The Swiss Army Knife was not the first multi-use pocket knife. In 1851, Melville references a “Sheffield contrivances, assuming the exterior—though a little swelled—of a common pocket knife; but containing, not only blades of various sizes, but also screw-drivers, cork-screws, tweezers, awls, pens, rulers, a nail-filer, countersinkers,” in the classic, Moby Dick.However, the multi-tool’s modern history starts in the hands of Victorinox and Wenger—the original manufacturers of the Swiss-Army knife. The original version included a knife blade, reamer, bottle opener/screwdriver/wire stripper, can opener/screwdriver. Back in 1891, when the Swiss Army Knife first debuted, the term multi-tool didn’t exist yet.
The Swiss Army was looking for a folding pocket knife for their soldiers, for opening canned food and disassembling the Swiss service rifle. Victorinox and Wenger pretty much had the market cornered until 1983 when Tim Leatherman sold his first “Pocket Survival Tool”. It was larger and more robust than a pocket-knife-based tool, and incorporated the now synonymous set of needle-nosed pliers in a balisong-style configuration. While it was too large for most pockets, the design has changed over time and there are multiple sizes and configurations. However, the original and most useful version, comes with a belt carrying case or a pocket clip.
Because of Tim Leatherman, the term Leatherman has become a generalized trademark for the multi-tool, and will forever carry Tim’s namesake as its legacy, along with 55 percent of the multi-tool market as marketshare.
What is your go-to tool on your multi-tool? If you could custom configure a multi-tool what would yours have in it? Let us know in the comments below!