History of Kershaw: USA Manufacturing is Born (1990–1997)

Facing a growing need for innovation, Kershaw made big changes in the '90s.

The 1990s were an interesting time for Kershaw Knives. It would eventually mark the end of the classic era. But at first, Kershaw was still defined by its traditional models of the decade prior.

Several new products stood out, however. This included the Sea Hunter, released in 1993.

Sea Hunter (1008)

Divers can use the Kershaw as they journey through the depths of the ocean. Sometimes, they’ll come across fishing lines, nets, and kelp forests. If someone gets tangled in any of these hazards, the Sea Hunter is a lifesaver.

It’s also useful for anchoring yourself to the seabed for extra leverage, or getting your buddy’s attention by tapping on their tank. In any case, the Sea Hunter was a winner — so much so that it’s still being sold today.

Kershaw introduced new folding knives as well. In 1995, the brand released its first liner lock knives, fittingly called the Liner Action series. Many fans are familiar with liner locks today. After all, they’re a tried-and-true method of securing the blade open.

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Liner Action 2420

Aside from the locking mechanism, these folders are conveniently simple. They open manually with a thumb stud and feature a clean, lightweight profile. Liner Action enjoyed moderate success for about a decade. But sadly, not all was well internally at Kai USA.

During this time, liner locks grew very popular in the knife industry, and the term “tactical folder” was coined. Amid this shift, Kershaw struggled to find its identity in a crowded market, even with its Liner Action series.

Back in Japan, the overall Kai Group fared much better than its American partners. Its sales had grown to $9 million annually. Kai CEO Koji Endo was determined to bring the USA division to a healthy level. 

In 1996, Endo invested in an American production facility at Kai USA’s Wilsonville, Oregon base. He believed that this would help Kershaw reach its full potential.

Kai USA hired a new production team for the job. Their first task was to create American versions of popular Japanese models. These initial USA-made knives included the Corral Creek II (3315), the Black Gulch II (3320), and the Wildcat Ridge II (3340).

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Wildcat Ridge (3340), Black Gulch Serrated (3320), Black Gulch (3320)

At the time, the team was limited to two CNC milling machines. To put things in perspective, the factory has 27 now.

The following year, production team members took on their most ambitious project yet, the A100 Multi-Tool.

Kershaw A100 

This innovation emerged as the first multi-tool to feature locking plier jaws. It was also the first to include a locking blade that opened from the outside of the handle.

Combined with all the other functions, this complex project was a huge challenge for production. It lit a small spark, however, and rose to become the number-one selling Kershaw from 1997 to 1998.

Since then, Kershaw has delivered innovation time and time again in its U.S. factory. Kershaw is proud of its made-in-the-USA products, which are still key to the brand’s success today.

Today, popular USA models include the Link, the Dividend, and the Launch series. Each delivers American quality from the hands of a seasoned team.

But this expertise took time. After being tested with the A100 Multi-Tool, employees were hungry for greater success. It wouldn’t be long until Kershaw found a true gamechanger.

Be sure to check back next time for our next installment of the History of Kershaw.

Read More Kershaw History 

Part I (1974–1979)

Part 2 (1980-1989)

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