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Established in Portland, Oregon in 1983, Leatherman Tool Group is credited with creating the modern multi-tool category. ‘Multitools’ have been around since the Roman times (read the History of the Multitool) but Tim Leatherman was the first to incorporate a full-sized pliers as the central function when he set out to create “a boy scout knife with pliers”. The Pocket Survival Tool (PST) was originally sold through mail order outlets because the established knife companies thought it was a tool and the tool companies thought it was a knife. After catching on in the market, the PST took off and the rest is history. Fortunately, the drawbacks of the PST created an entire industry that set out to solve the following challenges with consistent innovation:
- Implements don’t lock open
- Implements clump together
- Sheet metal handles dig into hands when gripped tightly
- Handles must be opened to access tools
- Not enough options/features!
From the 30,000 sold in 1984, Leatherman now outputs up to 17,000 tools each week from their only manufacturing site in Portland. They introduced folding knives into the product line in 2005, added their first retail outlet in 2007, and in 2011 they acquired German light manufacturer LED Lenser. They currently offers over 28 different models of multitool and sells folding knives using the Crater name.
Leatherman Tool Group offers an extensive family of multitools categorized into the following product lines:
- Heavy Duty – Super Tool 300, Crunch, MUT, OHT, Surge
- Full Size – Charge, Raptor, Rebar, Sidekick, Wave, Wingman, Z-Rex
- Pocket Size – Freestyle, Juice, Skeletool
- Keychain – Micra, Squirt, Style
WHY YES, THERE IS A MR. LEATHERMAN
Tim Leatherman (an Oregon native) received his Mechanical Engineering degree from Oregon State University. While on a budget trip to Europe in 1975, Tim and his wife Chau constantly came across leaky hotel plumbing and road-side fixes for their cranky Fiat. Tim realized the need for a pliers based, multi-purpose tool. “I was carrying a scout knife and used it for everything from slicing bread to fixing the car. But I kept wishing I had a pair of pliers!”.
When Tim came back to the states, he took his “multi-tool” idea, some sketches he made on the trip and got to work.
When Tim started on the prototype for this new tool, he estimated it’d take him a month. Instead, it took the next three years to build the prototype he envisioned and file for a patent. With the patent application and prototype in hand, he set off to sell his idea. Unfortunately, the companies he approached didn’t bite. Knife companies thought his invention was a tool, and tool companies thought it was a gadget. Neither were interested.
For another three and a half years, Tim faced one rejection letter after another. Until he partnered with his college friend, Steve Berliner, and in the spring of 1983, they received their first order for 500 tools from Cabela’s and launched the first Leatherman tool.
The original Leatherman tool was called the PST, or known as the Pocket Survival Tool. Eight years in the making, the PST comprised of 13 different tools and folded up into a five ounce, four inch toolbox. In the first year of business, Tim and Steve hoped to sell 4,000 tools; instead, they sold 30,000. And over the next decade, they would sell over one million PST multi-tools.
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