The Tools you need to Prepare for the Unexpected

In 1975 Tim Leatherman and his wife set off on a budget trip around Europe. No mobiles or email. Travellers cheques not credit cards. Smoking furiously on a Pan Am flight and hitchhiking as any other means of travel was just too hit and miss.

‘Travel is glamorous only in retrospect’ wrote the prolific American travel author and novelist Paul Theroux.

When Tim and his wife reached Amsterdam they bought a second-hand car, a Fiat costing $300 dollars. It was not very reliable and was constantly breaking down which became a pain when the only tool Tim had was a pocketknife.

Tim Leatherman's Fiat

‘I always wished there were pliers attached’ he later said in an interview. So, whilst in Tiran, Iran, and plenty of free time on his hands he made some designs from the pocket notes he had kept on his travels.

Once home he set about turning his designs into reality in his parents’ garage. For 8 years Tim would try to develop the tool and find customers. From a cardboard cut out to scraps of washing machine moulded into place Tim worked on his design.

Leatherman first tools

Until, nearing the end of the seventh year a friend from college stepped in with some ideas that Tim had not thought of, and a partnership was born.

The idea was to try and sell 4,000 tools within the first year to justify the investment of setting up a new company. If the company could do this, they would break even. So, they contacted the U.S. Army, then the telephone companies and finally mail-order catalogue companies.

Eventually they had a breakthrough with Cabela’s, a hunting, shooting, and fishing catalogue ordering 500 tools with a seven-month lead time which was enough to get them up and running.

 Leatherman's first factory

Father of Tim’s business partner and friend from college, Steve Berliner, had a metal business and so Tim and Steve subcontracted Steve’s dads’ employees and moved their machines into Steve’s dad’s factory and began to fulfil the orders that were now coming in from Early Winters.

The first order Early Winters placed was for 200 tools but two weeks later another order came in for another 500. Two weeks after this the company had sold out of their order and so placed another order, but this time for 1000 tools.

Leatherman's first machines 

People looking through the Early Winters catalogue saw the Pocket Survival Tool and wanted to know what this new-fangled thing was, so they all began to buy it and so did their friends.

Within 10 years Leatherman Inc had gone from selling 200 tools to 1 million.

Today Leatherman makes 8,000 tools per day in its purpose built 90,000 sq. ft. facility in Portland, Oregon.

There is a 200-step process for each tool that is made.

Building 1 is where the individual tools are produced.

Building 3 is where the pliers are produced.

Building 2 is where all the parts come together for assembly.

Leatherman now employs over 500 people, with its factory running both day and night, with most of the work designed and crafted in North America.

Leatherman's blades 


Tim Leatherman

Leatherman's innovation is ongoing, and they work to a three-year plan making sure you have the tools you need to prepare for the unexpected.

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