The history of Stanley knives

Posted by Chris Sugden on

Stanley knives are everywhere. It’s one of the best-known products in the world, indeed, in many parts of the world, including the UK. It has become a generic trademark, like hoovering or photoshopping. People will reach for a ‘Stanley knife’, regardless of who actually manufactured the utility knife they are using.

Stanley’s industrial heritage

Surprisingly, while many may think of the utility knife as their company’s main product, Stanley came late to the knife business. Operating, in various incarnations, for nearly 100 years before bringing its first knife to the market. Indeed, Stanley’s origins were far from knives.

The company was the creation of two cousins, but they did not work together. The first Stanley company was founded in 1843 by Frederick Stanley in Connecticut. Originally known as Stanley’s Bolt Manufactory, the company specialist in door hardware. If you wanted a handle or a bolt, they could help, but it was a few years before they started expanding their range to include tools.

Some years later Frederick’s cousin, Henry, founded another Stanley company: the Stanley Rule and Level Company. Oddly, this meant the two companies were occasionally in competition. Especially as the two companies started diversifying their range.

The two companies eventually merged in 1920, creating Stanley Works. Ninety years later, this company itself merged with another tool giant, creating Stanley Black and Decker.

The innovation of Stanley

Stanley were innovators from the start, constantly researching and working with craftsman to develop new tools and enhance existing tools. Every product in its range gets this treatment. Including the true Stanley knife, which was first launched in 1936. The quality of the manufacture was so high that, although it lacks the benefit of modern materials technology, many old Stanley knives are still in use, having been handed down in families.

The innovation has continued, however. Stanley have constantly worked to improve the quality of their knives and their safety, introducing new blade technologies, such as carbide blades in 2011, to keep blades staying sharper and lasting longer even in demanding trade use.

Stanley knives in Sheffield

Despite being an American company, Stanley was aware of Sheffield’s steel heritage. In 1937, shortly after they introduced their first utility knife, they purchased J.A. Chapman in Sheffield. A major reason for the purchase was to gain access to the skills and expertise in steel and knives in Sheffield.

While Stanley was based in Sheffield, much of their knife development and manufacture was based also based there. Their relationship with the city lasted until 2008 when the site was closed after 70 years of operation as they consolidated their manufacture in other overseas locations.

Choosing Stanley knives

Although there is no longer a direction association between Stanley knives and Sheffield, they remain one of the highest quality utility knives available. Their range contains handles and blades suitable for the whole range of utility knife work, from occasional light cutting to slicing through the toughest materials all day long. And we offer the full range of Stanley handles and replacement blades, so even if they aren’t manufactured here, you can still buy your Stanley knives in Sheffield.


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