New Documentary Series Tells KA-BAR’s Story

Today, KA-BAR released Episode 1 (shown below) of a four-part documentary to celebrate its 120th anniversary in the knife making business. The documentary will consist of four 8-15 minute episodes, chronicling the history of KA-BAR from its origins in the 19th century until today.

KA-BAR’s Joseph Bradley tells us they chose the documentary format because it provides a great platform for the company to connect with its customers. “We really like interacting with our community with video and the documentary seemed like a natural direction,” he tells us. The knife community responds to the stories behind the product they buy and KA-BAR has a rich history to draw from. Over time, the videos will also serve to help the company keep its organizational culture and make new employees aware of the values the Olean, NY-based knife company was built on.

In the style of popular serial documentaries, KA-BAR’s production will include interviews, dramatic recreations, historical documents and product old and new. Bradley says this series has been an ongoing project. “We have been working on the documentary for about two and a half years. There is just so much information that the scope continued to grow.”

It’s easy to forget the knife market is still a relatively young one. Companies that are considered industry veterans, like Benchmade and Spyderco, have only just celebrated their fortieth anniversaries. As one of the true standbys KA-BAR’s history triples that length and includes many changes of name and location.

“One of the high points in the KA-BAR story is the move to Olean, NY from Tidioute, PA in the early 1900s. At the time the company was known as the Union Cutlery Company; before that Union Razor,” Bradley explains. “Oddly enough, one of the low points was another move several decades later from Olean to Dawsonville, GA. This move was a massive failure, and within a few years KA-BAR returned to Olean.”

Tracking its long history, the filmmakers encountered a pair of complementary challenges. On the one hand, there was a lot of ground, a lot of highs and lows to cover. On the other, a lack of record-keeping in the early 1900s presented serious hurdles. “We often found there were no official records in the early company history,” says Bradley. “It was a different time; if someone wanted to start a business, they could just begin to make a product and stamp a name on it.” Patching together scraps of evidence was a core part of the filming process. “This story was pieced together from a variety of sources, and I believe it will continue to evolve and become more precise as time passes.”

Anniversaries in the knife world often mean special releases to coincide with it. Bradley says to expect a particularly strong product year alongside the celebratory documentary. “The plan is for 2018 to be a big product year at KA-BAR,” he tells us. KA-BAR likes to take its time with releases, opting for a ‘when it’s ready’ strategy instead of cramming new releases into the beginning of the year. “The second half of 2018 will see a large number of new products, including limited edition knives.”

Bradley also acknowledges the need to grow KA-BAR’s range of products for the future. They may be known for their USMC Knife but recent times show that companies need to be flexible and adventurous to stay relevant. KA-BAR’s collaboration with Jesse Jarosz has proven fruitful and Bradley says the company will continue to expand. “The game plan for the future is to diversify our lineup. We have a great community and our goal is to accommodate the needs of their lifestyle.”

KA-BAR will launch a segment each Tuesday in April on its website and YouTube page.