Throughout history, knives have played a significant role in human civilization as tools, weapons and cultural symbols.
Different cultures have approached knives from different perspectives. For some, like the Swiss, a knife offered the chance to provide both a weapon and useful tools. In Yemen, a special knife represented manhood. And in the United States, a wild frontiersman developed a blade meant for hand-to-hand combat.
The following represent some of the many famous knives throughout history, each created for very different reasons.
Swiss Army Knife
The German name for this knife is “Offiziersmesser,” but when World War II American soldiers came across the weapon they had difficulty pronouncing the word. So they dubbed it the Swiss Army Knife. The famous knife contains blades and tools that fold into the handle. NASA astronauts have used the knife on space missions and the Museum of Modern Art added the knife to its collection because of its unique design.
This famous knife came into use in the 17th century as warriors turned to lighter weapons. The dagger replaced a shield and fighters used it to deflect blows from swords. The daggers also had the added benefit of being a weapon that, in skilled hands, became just as deadly as the sword. Parry daggers typically came with handles that could trap a sword, giving a fighter a few extra seconds to strike a blow with the sword in the other hand.
This double-edged knife proves interesting because it was as much a status symbol as a weapon. Men in Yemen received the knife in their teens, often adorning it jewels. The knife symbolized both social status and the transformation into manhood. Even today, some still would rather die than be seen in public without their jambiya knife.
These ritual daggers came out of India. More symbolic than a weapon, the daggers were not meant for use in combat. The three-sided blade represented the symbolic cutting of ignorance, greed and aggression.
A fixed blade fighting knife, this blade became famous for its use by frontiersman Jim Bowie. James Black, am Arkansan blacksmith, created the knife based on Bowie’s design. However, the first version of the knife, used by Bowie at the famous Vidalia Sandbar Fight against several men in 1827, may have been designed by his brother, Rezin.
Mark I Trench Knife
The American military issued this knife to soldiers during World War I and again in World War II. The double-edged fixed blade came with a bronze guard for individual fingers that allowed the user’s knuckles to rest against the handle, protecting them. The military came up with the design after exhaustive research on what traits a knife needed to work best in trench warfare.
These represent just a handful of some of history’s most famous knives. Each in its own way has a unique place in history, and proves that knives have been important for centuries not just as weapons but as cultural symbols.