History of Kershaw: Quality from Day One (1974–1979)

Kershaw’s classic era stressed quality assurance from the beginning.

The knife industry has changed a lot in 40 years. But ever since Kershaw started, the brand has maintained a commitment to quality. That goal has stayed true since Day One.

Kershaw’s founder, Pete Kershaw, knew the importance of guaranteed quality. The outdoorsman grew up on an Oregon pear orchard and often used knives for hunting and fishing. In the late 1960s, he worked as a cutlery sales manager, but decided to start his own knife company in 1974.

During that time, fixed blade hunting knives were very popular. Naturally, the company initially focused on hunting knives, as well as pocket knives. However, Pete needed a supplier to actually produce the product.

On the other side of the world, Kai had been producing bladed tools for over 65 years. The company was well-renowned for Japanese quality. Then-president Saijiro Endo II was focused on exporting Kai products to other countries, including the American market. Kershaw and Kai’s paths eventually converged, and the two companies have been linked ever since. After some discussion, Endo agreed to supply the first Kershaw knives.

Knife maker Ichiro Hattori created the initial Kershaws for Kai Japan. The Hattori shop was known for its custom-like quality. For the initial Kershaw shipment, Pete requested a set of fixed-blade hunting knives. Hattori did what he did best.  

The original Kershaws included the Field & Stream, Camp & Field, Camp & Stream, Skinner, Field, and Heavy Duty Field. Together, they were known as the Kershaw Hunters. Each model featured beautiful phenolic handles and brass bolsters. In addition to their aesthetic quality, the knives were also great for rugged hunting use. The large finger grooves allowed you to precisely control each blade.

Field Knives

(L to R) Heavy Duty Field 1035, Skinner 1032, Camp & Stream 1031, Camp & Field 1030, Field & Stream 1029, Field 1034

These models greatly influenced the 1050 Folding Field Knife, which became Kershaw’s flagship product for years. Released in 1979, the blade locked into place with a back lock. Today, Kershaw fans are well accustomed to folding knives that serve as their everyday carry. Though the 1050 didn’t have a pocket clip, it fit into an American-made, leather sheath.

Folding Field knife

Folding Field Knife 1050

The back lock is an older locking system that secures the blade in place with a steel bar.

Like the fixed blades, the 1050 was made in Japan. Today, many associate Kershaw with made-in-the-USA products. In fact, U.S. manufacturing didn’t start until much later. Regardless of country of origin, Kershaw has never changed its mission of lifetime performance with expert craftsmanship.

Back then, however, the team worked at a warehouse in an old Lake Oswego, Oregon cement plant. When products arrived from Japan, Pete checked for sharpness by cutting cement sacks.

Today, Kershaw still does quality control in the USA — albeit with more sophisticated methods. It doesn’t matter what country they come from. Kershaw’s U.S. team strives to ensure quality.

That same philosophy of quality helped Kershaw get off the ground. In 1977, Kai Japan opted to purchase Kershaw Knives. Known as Kai USA, it operates as a subsidiary of Kai Japan.

Pete was named president of the newly-formed branch. The staff was small, and resources were limited, but Kershaw had laid the groundwork to achieve the success it enjoys today.

Be sure to check back next time for a look at Kershaw’s iconic products from the 1980s.

Read More Kershaw History 

Part 2 (1980-1989)

Part 3 (1990-1997)

Part 4 (1997-2010)

Part 5 (2010-Now)

Header photo (L to R): Folding Field 1050 (Japan 1979), D.W.O. 3000 (Japan 1985), Random Task 1510 (USA 1999), Leek 1660 (USA 2004), Knockout 1870 (USA 2012)

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