fitch Co." Pocket Knife Vintage Buck 120 General Fixed Blade Knife Usa 1973 Nib Unused Beauty Rare Knife1968~puma Skinner~best No. 6393~pumaster Steel Hunting Knife W/original Sheath~ Marble's Knife Hunting Knife Ideal W/tube Sheath,usa Made Circa Pre1920Vintage Edge Mark 469 African Hunter Bowie Knife/sheath Solingen Germany Ex.con.Austrian Speical Forces Jagdkommando Dagger Twisted Tri 7.8" Blade Full Size Mic1960's~carl Schlieper~original Buffalo Skinner~jim Bowie Hunting Knife~eye BrandVintage Benchmade Usa 10502 Fixed Blade Knife W/sheath *nice!Puma 1956 White Hunter Stag German Hunting Knife/knives - 6377 - Very NiceVintage Kabar Hatchet Knife Combo Set Very Rare #1331, #1232 Leather SheathVintage Lot Of 12 Fixed Blade Hunting Knives Knife Case Western Browning KabarVintage Western Vietnam Era Pre-w49 Bowie Hunting Fighting V44 Knife/sheath Exc.1950 Era~western~boulder Colo.~red Handle Hunting Knife~pat. No. 1967479~unused~1950's~western~hunting Knife L66 & Camp Axe L10 Combo W/orig. Leather Sheath~Vintage--new In Box Case Xx Kodiak Hunter Knife -old Collection/hunting UsaVintage Camillus Pilot Survival Rare 6" Blade Vietnam Era Knife/sheath/stoneZollan Mccarty Hatchet ~ Custom Made ~ 1 Of 2 ~ Stag ~ Original Sheath ~ VintageSchrade Usa Knife Rare 172 Uh Wildcat Bowie Sheath & Stone Vintage Jig Bone StagVintage Western W49 Bowie Knife Rare Vintage Gerber Legendary Blades Usa 450 Hunting Skinning Bowie Knife Knives1950 Era~western For Craftsman~pat. No. 1967479~rare Yellow Handle Hunting KnifeVintage Double Edged Rawson Bros. Sheffield 11"l Bowie Knife Stag Handle 1800s Vintage Fixed Blade Knife. Marble's Woodcraft. Second Model ? Nice!1950's~western~boulder, Colo.~pat. 1967479~white Handle Hunting Knife W/sheath~ R. H Ruana 13a Skinner Knife-bullwhip Signed & Stamped-orig. Shearh-unused-vigny17th-18th Century Spanish Plug Bayonet W Leather Sheath, Blade, Sword MilitaryCrown Stag V44/bushman Ww2 Era Western Usa Bowie Fighting Knife Custom SheathRuana Hunting Knife1960's~western~boulder, Colo.~l48b~hunting & Fishing Knife W/gray & Brown HandleVintage Case Fixed Blade Knife W/ Jigged Amber Bone Handles W/ Sheath 1940-1965Vintage Weidmannsheil Solingen Germany Stag Canada Belt Hunting Skinning Knife1946 To '73~schrade Walden N.y. U.s.a.~148~hunt & Fish Knife W/leather Sheath~ *** Vintage Bowie Knife + Sheath ***1950's~western~48a~boulder, Colo.~black Handle Patented Hunting & Fishing Knife~Puma Vintage Hunting Knife W/ Sheath 63607 Cs Custom BlacksmithCase Xx 1836 Usa Survival Hunting Bowie Knife W/ Scabbard , Box & SleevePuma Knife - 2757 Steak Knife Set - 1940's - Mint & Rare