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Our History

KA-BAR history dates back to the end of the 19th Century and includes more than 100 years of quality knife making. Below are some of our historical highlights.

Pick a Year:

1800 - 1899: The Cutlery Industry Takes Root in America

1800

The U.S cutlery industry begins in New England when a group of cutlers from England’s Sheffield Cutlery Industry band together along the East Coast.

1859

An oil boom drives skilled laborers to migrate into Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania. Among the most prominent, Job Case, whose daughter Emma marries John Brown. The two settle in Little Valley, New York, and raise five children. September 30, 1875 Wallace Brown is born to John and Emma Brown in Little Valley, New York.

February 25, 1883

Robert Emerson Brown, known simply as Emerson, is born in Little Valley, New York.

1890S

Wallace Brown, son of John and Emma (Case) Brown becomes a traveling salesman for Robeson Cutlery and learns about product, distribution and sales channels??

1894

At the age of 19, Wallace Brown starts a mail order cutlery business out of his home in Little Valley, New York. This company is called Union Razor Company. Soon after, Wallace’s brother, Emerson, joins in the venture.

1894 – 1897

Wallace Brown and his brother Emerson operate Brown Brothers Razor out of Little Valley, New York. They open a warehouse in the area from which they rent space to other cutlers to store their products. Simultaneously, Wallace and Emerson contract with local manufacturers to produce products that bear the Brown Brothers name. This company is short lived, however, and Wallace and Emerson, along with their father, John, go to work for Cattaraugus Cutlery Company, one of the many companies run by the Case family.

1897

The Dingley Act increased tariffs on cutlery by almost 50%, thus stifling the import of German and English cutlery. In response, U.S. cutlery works sprung up all over Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania. Many of these businesses quickly fail.

April 29, 1897

In the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a group of 38 men, including Henry Cummings, form a Limited Partnership known as Tidioute Cutlery Company Ltd, in an attempt to salvage their struggling cutlery businesses.

1898

Tidioute Cutlery Company begins to manufacture and sell knives. This lays the foundation for the company that will come to be known years later as “KA-BAR”.

1900 - 1919: Union Cutlery Company is Formed

1902

Wallace Brown works to begin his own manufacturing company in Tidioute, Pennsylvania. He calls this company, an offshoot of the Union Razor sales company of Little Valley, New York, the Union Razor Company of Tidioute. That same year, in an unexpected moment of opportunity, Wallace purchases the assets of Tidioute Cutlery Company which has suffered the same struggles as many cutlery companies of the era.

April 1902

When the Union Razor Company of Tidioute is legally organized, Wallace transfers the assets of Tidioute Cutlery Company to Union Razor. The first stockholder meeting of Tidioute Cutlery under Brown’s leadership names Wallace President, Henry Cummings Vice President and Wallace’s father, John Brown, Secretary and Treasurer.

September 21, 1908

Richard Danforth Brown, known simply as Danforth, son of Wallace Brown, is born in Tidioute, Pennsylvania.

1909

The company name is changed from Union Razor Company to Union Cutlery Company to better represent a broader selection of products, including hunting and outdoor knives.

September 1910

The City of Olean, New York, approaches Wallace Brown with incentives to relocate Union Cutlery Company. Armed with tax incentives, land and a building, Wallace finds the offer difficult to refuse. Multiple companies are opened in Olean under the Brown’s leadership: Union Cutlery Company, American Hone and John Brown Sons Company.

January 1911

A new Union Cutlery Company is registered in Olean, New York, creating two Union Cutlery incorporations: the original in Tidioute, Pennsylvania, and the new one in Olean, New York.

1914 – 1918

World War I

1920 - 1944: The Birth of KA-BAR as a Brand

1920s

Wallace Brown receives a package that forever alters the history of the company. The story, as first published in a training manual written years later by M.L. Brown, Vice President of Sales, Union Cutlery, is as follows: “Years ago an Alaskan hunter had shot a bear who then attacked him and knocked his rifle from his hands. In order for the hunter to protect his life, he took a knife made by Union Cutlery company and successfully killed the bear, which was the Kodiak bear species. The hunter in appreciation of the knife having saved his life sent the bear skin to President Wallace Brown. The thought then occurred to the management of the company that if the Kodiak bear is the strongest of the bear species, and the word bear is pronounced “bar”, and further, if the cutlery produced by the Union Cutlery Company was the best and strongest of its kind, then it should be very significant that “Ka-bar” might truly represent the qualities of the company’s products. Thus the Ka-Bar trademark was adopted.”

January 1924

The KA-BAR name is trademarked and used on many knives, especially those for hunting.

1924

Company founder, Wallace Brown, dies at the age of 49. His brother, Emerson Brown, takes over as President of Union Cutlery Company. During his time in leadership, Emerson is credited with many unique designs and patents issued to the company.

July 1928

American Hone dissolves as a result of the foreboding decline of the economy in the United States.

1929 – 1939

The Great Depression wreaks havoc across the United States and Union Cutlery Sales falter but survive under Emerson Brown’s leadership.

February 4, 1934

At age 51, Emerson Brown dies unexpectedly. His nephew, Wallace Brown’s son, R. Danforth Brown, becomes President of Union Cutlery Company.

1942 – 1945

Working with USMC Captain Howard America and USMC Colonel John Davis, Danforth Brown submits a fixed blade fighting/utility knife design to the USMC for consideration of issue to the troops during World War II. Soon after, Union Cutlery Company begins supplying KA-BAR stamped knives for the war effort, along with similar knives produced by other U.S. manufacturers

1950 - 1974: A Period of Turmoil

1950 – 1953

Surplus World War II era knives are issued to soldiers fighting the Korean War.

May 7, 1952

With its trademark stamped wartime knives gaining tremendous recognition and respect, Union Cutlery Company officially changes its name to KA-BAR.

1954

Finding it difficult to assimilate back into the civilian knife market after World War II, and struggling to keep the KA-BAR business afloat, Danforth Brown accepts an enticing offer to relocate to Dawsonville, Georgia, where land and labor were inexpensive and tax incentives were offered.

1955 – 1975

Soldiers carry even more surplus KA-BAR marked knives throughout the Vietnam conflict.

1956

Recognizing his error and in an effort to save the company, Danforth Brown makes the decision to move KA-BAR back home to Olean, New York, where the factory, equipment and much of the original workforce is still in place.

March 3, 1960

Danforth Brown dies at the age of 52, ending the Brown family dynasty that lasted more than six decades.

1960 – 1966

After Danforth Brown’s death, KA-BAR goes through a series of ownership changes including a short stint during which the Robinson Knife Company owned the brand. Robinson never makes a knife and eventually the company is sold.

1966

Cole National Corporation, a conglomerate based in Cleveland, Ohio, buys KA-BAR. For many years they sell imported knives marked with the KA-BAR brand into hardware stores, alongside keys and fasteners. It is during this time that several different stamps were used on knives produced by KA-BAR. Upper and lower case letters, the elimination of the hyphen in the brand name, and even other brands like Sabre and KA-LOK were stamped onto products sold by Cole National.

1975 - 2003: KA-BAR Returns Home

1975

Richard “Dick” Sturm, founds the KA-BAR Collectors Club, and for the first time since World War II, the standard KA-BAR USMC Fighting/Utility knife is put back into production in Olean, New York, at the CUTCO Cutlery facility. CUTCO continues to make these knives for Cole National Corporation for two decades.

May 1996

A decision of the heart, the officers of Alcas Corporation – the parent company of CUTCO Cutlery of Olean, New York - decide to rescue a flailing but familiar brand, KA-BAR, from Cole National. Their purchase of the product line and assets of KA-BAR bring an iconic brand back to Olean. Manufacturing of the famous USMC Fighting/Utility knife continues in the CUTCO plant and the product line is expanded under new leadership.

1998

KA-BAR celebrates its 100th year in the knife-making industry by hosting an intimate open house at the company’s headquarters in Olean, New York.

September 11, 2001

Terrorist attacks on U.S. soil propel the country back into war. The KA-BAR knife is introduced to a new generation of warriors and serves dutifully in Afghanistan and Iraq.

2002

KA-BAR contracts with Bob Dozier, custom knife maker, and begins its first of many relationships with custom knife makers. The agreement with Bob Dozier to manufacture custom designed products later becomes recognized as the beginnings of the KA-BAR Master Series of products.

2003

KA-BAR moves its headquarters to its current location, 200 Homer Street, Olean, New York.

2005 - Today: Under New Leadership, KA-BAR Sets Its Sites on a Bright Future

2005

John Benner, founder of Tactical Defense Institute of West Union, Ohio, becomes KA-BAR’S second Master Series designer. His innovative designs create an expanded presence for KA-BAR in the law enforcement market.

2008

Designs from Peter Janda of Janda Knives lend a European flair to KA-BAR’S offerings in the Master Series line of products.

2009

Products from established knife designer and outdoor enthusiast, Ethan Becker of Becker Knife & Tool, expand KA-BAR’S Master Series offerings to a greater tactical and bush crafting audience.

2010

KA-BAR adds Steve Johnson to its Master Series roster. His designs are aimed at the outdoor market and certain models specifically serve the boar hunting community.

2014

KA-BAR teams up with Mike Snody to offer a handful of high end fixed blades to its Master Series of products. The same year, KA-BAR also purchases the assets of another iconic World War II brand, Ek Commando Knives.

2015

The first KA-BAR/Ek Commando branded knives are manufactured and sold in Olean, New York.

2017

KA-BAR contracts with custom knife maker, Jesse Jarosz of Jarosz Knives, as a part of its Master Series program. Jesse’s youthful take on traditional fixed blade and folding knives expand KA-BAR’S product offerings in the outdoor and hunting markets.

2016

KA-BAR partners with Spartan Blades LLC to produce Limited Edition co-branded knives.

2018

In conjunction with its 120th anniversary, KA-BAR officially launches its custom knife shop, State & Union Knives, for the purpose of offering limited edition, hand-finished products.

April 29, 2018

KA-BAR celebrates 120 years of business with the introduction of a four-part documentary capturing for the first time the most complete history of the iconic brand.


The KA-BAR Legacy

The history of KA-BAR Knives and the production of the iconic KA-BAR USMC Fighting/Utility knife.

Great Moments in KA-BAR History, Vol. 1

Brothers Wallace and Robert Brown set out to replace their chintzy razors and end up setting the foundation for a legendary knife company. The brothers create the Tidioute Cutlery Company in Tidioute, PA in 1898, building the foundation for what grew into KA-BAR Knives.