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A Comprehensive History of Kershaw Knives: From Humble Beginnings to Modern Innovation

A Comprehensive History of Kershaw Knives: From Humble Beginnings to Modern Innovation

Posted by CT on May 10th 2023

A Comprehensive History of Kershaw Knives: From Humble Beginnings to Modern Innovation

Kershaw Knives

Kershaw Knives, a brand synonymous with quality and innovation, has a rich history spanning over four decades. This paper traces the company's roots from its inception in 1974 by Pete Kershaw, a former Gerber employee, to its present-day status as a leading manufacturer of knives and cutting tools. The focus is on the company's commitment to excellence, continuous innovation, and forging new knife design and production frontiers. This comprehensive history highlights Kershaw's collaborative efforts with renowned designers and the introduction of its flagship technologies, including the revolutionary SpeedSafe® assisted opening mechanism.


Kershaw Knives, a brand with a reputation for high-quality, innovative products, has become an important name within the knife industry. The company's dedication to exceptional craftsmanship, cutting-edge design, and continuous improvement has led to numerous awards and recognitions. This paper explores the history of Kershaw Knives, from its humble beginnings in the 1970s to its current status as a global leader in knife manufacturing.

The Inception of Kershaw Knives (1974-1980):

When Pete Kershaw founded Kershaw Knives in 1974, he set up the company in Portland, Oregon, a city known for its manufacturing prowess and access to high-quality materials. The company started as a small-scale operation, with Pete working tirelessly to realize his vision for practical, durable, and functional knives.

In the early days, Pete would sell his knives directly to customers from the trunk of his car. He traveled to various locations, demonstrating his products and building a loyal customer base. Despite their humble beginnings, Pete's dedication and commitment to quality quickly gained attention, and word spread about the exceptional knives he was producing.

Pete's experience in the cutlery industry heavily influenced the first Kershaw knife models, specifically his time at Gerber Legendary Blades. He drew from his extensive knowledge of knife manufacturing and sales to design and produce knives that catered to the needs and preferences of users. One of the first models released by Kershaw Knives was the Model 1050 Folding Field, which exemplified Pete's commitment to practicality, durability, and functionality.

The Model 1050 Folding Field was designed as a versatile, all-purpose folding knife focused on outdoor use. It featured a sturdy construction, a high-quality stainless-steel blade, and a comfortable handle made from durable materials. The knife's reliable locking mechanism provided safety and stability during use. This attention to detail and commitment to user experience quickly set Kershaw Knives apart from its competitors.

As word of mouth spread about the quality of Kershaw Knives, the company began to attract more customers, and demand for Pete's products increased. Despite the challenges of running a small-scale operation, Pete remained dedicated to producing top-tier knives. He was hands-on in every aspect of the business, from design and manufacturing to sales and marketing, which allowed him to maintain the quality and consistency that Kershaw Knives would become known for.

During this initial period, Pete Kershaw faced numerous challenges, such as securing materials, managing production costs, and navigating the competitive landscape of the cutlery industry. However, his unwavering commitment to his vision and dedication to producing exceptional knives laid the foundation for Kershaw Knives' future success.

As Kershaw Knives continued to grow and gain recognition, the company expanded its product lineup to include various types of knives, such as folding, fixed-blade, and multi-tools. Each new model released was a testament to Pete Kershaw's dedication to practicality, durability, and functionality, which remained the guiding principles of Kershaw Knives throughout its history.

By the end of the 1970s, Kershaw Knives had established itself as a reputable and innovative brand in the cutlery industry. The company's focus on producing high-quality knives that catered to users' needs, combined with Pete Kershaw's passion and determination, set the stage for Kershaw Knives to become a leading manufacturer in the knife industry in the decades to come.

Expansion and Early Innovations (1980-1990): A Decade of Growth and Groundbreaking Designs

The 1980s marked a significant period of expansion and innovation for Kershaw Knives. As the company grew, it became evident that Kershaw needed to explore new designs and technologies to cater to an increasingly diverse customer base. This drive for innovation led Kershaw Knives to collaborate with some of the most renowned designers in the knife industry, resulting in groundbreaking designs and products that would shape the company's future.

  1. Product Line Expansion

During this period, Kershaw Knives expanded its product line to include a broader range of knives that catered to various uses and preferences. The company introduced different types of folding knives, fixed-blade knives, and multi-tools, each designed with the same commitment to quality, practicality, and durability that Pete Kershaw had envisioned for the brand.

2. The Trooper and Other Iconic Designs

One of the most notable knife models introduced during this time was the Trooper, a fixed-blade knife with a distinct, innovative design. The Trooper featured a durable stainless steel blade, a comfortable handle, and a secure sheath for easy storage and transport. This iconic knife quickly gained popularity among outdoor enthusiasts and collectors alike, further solidifying Kershaw Knives' reputation as an innovative force in the cutlery industry.

In addition to the Trooper, Kershaw Knives introduced several other models that would become staples in the company's product lineup. These new designs, such as the Black Horse and the Wild Turkey, emphasized the same principles of practicality, durability, and functionality that defined the brand.

3. Collaborations with Renowned Designers

The 1980s also saw Kershaw Knives forging partnerships with renowned knife designers like Ken Onion and Grant & Gavin Hawk. These collaborations allowed Kershaw to tap into these designers' expertise and unique perspectives, resulting in innovative and cutting-edge products that pushed the boundaries of traditional knife design.

Working with Ken Onion, Kershaw Knives developed the Random Task, a folding knife featuring Onion's patented SpeedSafe® assisted opening mechanism. This groundbreaking technology made folding knives significantly easier and safer to open, setting a new standard in the industry.

Similarly, collaborations with Grant & Gavin Hawk led to the development of the innovative ET (External Toggle) series of knives, which featured a unique opening and closing mechanism that offered users a smooth, efficient, and secure experience.

4. International Recognition and Growth

The innovations and collaborations of the 1980s propelled Kershaw Knives to the forefront of the international knife industry. The company's products gained recognition and appreciation from knife enthusiasts, collectors, and professionals worldwide, leading to increased demand and further growth for Kershaw Knives.


The period between 1980 and 1990 was a transformative decade for Kershaw Knives. The company's commitment to innovation and collaboration led to the introduction of groundbreaking designs and technologies that set Kershaw apart from its competitors. As the company expanded its product lineup and forged partnerships with renowned designers, it solidified its position as an industry leader, paving the way for continued growth and success in the years to come.

The 1990s: A Pivotal Decade for Kershaw Knives and the Advent of the SpeedSafe® Assisted Opening Mechanism

The 1990s marked a significant period of growth and innovation for Kershaw Knives. As the company continued to expand its product line and establish itself as a leading knife manufacturer, it developed groundbreaking technologies that would redefine the industry. One such innovation was the SpeedSafe® assisted opening mechanism, patented in 1996, which revolutionized how folding knives were designed and used.

  1. The Development of SpeedSafe®

The concept of the SpeedSafe® assisted opening mechanism was born out of a desire to make folding knives safer, easier, and more efficient to open. This innovative technology was a collaborative effort between Kershaw Knives and renowned knife designer Ken Onion, who had previously partnered with Kershaw on the Random Task knife.

The SpeedSafe® mechanism employs a torsion bar that assists in opening the knife, enabling users to quickly and safely deploy the blade with minimal effort. When the knife is closed, the torsion bar keeps the blade secure, preventing accidental opening. This combination of safety and ease of use marked a significant departure from traditional folding knife designs, which often required considerable force to open and posed a higher risk of injury.

2. The Impact of SpeedSafe® on the Knife Industry

The introduction of the SpeedSafe® assisted opening mechanism profoundly impacted the knife industry. The technology provided a safer and more user-friendly option for folding knife users and set a new standard for innovation and design. As a result, Kershaw Knives received widespread acclaim and recognition for its pioneering work in developing the SpeedSafe® mechanism.

The success of the SpeedSafe® technology led to its incorporation into numerous Kershaw knife models, ranging from everyday carry (EDC) knives to tactical and professional-grade tools. The popularity of SpeedSafe®-equipped knives also prompted other knife manufacturers to develop their assisted opening mechanisms, further pushing the industry's innovation boundaries.

3. Kershaw's Continued Growth and Innovation

The 1990s proved to be a pivotal decade for Kershaw Knives as the company continued to grow and explore new avenues of innovation. With the success of the SpeedSafe® assisted opening mechanism, Kershaw Knives had established itself as a leader in cutting-edge knife technology. This reputation for innovation and excellence set the stage for subsequent knife design and manufacturing advancements.

Throughout the remainder of the 1990s and into the 2000s, Kershaw Knives continued developing and refining its product line, incorporating new materials, technologies, and designs to cater to its customer's evolving needs and preferences. The company's commitment to excellence and innovation would pave the way for future collaborations with renowned knife designers and the introduction of groundbreaking technologies that would further define Kershaw Knives as a leading force in the knife industry.


The 1990s marked a critical period in Kershaw Knives' history, as the company patented its groundbreaking SpeedSafe® assisted opening mechanism and solidified its position as an industry leader. This decade of innovation and growth laid the foundation for Kershaw's continued success, as the company remained committed to pushing the boundaries of knife design and technology. The SpeedSafe® mechanism, in particular, served as a testament to Kershaw's dedication to improving user safety and experience, setting the stage for future advancements in the knife industry.

The Introduction of Zero Tolerance (ZT) Line in 2006: A New Era of Professional-Grade Knives

  1. The Birth of the Zero Tolerance Line

In 2006, Kershaw Knives made a strategic move to cater to the needs of professional users, such as law enforcement, military personnel, and first responders, by introducing the Zero Tolerance (ZT) line of knives. The ZT line was specifically designed to address the unique requirements of these professionals, emphasizing robust construction, premium materials, and cutting-edge design. The introduction of the ZT line allowed Kershaw to tap into a new market segment and further solidify its reputation as a leading knife manufacturer.

2. Robust Construction and Premium Materials

The Zero Tolerance line of knives was built to withstand the most demanding conditions and rigorous use. Kershaw focused on creating knives with robust construction, using high-quality materials like CPM S30V and CPM 20CV stainless steel for blades and titanium or G-10 for handles. These materials offer exceptional durability, corrosion resistance, and edge retention, making ZT knives ideal for professionals who rely on their tools in critical situations.

3. Cutting-Edge Design and Functionality

Kershaw's commitment to innovation and excellence extended to the design and functionality of the ZT line of knives. The company worked closely with renowned knife designers like Rick Hinderer and Dmitry Sinkevich, incorporating their expertise and unique design elements into the ZT knives. The collaboration with these designers allowed Kershaw to create knives that were visually striking and highly functional, with features such as advanced locking mechanisms, ergonomic handles, and efficient blade deployment systems.

4. Expanding the Zero Tolerance Line

The success of the initial ZT models led Kershaw to further expand its offerings within the Zero Tolerance line. The company continued to develop new designs and technologies, catering to the evolving needs of professional users. This ongoing commitment to innovation and excellence in the ZT line resulted in a diverse range of knives, including folding, fixed-blade, and multi-tools, each designed to meet the specific requirements of law enforcement, military personnel, and first responders.

5. The Impact of the Zero-Tolerance Line on Kershaw's Reputation

The introduction and subsequent success of the Zero Tolerance line of knives further cemented Kershaw's reputation as a leading manufacturer of high-quality, innovative cutlery. By addressing the unique needs of professional users and collaborating with renowned designers, Kershaw created a line of knives that stood out in the market and garnered widespread praise for their performance, durability, and design.


The introduction of the Zero Tolerance line of knives in 2006 marked a new era for Kershaw Knives, as the company expanded its focus to cater to the needs of professional users like law enforcement, military personnel, and first responders. The ZT line's emphasis on robust construction, premium materials, cutting-edge design, and collaborations with renowned designers like Rick Hinderer and Dmitry Sinkevich allowed Kershaw to further refine and expand its offerings. As a result, the Zero Tolerance line became a testament to Kershaw's commitment to innovation, quality, and performance, reinforcing the company's position as a leading force in the knife industry.

Continued Innovation and Expansion in the 2010s: Composite Blade Technology, Collaborations, and Acquisitions

  1. Introduction of Composite Blade Technology in 2011

Kershaw Knives has always been at the forefront of innovation in the cutlery industry, and the introduction of Composite Blade Technology in 2011 was no exception. This groundbreaking technology involved the fusion of two different types of steel to create a single blade, allowing users to experience the best properties of both materials. This innovation resulted in knives with excellent edge retention, corrosion resistance, and enhanced strength.

The Composite Blade Technology was first introduced in the Kershaw Leek model, designed by Ken Onion. The blade combined a high-performance CPM-D2 cutting edge with a corrosion-resistant Sandvik 14C28N spine, offering an optimal balance of performance and durability. This unique technology set Kershaw apart from its competitors and reaffirmed the company's commitment to pushing the boundaries of knife design.

2. Strengthening Collaborative Efforts with Renowned Designers

Kershaw Knives has fostered strong relationships with renowned designers, such as Jens Anso and Todd Rexford, throughout the past decade. These collaborations have allowed Kershaw to incorporate fresh perspectives and design elements into its product lineup, resulting in a diverse range of knives that cater to various preferences and uses.

Working with Danish designer Jens Anso, Kershaw developed models like the Zing, which featured Anso's signature textured handle pattern and a unique blade shape. Similarly, Kershaw's collaboration with Todd Rexford led to popular knives such as the Amplitude, which combined sleek aesthetics with functional design.

These collaborative efforts have not only contributed to the ongoing growth and success of Kershaw Knives but also reinforced the company's reputation for innovation and excellence in the cutlery industry.

3. Acquisition of Al Mar Knives in 2018

In 2018, Kershaw Knives' parent company, Kai USA Ltd., acquired the Al Mar Knives brand, a well-respected knife manufacturer known for its high-quality craftsmanship and attention to detail. This acquisition allowed Kershaw to diversify its product lineup and cater to a broader range of customers, including knife enthusiasts, collectors, and professionals.

The acquisition of Al Mar Knives also allowed Kershaw to leverage the expertise and reputation of the Al Mar brand, incorporating its design elements and manufacturing techniques into Kershaw's existing product lineup. This strategic move further solidified Kershaw's position as a leading force in the knife industry.


The past decade has seen Kershaw Knives continue to innovate and expand its reach through groundbreaking technologies like the Composite Blade Technology, collaborative efforts with renowned designers, and strategic acquisitions. These initiatives have allowed the company to maintain its position as a leading knife manufacturer, offering a diverse range of high-quality, innovative products to cater to various customer needs and preferences. Kershaw's ongoing commitment to excellence and innovation ensures that the company remains at the forefront of the cutlery industry, shaping the future of knife design and manufacturing.

Embracing the Digital Landscape: Kershaw Knives' Strong Online Presence and Customer Engagement

  1. Adapting to the Digital Age

As the digital landscape continues to evolve, Kershaw Knives has recognized the importance of adapting its marketing and communication strategies to stay relevant and connected with its customer base. The company has embraced the opportunities presented by online platforms and social media, establishing a strong presence on various channels, including Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. This digital transformation has allowed Kershaw to broaden its reach, enhance customer engagement, and maintain its competitive edge in the knife industry.

2. Showcasing Products and Tutorials

One of the key benefits of Kershaw's online presence is the ability to showcase its product lineup and demonstrate the features and functionality of its knives. Through high-quality videos, images, and engaging content, Kershaw can effectively highlight the unique selling points of its products, allowing potential customers to make informed decisions about their purchases.

Moreover, Kershaw uses its online platforms to offer tutorials and demonstrations, helping customers get the most out of their knives. These tutorials cover various topics, such as knife maintenance, sharpening techniques, and safe handling practices. By providing this valuable educational content, Kershaw supports its customers and reinforces its reputation as an industry expert and authority on knives.

3. Fostering Community and Customer Engagement

Another significant advantage of Kershaw's online presence is the opportunity to foster a sense of community among knife enthusiasts and customers. Through social media channels like Facebook and Instagram, Kershaw can engage directly with its audience, answering questions, addressing concerns, and sharing user-generated content.

This active engagement allows Kershaw to receive invaluable customer feedback, helping the company identify areas for improvement and tailor its product offerings to better meet customer needs. Additionally, by providing a space for knife enthusiasts to share their experiences, tips, and passion for knives, Kershaw contributes to the growth of a vibrant and supportive community.

4. Staying Ahead of the Curve

Embracing the digital landscape has proven to be a strategic move for Kershaw Knives, as the company's strong online presence and customer engagement have contributed to its ongoing success in the cutlery industry. By staying ahead of the curve and leveraging the power of digital platforms, Kershaw can maintain its competitive edge and continue to connect with its customers in meaningful ways.


Kershaw Knives' adaptation to the ever-evolving digital landscape has allowed the company to enhance its online presence and customer engagement through various channels, such as Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. By showcasing new products, offering tutorials, and fostering a sense of community among knife enthusiasts, Kershaw has successfully harnessed the potential of digital platforms to broaden its reach and reinforce its reputation as a leading knife manufacturer. This strategic approach ensures that Kershaw remains at the forefront of the industry, adapting and evolving to meet the needs and preferences of its customers in the digital age.

Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility: Kershaw Knives' Commitment to Social and Environmental Impact

  1. Responsible Sourcing of Materials

Kershaw Knives understands the importance of environmental stewardship and corporate responsibility in the 21st century. As a result, the company is committed to responsible sourcing of materials, ensuring that its products are manufactured with minimal environmental impact. Kershaw works closely with its suppliers to ensure that the materials used in its knives, such as steel, wood, and other components, are obtained from ethical and sustainable sources. By prioritizing responsible sourcing, Kershaw demonstrates its dedication to preserving natural resources and promoting sustainable business practices.

2. Reducing Environmental Impact through Recycling and Energy-Saving Initiatives

Kershaw Knives is also dedicated to minimizing its environmental footprint through recycling programs and energy-saving initiatives. The company has implemented comprehensive recycling programs at its facilities, ensuring that waste materials, such as metal shavings and discarded components, are appropriately recycled and reused whenever possible. Additionally, Kershaw has adopted energy-saving initiatives, such as installing energy-efficient lighting and equipment, to reduce its overall energy consumption and carbon emissions. These efforts reflect Kershaw's commitment to reducing its environmental impact and embracing sustainable business practices.

3. Supporting Charitable Causes and Organizations

In addition to its environmental initiatives, Kershaw Knives actively supports charitable causes and organizations as part of its corporate responsibility efforts. The company has partnered with several nonprofit organizations, such as the National Breast Cancer Foundation, the Special Operations Care Fund, and the American Red Cross, to contribute to their missions and provide financial support.

For instance, Kershaw has created limited-edition pink versions of some of its popular knife models, with a portion of each sale being donated to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. Similarly, the company has collaborated with the Special Operations Care Fund. This nonprofit organization supports the families of wounded and fallen special operations personnel to raise funds and awareness for their cause.

4. Fostering a Culture of Corporate Responsibility

Kershaw Knives' dedication to sustainability and corporate responsibility extends beyond its environmental and charitable efforts. The company is committed to fostering a culture of accountability within its workforce, promoting ethical business practices, and encouraging employees to actively engage in community service and volunteer work. By cultivating a culture of corporate responsibility, Kershaw reinforces its commitment to positively impacting society and the environment.


Kershaw Knives' dedication to sustainability and corporate responsibility reflects the company's commitment to making a positive social and environmental impact. Through responsible sourcing of materials, recycling programs, energy-saving initiatives, and support of charitable causes and organizations, Kershaw demonstrates its commitment to preserving the environment, giving back to the community, and promoting ethical business practices. By integrating sustainability and corporate responsibility into its core values, Kershaw Knives sets an example for other companies in the industry and ensures its continued success as a socially and environmentally responsible enterprise.

Awards and Recognitions: Celebrating Kershaw Knives' Commitment to Quality and Innovation

  1. Blade Magazine's "Overall Knife of the Year" Awards

Throughout its history, Kershaw Knives has received numerous awards and recognitions, reflecting its commitment to quality and innovation. One of the most prestigious accolades that Kershaw has received is Blade Magazine's "Overall Knife of the Year" award. The company won this esteemed award in 2005, 2007, 2008, 2011, and 2012, showcasing its consistent knife design and manufacturing excellence.

These awards were granted for various innovative Kershaw models, highlighting the company's ability to continuously push the boundaries of knife design and technology. Each winning knife model showcased a unique feature or innovation, such as the patented SpeedSafe® assisted opening mechanism, the revolutionary Composite Blade Technology, or groundbreaking collaborations with renowned designers.

2. Blade Magazine's "American-Made Knife of the Year" Awards

In addition to its multiple "Overall Knife of the Year" awards, Kershaw Knives was recognized with Blade Magazine's "American-Made Knife of the Year" awards in 2010, 2011, and 2018. This award celebrates the best knives manufactured in the United States, emphasizing quality, craftsmanship, and design.

Kershaw's winning models for this award were praised for their exceptional materials, innovative features, and impeccable fit and finish. These accolades underscore Kershaw's dedication to producing high-quality, American-made products that cater to various customer needs and preferences.

3. Industry Recognition and the Pursuit of Excellence

Kershaw Knives' numerous awards and recognitions are a testament to the company's commitment to quality and innovation and evidence of its respected position within the knife industry. By consistently pushing the boundaries of knife design and technology, Kershaw has earned customers' and industry experts' admiration and respect.

These accolades serve as a driving force for Kershaw, motivating the company to strive for excellence in every aspect of its operations. Kershaw's unwavering pursuit of innovation and quality has solidified its reputation as a leading force in the cutlery industry.


Kershaw Knives numerous awards and recognitions, including Blade Magazine's "Overall Knife of the Year" and "American-Made Knife of the Year" awards, highlight the company's unwavering commitment to quality and innovation. These accolades reflect Kershaw's dedication to pushing the boundaries of knife design and technology, setting the standard for excellence within the industry. By continuously pursuing innovation and maintaining its focus on quality, Kershaw Knives ensures its ongoing success and position as a cutlery market leader.

Final Conclusion:

The history of Kershaw Knives is a remarkable tale of perseverance, innovation, and an unwavering dedication to excellence. From its humble beginnings in 1974, when founder Pete Kershaw sold knives from the trunk of his car to its present-day status as a global leader in the knife industry, Kershaw has consistently pushed the boundaries of knife design and technology. The company's journey is a testament to its ability to adapt, evolve, and remain at the forefront of an ever-changing market.

Throughout its history, Kershaw Knives has been marked by a commitment to collaborative efforts with renowned designers, such as Rick Hinderer, Dmitry Sinkevich, Jens Anso, and Todd Rexford. These partnerships have not only allowed Kershaw to tap into the expertise and creativity of some of the world's most talented knife designers but also contributed to its impressive portfolio of groundbreaking innovations. These include the patented SpeedSafe® assisted opening mechanism, the Composite Blade Technology, and the introduction of the Zero Tolerance line of knives designed for professional users.

Kershaw Knives' dedication to quality and craftsmanship is evident in every aspect of its operations, from the careful selection of materials and suppliers to the stringent quality control measures employed in its manufacturing processes. This commitment to excellence has earned Kershaw numerous awards and recognitions, further solidifying its reputation as a pioneer in the cutlery industry.

In addition to its focus on innovation and quality, Kershaw Knives has consistently prioritized customer satisfaction. The company has embraced the digital landscape to engage with its customers, showcase new products, and offer educational content, ensuring its users have the best possible experience with their knives. Kershaw's dedication to its customers also extends to its sustainability and corporate responsibility efforts, reflecting the company's commitment to positively impacting society and the environment.

As Kershaw Knives moves forward into the future, its dedication to quality, innovation, and customer satisfaction will undoubtedly continue to shape the trajectory of the knife industry. By maintaining its focus on these core principles and embracing new opportunities for growth and expansion, Kershaw Knives will not only continue to lead the way in the world of cutlery but also inspire others to follow in its footsteps, pushing the boundaries of what is possible in knife design and technology.

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