Camillus Cutlery Company
|Owners||Acme United Corporation|
The Camillus Cutlery Company was one of the oldest knife manufacturers in the United States as its roots date back to 1876. The Company produced millions of knives until it filed for bankruptcy in 2007 due to fierce overseas competition. Its brand name and intellectual property rights were purchased by Acme United Corporation, which re-launched the Camillus brand in May 2009.
The 14-year old Adolph Kastor (1856–1946), 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 & Bros. on Canal Street in New York City, where he imported and distributed German-made knives.
In 1897, when the Dingley Tariff was enacted, the knives became too expensive to import. The only solution Kastor saw was to manufacture knives domestically. Eventually, his search led him to Charles Sherwood and his small knife manufacturing business in Camillus.
With Adolph Kastor in the driver’s seat, the company started to expand. They bought new machinery, such as steam driven drop forge hammers and fly presses and they adopted new techniques, like using alumina grinding wheels. By 1910, the Camillus Cutlery Company was producing close to a million knives a year and had about 200 employees, many of them German immigrants. The company even built a dormitory to house its German workers.
1914 - 1945
During World War I, Camillus shifted production to support the American, British, Canadian and Dutch forces. The company also manufactured marlinspikes, surgical scalpels, and a folding knife/spoon combination for the Red Cross in those years.
In the 1920s the knife manufacturer introduced stainless steel to its production, and started making collectible character knives, which honored famous people such as George Washington, Babe Ruth, and Buck Rogers. It also began manufacturing private label products for Sears, Craftsman, Woolworth and many others.
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 manufacturer producing the model during World War II. During the war, Camillus also made many other fighting and utility knives for U.S. forces, including machetes, multi-blade utility knives, TL-29 Signal Corps pocket knives for signalmen, electrician's mates, and linesmen, and combination knife/marlinspike pocket knives for use by the U.S. Navy in cutting and splicing lines.
1946 - 2005
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 bladed utility knife. After the Vietnam War, the company continued its growth by adding more new pieces to their already wide product range. In the 1960s, Camillus was sold to the Baer family of New York City.
In 2001 Camillus collaborated with custom Knifemaker Jerry Fisk, the only Knifemaker to be declared a Living National Treasure, to produce a Bowie knife. That same year, Camillus began a partnership with custom Knifemaker 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, employees 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 didn’t agree and the company was subject to a 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. 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.
After the bankruptcy, the original Camillus factory remained empty until it was partly destroyed by fire on February 11, 2013. The buildings were undergoing conversion to medical offices when a spark caught one of the walls on fire.
Camillus as Acme United Brand
In May 2009, Acme United re-launched Camillus at the 2009 National Hardware Show in Las Vegas. 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 2011, 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 amongst knife enthusiasts. In addition, a new line of knives featuring VG10 steel blades was launched.
In December 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 and consisted of several knives and other survival tools. In 2013, five additional Les Stroud knives, called the ‘Les Stroud Elite Series’, were introduced and in 2014 three more tools were added to the family.
In 2013, Camillus re-launched its knives in Europe and soon attracted distributors for the Scandinavian and German speaking countries.
In keeping up with the tradition of selling knifes by well-known designers, Camillus announced early 2014 that knives designed by G&G Hawk and WDZ Knives would soon be available in stores.
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