Boker: A Storied History
The chestnut tree on the Böker logo traces its roots back to the first tiny tool shop in Remscheid, Germany. Böker tools were so successful that they were among the most popular of Germans goods 100 years after the company’s humble beginnings. Due to political strife and an unsettled military state, there was demand for sabers so the Böker brothers, Hermann, Heinrich and Robert, began fabricating them in their shop to meet the call of the market. Realizing the demand for all manner of cutting tools and implements not only in Germany but also on a global scale, Hermann Böker emigrated and founded H. Böker & Co. in New York, while his younger brother Robert pursued his trade in Canada, later founding a branch in Mexico in 1865. This branch is still in operation in its country under the name of Casa Böker.
Heinrich went to Solingen, where the German tool industry was quickly growing, to further his enterprise. In 1869, he founded Heinr. Böker & Co. with Hermann Heuser, a prominent specialist in the field of cutting tools. With interest and demand for pocket knives, blades for shaving and scissors, the company wanted to unify its global presence and overcome any existing language barrier. In order to do so, Heinrich felt that the chestnut tree from in front of the Remscheid facility was an easy to remember universal symbol to represent the company’s worldwide reach, along with the arrow symbol. Despite the devastation of World War II, an ad from this time period (1874) survived showing both Böker logos. Since the business relationship between the two family branches was always cordial, Heinrich was able to use the new chestnut tree symbol for his Solingen factory, where, since that time, no Böker product has left the Solingen factory without bearing the trademark tree logo. The chestnut tree was over 100 years old when it was struck by lightning. However, in 1925 a local artist carved the image of the grand tree in to a piece of the remaining trunk. This unique piece of art adorns the CEO’s office in the Böker plant.
By 1900, most of Böker’s products were distributed within the United States market. While New York’s H. Boker & Co. focused mainly on cutting tools such as scissors, shaving blades and eating utensils at this point, pocket knives were rapidly becoming more important. The demand surged to even more than Solingen was able to produce, such that in short order the Americans in New York began their own manufacture of pocket knives. After some time, other tools were produced as well, such as pliers. By this point, the tree symbol was widely recognized as a Böker logo. Because the international Böker family had an excellent and profitable working relationship, the Solingen relatives readily agreed to license the use of the tree logo to the American product line. Since then, there’s been two different lines of Böker knives with the same brand markings available on the American market, but one line was simply made in the USA while the other was fabricated at the Solingen factory.
Let’s take a small detour in the middle of our history of Böker to examine a few standouts of the Böker product line.
- The Kalashnikov, in its various forms, is a popular and well regarded automatic knife for good reason. Simply put, it would be hard to do better for the money. With near universally positive reviews, sturdy construction and a can’t-say-no price tag, this is a sharp out of the box auto that punches above its paygrade.
- The Applegate–Fairbairn fighting knife is a WWII combat style knife featuring a double-edged dagger blade profile designed by Col. Rex Applegate and William E. Fairbairn. Working with Fairbairn to improve upon existing design, Col. Applegate gave the knife a wider and sturdier blade style along with adjustable lead weights that can shift the knife’s balance point. Böker offers several different varieties of this combat style dagger design classic.
- Chad Los Banos is a corrections officer, kendo martial artist, and former body builder from Hawaii who has designed some remarkably cool knives in collaboration with Böker. Clearly no stranger to toughness, his designs are bold, fresh and no-nonsense.
- The Kwaiken is the brainchild of New Mexico knifemaker Lucas Burnley. He designed the folding Kwaiken with Böker to translate the basic fixed blade design of the original to a folder format, without drastic modifications to the proportions. The Kwaiken is a hot design that comes in several varieties.
One thing that people who generally associate Böker with fixed and folding knives may be surprised to find out about the company’s involvement with shaving blade and accessories. Since 1869 in Solingen, Germany, Böker has produced straight razors to the same exacting standards, using the same high quality materials, as its other cutting tools. With this commitment to quality, Böker razors were well regarded but after WWII, production of straight razors began to gradually wind down. Today, the production of razors is again in operation in Solingen, manufacturing straight razors in the old tradition of quality crafting and only the best materials. These new straight razors are the result of 170 individual production steps to ensure their quality over inferior razor blades. These extra steps produce a razor blade that can pass the so-called “finger test”, where only perfectly ground blades bend when pressed in to a thumbnail and return immediately to their original shape. Other razor blades, not so finely ground, are too thick to pass this test. Böker’s high standards for production and materials help to guarantee this high performance construction.
Back to our company history, among the multitude of devastating events during WWII was the decimation of the Solingen factory. No equipment, tools, catalog materials or samples survived through the end of the war. Anything surviving from this era was preserved by private hands and subsequently made available to Böker for posterity. Due to American law, the copyright for the American usage of the tree symbol was confiscated. Fortunately though, John Boker Jr. was able to acquire the rights in New York, so that the distribution of the American and German products were once again possible.
Immediately after the war, the factory that was destroyed was rebuilt. Many skilled workers returned to facilitate the rec onstruction of the building as well as the manufacturing, increasingly restoring the plant to its peak production performance. International relations were soon restored and business began booming once again.
With the advent of the 60s, Boker USA was sold to established scissors manufacturer Wiss & Sons. Wiss kept manufacturing Böker knives and began to sell them together with the Solingen factory’s products. As such, Böker scissors were no longer a competitor to Wiss scissors in the American market. Roughly 10 years later, Wiss sold the Böker rights to a multinational conglomerate known as Cooper Industries. This American development would bode well for Böker.
Another change befell the company in 1983, as Cooper discontinued the making of pocket knives. Today, current models in production are manufactured in the Solingen plant. Due to amicable relations and mutual profitability, Cooper Industries reinstated the American trademark rights three years later in 1986, providing the Solingen establishment the ability to serve the vast American marketplace. In 1986, Boker USA, Inc. was born in Denver, Colorado.
The growth of the Böker name in Argentina, Chile and Mexico is because of the 19 th and 20 th century efforts of Böker family members. Today's trademark includes the names “Treebrand” and “Arbolito” in these Latin countries. Because the Argentinian market is often susceptible to great economic and political instability, the brand name “Arbolito” was in danger of becoming extinct. Luckily in 1983, Boeker Arbolito S. A. was founded in cooperation with the Salzmann family in large part for the manufacture of vocational and domestic knives in Argentina. Thanks to innovations and the expansion of production the company in Buenos Aires is able to enjoy an established worldwide presence today. With its rich history and traditions, as well as its ability to roll with the economic punches, the Böker name is likely to carry on for another 100-plus years.