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Camillus Cutlery Company

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Topic: Camillus Cutlery Company
January 30, 2013
Camillus Cutlery Company
The company that was to be the forerunner of this cutlery giant was founded in
Camillus, New York, along 9 Mile Creek in Camillus by Charles Sherwood as the
Sherwood Cutlery Company. It was originally used as grains mill from the fist half
of the 19
th
century. In 1894, Sherwoods company made its first shipment of
knives, a total of thirty dozen pieces. The small cutlery manufacturing operation
lasted only a couple of years before the factory was leased to Robeson Cutlery
Company. Sherwood remained as manager during the two-year occupancy and
reopened his business in 1901.
Some twenty years prior to Sherwoods venture, Adolph and Nathan Kastor had
formed a hardware wholesale and knife importing business known as A. Kastor &
Brothers. The 12-year old Adolph Kastor, son of a Jewish family from
Wattenheim, Germany, immigrated to New York in 1870 where he started to work
for his uncle Aaron Kastor in his hardware supply business, Bodenheim, Meyer &
Company. He was first put in charge of cow chains but gradually worked his way
up to the firearms and cutlery department.
In 1873, Bodenheim, Meyer & Company lost one of its founders and restructured
as Meyer & Kastor. Due to poor sales figures, Meyer & Kastor had to close doors
in September 1876. Only a few weeks later, Adolph Kastor started his own
company, Adolph Kastor and Brothers on Canal Street in New York City, where
he imported and distributed German made knives.
The Kastor business grew to the point that it had become the countrys largest
knife importer, but the 1897 Dingley Tariff Act passage caused a substantial
increase in the cost of his imported knives. Wanting to avoid the Tariff, Adolph
Kastor & Brothers purchased Charles Sherwood and his small knife
manufacturing business in 1902 and renamed it Camillus Cutlery Company.
Pocketknives were always the firms primary product, and during World War I
Camillus produced marlinspikes, surgical scalpels, and a folding knife/spoon
combination for the Red Cross as well as the American, British, Canadian and
Dutch forces.
After the war, the firm returned to commercial pocketknives and a new Camillus
salesman, Albert Baer, was hired in 1922. The company introduced stainless
steel to their production line and started making collectible character knives, which honored famous people such as George Washington, Babe Ruth and Buck
Rogers.
Within those first years, Baer was successful in landing the large Sears &
Roebuck account and Camillus began manufacturing the Sears STA-SHARP
brand.
Other large contracts, such as KENT knives made for Woolworths, would
become a major portion of the companys business.
During World War II, Camillus shipped more than 13 million knives of various
styles to the allied forces. In 1942, U. S. Marine Corps officers Colonel John M.
Davis and Major Howard E. America working in conjunction with cutlery
technicians at Camillus developed what would become the USMC 1219C2
Combat Knife, otherwise known as the USMC Mark 2 Combat Knife or Fighting
Utility Knife. After extensive trials, the 1219C2 prototype was recommended for
adoption, and Camillus was awarded the first contract to produce the 1219C2 for
the Marine Corps. Camillus made more 1219C2 / Mark 2 Fighting Utility Knives
than any other knife manufacturing producing the model during World War II.
During the war, Camillus also made many other fighting knives for U.S. Forces,
including machetes, multi-blade utility knives, TL-29 Signal Corps pocket knives
for signalmen, electricians mates, and linesmen, and combination knife /
marlinspike pocket knives for use by the U.S. Navy in cutting and splicing lines.
Albert Baer remained with the company until 1941. More new products were
introduced to the market, and in 1947, Camillus began to manufacture a full line
of official folding knives for the Boy Scouts of America (BSA).
Camillus adopted a number of its own brand names and stampings and large
quantities of knives marked CAMILLUS/CUTLERY CO CAMMILUS NY/USA,
CAMCO, SWORD BRAND, STREAMLINE, MUMBLY PEG and HIGH CARBON
STEEL U.S.A. have been sold over the years.
Although these brands have been slow to achieve desirability in the collector
market, the company has been the major contract manufacture of dozen of other
brands that are in demand. Brand stampings such as O.V.B KEEN KUTTER,
DIAMOND EDGE, VAN KAMP HARDWARE, HENRY SEARS & SONS, and
BUCK are but a few that reflect the manufacturing capabilities of this cutlery
giant. During the Vietnam War, Camillus again manufactured a large number of
knives for the armed forces, for instance a pilot survival knife, a USMC Combat
Knife and a four blade utility knife. After the Vietnam War, the company continued
its growth by adding more new pieces to their already wide product range. In
1963, Camillus was sold to the Baer family of New York and purchased the firm
on behalf of his two daughters.
In 1991, Camillus purchased the rights to the WESTERN brand name. This
Boulder, Colorado company had been making knives since 1896. Other brands produced by Camillus in recent years include Becker Knife and Tool, CUDA, and
a resurrected O.V. B.
In 2001 Camillus collaborated with custom knife maker Jerry Fisk, the only knife
maker to be declared a Living National Treasure, to produce a Bowie knife. That
same year, Camillus began a partnership with custom knife maker Darryl Ralph
to produce a line of titanium framed tactical folding knives.
Since the turn of the century, Camillus Cutlery saw its revenues decline due to
stiff overseas competition and alleged poor management practices. As a result,
employee implemented a four-day workweek after the normal factory shutdown
at Christmas 2005. A few months later, Camillus management proposed large
wage and benefit cuts. Workers didnt agree and the company was subject to
months long strike. In response management locked the workers out for several
months. In November 2006, the striking employees ultimately accepted the
original contract offer but the company only retained 15 of the 78 union members
and laid off the rest.
The lock out ultimately took its toll on Camillus as customers dried up and the
company subsequently filed for bankruptcy and closed its doors on February 28,
2007. Operational control of Camillus Cutlery remained mainly within the Baer
family. On September 18, 2007, the product brand names and intellectual
property of the company were acquired by acme United Corporation in a
bankruptcy auction for $200,000.
In May 2009, Acme United re-launched Camillus at the 2009 National Hardware
Show in Las Vegas, Nevada. The traditional Camillus knives were almost entirely
replaced by new modern knives with durable handles and titanium carbonitride
coated blades. One of the few knives remaining from the old Camillus line is an
updated version of the “Cuda”, which is a folding knife with a one-hand opening
mechanism. It features titanium carbonitride coated blades and ergonomic G-10
fiber handles.
In 2001, Camillus expanded its product range by introducing several new knives,
including the Yello-Jaket and Lev-R-Lok. These two knives were also
manufactured by the old Camillus and are still very popular among knife
enthusiasts. In addition, a new line of knives featuring VG10 steel blades was
launched. In December of 2011, Acme United signed an agreement with Les
Stroud to build and sell Camillus survival knives and tools, co-designed and
promoted by the outdoor adventurer, known from the TV series, Survivorman.
The Les Stroud signature line was launched during the 2012 SHOT Show, held in
Las Vegas, Nevada and consists of several knives and other survival tools.
It is unclear whether or not the companys brand names will survive, but its
highly doubtful that knives will ever again be manufactured in the “cutlery town” of Camillus, New York. The factory in Camillus, New York remains empty and is up
for sale.
Sources
Official Price Guise to Collector Knives, 15
th
Edition by Houston Price and Mark
Zalesky

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