Like the words 'aspirin', 'band-aid' and 'kleenex' a commercial name has come to refer to a generic line of products that are more correctly known as multi-tools.
Leatherman gets the recognition, however, because they were first on the scene with the concept and from the beginning their products were always at the top of the heap in terms of quality and design.
It is difficult today to understand the impact the Leatherman design had on the knife and tool market when it appeared 30 years ago. Before Tim Leatherman invented the Leatherman there was... not much, really. In the Victorian era the cutlers of Sheffield created some pretty spectacular multi-tool pocket knives but those were mostly for display at exhibitions and trade fairs; more demonstrations of manufacturing prowess than commercial products intended for real world use. Later we had the Swiss Army Knife, the Boy Scout knife and a few really oddball interchangeable tool systems that were better suited to the toolbox than the pocket. The Leatherman was the first well designed, well made and truly useful tool kit you could easily carry on your belt or in your pocket.
What made the Leatherman successful was the basic approach to the issue. Things like Swiss Army Knives are pocket knives with a few tools incorporated. The Leatherman is a tool kit that incorporates a knife. By not being bound by the traditional pocket knife design Tim Leatherman was able to design the tool using a different approach to the problem. The result is a multi-tool kit that can be used to repair eyeglasses or tune up a HMMWV without breaking a sweat (and I've seen the Leatherman used for both of those repair jobs).
I was on active duty in the Army when these things hit the PX system sometime in 1983. The impact was immediate. Suddenly EVERY Soldier was carrying one and the PX had trouble keeping them in stock. The original model, the PST (Pocket Survival Tool), was so well designed and made that it stayed in the Leatherman lineup for over 20 years.
|Leatherman PST II|
The basic functionality of the PST really hasn't been improved upon. Subsequent Leatherman models added more tools and locking mechanisms but the basic design was so sound that it hasn't changed. It's that good.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then the Leatheman has been flattered almost to death. Within a few years it seemed just about every knife manufacturer had their interpretation of the Leatherman on the market. Most were pretty good. SOG came out early with some good designs that gained wide acceptance in the US military. Gerber and Buck still list fairly good multi-tools in their catalogs, and even Victorinox (the Swiss Army Knife people) got into the act, putting out a beautiful but over-built and overly heavy example.
But in my opinion Leatherman's design and execution are still the best. That's why when someone asks "What kind of multi-tool should I get?" I just answer, "Get a Leatherman. It doesn't much matter which one because they are all good."
So Happy 30th Birthday, Leatherman. And keep 'em coming!