The Leatherman Tool Story

  • 2 min read
Leatherman Tool Factory in Portland, Oregon

Yes, There is a Real Tim Leatherman

The iconic line of pliers multi-tools is named after the tool's inventor, Tim Leatherman. In the mid 1970's, Tim and his wife, Chau, decided to take the trip of a lifetime - a trip that served as inspiration for Leatherman tools and changed the course of their lives.

The couple set off for the Middle East and Europe to backpack, hitchhike, and see the sites. Finding it tough to get where they needed to go on foot and by relying on the kindness of strangers alone, they found themselves car shopping in the Netherlands, where they purchased a Fiat 600. While the Fiat was more reliable than hitching a ride, it was a bit temperamental and prone to breaking down at inopportune moments.

Armed with a pocket knife and a few rudimentary tools, Tim was able to repair the engine time after time, but during these moments as a roadside mechanic, he jotted down some notes and realized that what he really needed was a pocketknife with pliers built in.

Tim Leatherman's Tool Notes from Europe

Years of Perseverance

It turned out that creating the first pocketknife with full-sized pliers was no easy task. With the unwavering support of Chau, he toiled away in his brother-in-law's garage for over 3 years, spending the final years of his 20's pursuing his idea.

Early Leatherman Tool Prototype

Finally, his hard work paid off, and "Mr. Crunch" was born. A multi-tool with full-sized, full-strength pliers. In 1980, with a prototype and patent in hand, Tim Leatherman set off to see his tool dreams realized.

Unfortunately, his uphill battle was far from over. When he took his idea from the garage to pocket knife companies and stores, he was turned away time after time. Rejection letters piled up as he searched for the perfect market for an idea he knew was a good one.

Leatherman Tool Rejection LetterAt last, he joined forces with his college buddy Steve Berliner, whom he'd met on the opposite side of a ping pong table in college. 

In 1983, after more sweat equity and some refinements, the Personal Survival Tool (PST) struck gold with an order of 500 pieces from a retailer. This original PST featured 14 tools, including the all-important pliers, and was in production until Leatherman retired it in 2004, to be replaced by the 17-function Leatherman Wave as the company's flagship multi-tool.

Leatherman Tools - Made in the USA - Then and Now

Leatherman began production in Portland, Oregon, and remains there to this day. From a modest 30,000 tools sold in 1984, Leatherman has grown exponentially. They passed the 20 million tool mark in 2001, and the factory now employs 550 people.

Tim Leatherman at the Leatherman Multi-tool Factory in Portland, Oregon

Leatherman Saves the Day

Since their invention, Leatherman Tools have helped people survive far more than just routine DIY tasks and small engine repairs. There are countless "tool tales" of lives saved by a well-used Leatherman. From freeing trapped limbs in an emergency to breaking windshields for escape, Leatherman Tools have made a difference.

Tool Tales of Leatherman Rescues from Leatherman Fans

Made of Mettle - The Leatherman Documentary

Learn more about the Leatherman multi-tool story and the amazing rescues made possible by this iconic invention in Leatherman's documentary, Made of Mettle.

Made of Mettle - The Leatherman Tool Documentary

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