His name was John Ek and he was a knife-maker. An American of Scandinavian descent, Ek decided that he would make a knife specifically for US Commandoes. He wanted to make a knife that would only be used by American soldiers, and when the war was over, the soldier returned the knife for another soldier.
He made hundreds of thousands of them, some one sided blades, some with two sided blades, some with and some without a cross guard. Each knife had a registration number and a file tracking its whereabouts and who had it last.
His idea was simple. First of all build a knife that had the kind of hand craftsmanship that one would find in a bench-made knife. He wanted the kind of steel that would hold an edge and be resistant to rust. He felt that the tang of other knives shaped like a rat-tail that only extended a third of the way into the handle was sloppy construction. So he made knives with a steel tang that actually went into the handle, was bigger than the handle, and if the handle rotted off or broke off, you could still wrap something around it and still go to war. He made a handle so sturdy and easy to grip that it did not need a cross guard that might get caught on a pants pocket or a belt buckle.
They first were made of 1/8th inch tool steel with rock maple handles fastened with three poured lead rivets. In 1941, these knives lacked consistent look and shaped and size and were not works of art. They were however dependable. They did not break, they held an edge, and these knives and the men who wield them have proven them in Europe, Japan, Korea, Afghanistan, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq.
They were first built in 1941 in Hamden, Connecticut. The company then moved to Miami and years later it moved to Richmond. The Richmond blades are considered the best. Today handles are made of grooved black Micarta and deeply grooved hand-checkered walnut. Originally the knife was made with poured lead rivets so that a soldier in the field who had a loosened handled and couldn’t find a screwdriver could pick up a rock and hit the rivets. Today this model has machined brass X-nut screws.
When John Ek went before the War Department and asked for rolls of high carbon steel, they were skeptical. They needed high carbon steel for tank barrels. This was a time of rationing, because a war had to be fought. He felt his knives were better, more reliable weapons than most of what the men carried. He took one of his production models, went to the car, pulled off a hub cap and filled his hand with car grease, grabbed the knife and thrust it into the floor so securely none of them could pull it out.
He got his Venadium, and Poly-Chromium and Molybdenum high carbon steel alloys. He also made sure to hire the disabled. He felt that a knife was better than a gun because it could never run out of bullets and was so passionate about his trade that it is said Patton had a specially made knife from John Ek.
He died some years ago and his trade name is owned by Robert Beuerlein in Richmond Virginia.
Buerlein, Robert. 1984. Allied Military Fighting Knives. American Historical Society.