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]

Old Woodworking Machines

Old Woodworking Machines

This collective website, which started as an online discussion forum, now also includes a large database of manufac… [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    

Wwii Us Army M3 Camillus Dated 1943 Trench Fighting Knife BayonetWwii Us Army M3 H. Boker Trench Fighting Knife BayonetBig Vintage Schlieper Solingen Germany Eye Brand Stag Hunting Bowie Knife KnivesWw2 Vintage German Rad Hewer Dagger Bowie Hunting Knife Stags No Case-scabbardLarge Vintage Antique Unmarked Fixed Blade Knife Tube Sheath Only Marbles MsaVery Old German English Or Austrian Stag Handle Hunting Sword 1700's - 1800's Original Civil War G Wostenholm Sheffield Ixl Bowie Stag Handle Fighting KnifeWw2 Knife Crafters Patton Saber Fighting Knife Dagger W/ Sheath Used In ActionVintage Western 28 Pattern Green Handle Bird & Trout Knife W/orig Sheath N/mAntique Vintage Marbles Trailmaker Huge Bowie Knife Stag On Stag Deep StampVintage Western Boulder Colo. Double Guard Hunting Knife & Sheath * White HandleWwii~cattaraugus 225q~g.i. Quartermaster Fighting Knife W/orig. Popeye Sheath~Marbles Knife ~ 6 Inch ~jet Pilot Survival~with Original Sheath & Stone ~vintage Vintage Puma Germany White Hunter Knife & Sheath Pre Date Code Used Vintage Western Boulder Colo. Hunting Knife & Sheath * Green Handle * Beautiful!Vintage Western Boulder Colo. Small Hunting Knife & Sheath * Blue HandleVintage Buck 104 Usa 102 & 103 Combination Fixed Blade Hunting Knife Set & CaseWoodsmans Pal 280 Machete Bolo Fighting Knife Survival Tool Vietnam EraMarbles Woodcraft Knives Lot~4 Pin Stag/stag & Buster Brown~w/original SheathsMarbles Two Knife-knives Lot~ideal & Woodcraft~4 Pin Stag/stag~w/original SheathVintage U.s. Hand Made Randall Hunting Knife W/ Sheath. Stag HandlePuma "white Hunter" Knife - #6377! Complete With Sheath & Original Box/papers!A+ Wwii Us Fighting Knife Cattaraugus 225q Bowie Dagger Army Id'd FranceVintage Randall Model 3-6 Fixed Blade Knife- Heiser Brown Button Sheath Ww2 Imperial Blade Marked M3 Knife With Leather M6 Barwood ScabbardWwii Western V44 Combat Bowie Knife World War 2 Leather Sheath Us Military 1940sVintage Ka-bar Fixed Blade Knife With Sheath. Must SeeVtg/antique Frank Richtig Hunting Knife-f.j.r.clarkson Neb Hand/custom Made&caseRandall Model 11-5 Vintage Fixed Blade KnifeAwesome Side Fighting Knife-etched Blade-british Arrow Mark-superb Carved HandleWwii Us Army M3 Trench Fighting Knife Imperial Blade Mark Airborne DaggerVintage Buck 107 Usa Made Hunting Knife Looks Unused Custom Sheath !!Vintage Marbles Knife With SheathVintage Puma Sea Hunter Knife Model 6363 Date Code 40482Wade & Butcher Sheffield England Xcd Bowie Style Knife Old Vintage Antique BoneD Vtg Frank J Richtig Hunting Skinner Knife Skinning Handmade Fjr Clarkson NeUs Navy Mark 2 Fighting Knife W/ Mk2 ScabbardAntique Trench Dirk Dagger Hunting Skinner Survival Bowie Knife Knives VintageBuck 124 Frontiersman Rosewood Hunting Bowie Knife W/ Maroon Leather SheathOld Vintage Acid Etched Queensteel #95 Usa Queen Hunting Knife W/orig SheathOld Vtg ~ Aw Wadsworth ~ Big Bowie Camp Hunt Knife ~ Stag Handles & Nice!!!Vintage Wwii Gladstone Marble Trailmaker 7 3/4 Inch Blade W/sheath *nr*Randall Knife Model 4-5 Vintage - Selling Part Of A Vietnam Era CollectionVintage Coleman Western W49 Bowie KnifeOld Antique Stag Horn Sheffield Hunting Fighting Bowie KnifeAntique H.g.gomph Leather Cutting Tool - Semi-round Brass-ferrule - RareVintage Western Bowie Boulder Colorado KnifePuma 3591 Waidmesser Game Keeper Knife W/ Box & Sheath Rare Free Us48 ShippingRare Old Case Xx Double-edged Pigsticker Great Old Knife In Great ShapeVintage Marble's Woodcraft Hunting Knife & Sheath, Gladstone Mich, 1916Vintage Western W66 Fixed Blade Knife And Hatchet Set W/ Sheath Wwii 1943 U.s.m.c. Corpsmans Bolo Knife With Boyt Scabbard All Original+beauty!A+ Wwii Us Navy Mark 1 Usn Mk1 Fighting Knife Rh-35 Pal W/ Usn Scbd Vintage Cold Steel Tanto Fixed Blade Knife Made In Japan W/ SheathWw2 Camillus Ny Usmc Guard Marked Mk2 Fighting Knife W/original Sheath "kabar"Rare Bark River Vintage Commando Fighting Knife W/ Sheath Vintage Western Boulder Colo, 1960's Boy Scout Knife And Scout Style SheathOld Antique Stag 1800s Sheffield Hunting Fighting Bowie KnifeUs Military Vietnam Era 'usa Colt' M7 Bayonet W/ Scabbard & Tie Down 'new'Vintag 11" Carl Schlieper Eye Brand Solingen Germany Hunting Bowie Fightin Knife