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History of Handy Twine Knife

James R. Caldwell, a U.S. railway postal clerk, invented the Handy Twine Knife in the late 1800's. In those days, the mail was moved by trains. Railway postal clerks were responsible for collecting and sorting the mail for delivery.

While in transit, the clerks would use twine to bundle the mail for the next stop. The clerks carried pocket knives in order to cut the twine.

Caldwell’s route was from Chicago to Pittsburgh and back again. Often, there was not much time between stops, so the pace was fast. That quick pace along with the constant movement of the rail car, made it impossible for him to keep track of his pocketknife.

One day after work, Mr. Caldwell went home and came up with a “better mousetrap.” He took a piece of copper, bent it around his finger, and attached the blade from his pocketknife to the copper band with a small screw and nut. That original knife is on rotating display at Smithsonian Postal Museum in Washington D.C.


Not Surprisingly, Caldwell soon began getting requests from his co-workers for their own "handy" and the company had its beginning. After some design changes and a few years of making twine knives in the evenings after Caldwell’s regular job, the Handy Twine Knife Company was formed. The first recorded sale of a knife was in 1904. The drawings and application for a patent were filed in October of 1910 and approved in July of 1912. Since then, the name “handy” and the distinctive design of the utility knife have been protected by U.S. Patent and Trademark Laws.

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