History Of Leatherman Tools … That Almost Didn’t Get Created

Tom reviews the history of Leatherman Tools

Collector's Edition Leatherman Tool
Collector's Edition Leatherman Tool

USA – -(Ammoland.com)-  At this years SHOT Show I had a meeting set-up to meet the Leatherman Tool Group Team.

I thought it’d be an interesting meeting but I didn’t have a clue as to how interesting it would be. The team was super excited to show me what they had and to share their history with me. And it just so happens, they are celebrating their 35th anniversary this year.

Leatherman Tools

Leatherman Tool Assortment
Leatherman Tool Assortment : Lineup of Leatherman products. The Tread has numerous tools included in the bracelet. They also have a watch that utilizes the Tread as the strap.

But let’s back-up. I assume I don’t have to explain what a Leatherman tool is. Heck, even my Librarian daughter has 2-3 of them and said everyone on her fire fighting crew carried one when she was a Hot Shot.

It has to be the most plagiarized tool since the hammer doesn’t it? There are 5,000,000 copy cats and spin-offs out there now.

As I alluded to above, the Leatherman team was one of the most excited companies that I met with all week. Right away they let me know that they were celebrating their 35th anniversary with the production of a Collector’s edition Leatherman with an old school leather sheath.

Tim Leatherman
Tim Leatherman

I thought it’d be cool to do an article covering the history of the Leatherman Tool. It all started with the insight to fulfill a need, or as they say “Necessity is the mother of all inventions”. Tim Leatherman and his young wife took a vacation to Europe. Along the way they encountered leaky hotel plumbing issues along with vehicle problems on their $300 Fiat.

Tim had a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Oregon State University but the only tool he had was his pocket knife. He dreadfully wished for even a pair of pliers. After getting back home he drew up some sketches of what would later evolve into the modern Leatherman Tool.

He told his wife to give him one month to turn his dream into a full-time vocation. Armed with only a hacksaw and a file he set to work to build a prototype. Three years later he emerged with an invention to his likings. He obtained a patent and called it the Mr. Crunch.

He had arrived….or so he thought. I don’t know if you’ve ever strived to bring an invention to fruition but developing it is only half of the battle. Finding someone to buy into your idea is the other half the battle.

Knife companies thought that his invention was a tool and tool companies thought that it was a gadget. No one would buy in.

He had to get a job to support his dream but suffered rejection after rejection. Finally, he partnered with an old college buddy, Steve Berliner that had some marketing skills. By chance a Seattle magazine gave them some sage advice as to making some improvements.

In May 1983 a company finally gave them their break. Cabela’s had enough insight to see a stroke of genius in the making and placed the first order for 500. By December they had sold 3,000 of their multi-tools.

And as they say, the rest is history. As stated at the first, they are commemorating their Leatherman Tools 35th Anniversary by making a Limited-Edition Pocket Survival tool based on the original Mr. Crunch. What a cool story. I’m super glad that Amy invited me to meet with them and hear their history.

Leatherman Wave Tool
Leatherman Wave Tool

I have to wonder, how many companies out there are kicking themselves in the tail for not jumping in hook, line and sinker? One model, their Leatherman Wave Tool has sold over 10 million units since 1998!

Wow, what a great story. Thanks for inviting me to your booth and sharing your history with me Amy.


Tom Claycomb
Tom Claycomb

About Tom Claycomb


Tom Claycomb has been an avid hunter/fisherman throughout his life as well as an outdoors writer with outdoor columns in the magazine Hunt Alaska, Bass Pro Shops, Bowhunter.net and freelances for numerous magazines and newspapers. “To properly skin your animal you will need a sharp knife. I have an e-article on Amazon Kindle titled Knife Sharpening for $.99 if you're having trouble”

  • 19 thoughts on “History Of Leatherman Tools … That Almost Didn’t Get Created

    1. I love mine and have more than I need. They are the most useful tools I own. But a note to Leatherman – Please bring back the Mini!

    2. Leatherman made the Vista Hunter model for a while which was excellent for Turkey hunters. I have misplaced mine and would like another one (or two). Anyone got one for sale? Or can they be produced for sale again? Gene

    3. when they sent a Wave as a replacement for my original, I was done. Till they rerelease the first one they are wasting money on me.

    4. A great story and a great tool. My youngest daughter borrowed mine one fall to open hay bales to feed our horses and dropped the tool in the snow. Early the next fall, I found it while moving hay; it was as good as new. I so much appreciate quality and my Leatherman has it in spades!

      Thank you Mr. Leatherman


    5. I’ve been using Leatherman tools since they first came out. Everyone in the movie business carries at least one. While I also carry an EMT Folding knife, I’m never without a Leatherman because of the pliars. Saves a lot on fingernails. Ditto for the scissors. And the can opener…. I have a few Swiss Army knives; they stay in the drawer at home. Now they are the gimmick (except for the tweezers – great for removing splinters). For big splinters, though, I use the Leatherman pliars.

    6. Great Tool Well Made. I was giving one about 35 years ago for Dads Day. I broke it fixing something for my Daughter when she was like 4, and she is 37 now. She was hurt and made that the tool they gave me broke. I told her not to worry as they will send me a new one Free. And, they did. I don’t think they still have the life time warrnaty, but they are well made tools. I own a few more now a days. Thanks Dave

    7. So… a guy makes an excellent cadre of tools, harms nobody, benefits thousands of people, and the best that some folks can do is complain about his politics.

      So what have you complainers accomplished with your lives?

    8. I never bought one of these, but Leatherman makes a good product, and I do own a couple of these I found in a repo house I was cleaning, and that one says Winchester on it, and the other is just a knock off that came in a case. I suppose they can be handy, depending on your life style, but they just remind me of the old Swiss army knifes that had just about everything on it that you didn’t carry in a suit case. Spoons, and forks, along with basically a Craftsman tool kit. Not to mention every kind of screw driver possible. If you looked hard enough, I think you might come across a Mini chainsaw along with everything else. They were quite bulky, but handy indeed if you could find a way to carry one. I don’t know if the Swiss knives have pliers, but the Leatherman tools have a good way of packing a pair in the tool, and it closes snug without being bulky. I just can’t understand what makes them so expensive, even the knock offs are up there in price, but a lot of people own them. Like the old saying goes, I would rather have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.

    9. Ha HA, that is funny! I don’t know a gun owner that hasn’t got at least one Leatherman tool. I have almost as many of them as i have guns. Most sailors in the Navy carry one every day, I did, they are indispensable when you need to make a quick fix, especially in the middle of the ocean. If i had a nickel for every time i reached for my weatherman, i could have retired years ago. None of the competition even come close to a Leatherman, I have tried a few and none have ever changed my mind.

    10. I was a working supervisor with a secret section of a company that wanted to get business from Japan. When you go to Japan they give you gifts. The group wanted something to give to the business men from Japan. I had them give Leatherman tools. The letherman tools have a “MADE IN USS” on them. Purchased 100+ letherman tools and received several million dollars of business from them. THEY. ALL LIKED THE GIFTS AND THE “USA” ON THEM. We believed it was because of the correct gifts.

    11. I own two of their tools brought the first one in 85 or so broke it a year or so later.
      they replaced it no questions asked.
      Brought a leatherman kick some time back the newer one or older one is on my belt every day.
      I use them a lot.

      It is to bad that the owner is anti gun

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