How Gerber Became A Knife Brand

In 1939, Portland’s very own Pete, Joe, and Ham Gerber decided to start manufacturing and selling culinary knives. They would end up changing their lives and the American knife market. A long time has passed since 1939, with countless stories, products, and people who have helped shape Gerber into the brand it is today. Each month throughout 2024, we’ll be celebrating the anniversary of our legendary origins. And what better way to start than to tell the story of Joe Gerber, and the wild idea that would create Gerber Legendary Blades. 

Believe it or not, Gerber did not always make knives and multi-tools. In fact, Gerber first opened its doors in 1910 as an advertising agency in Portland. Joseph started the agency, and it quickly became one of the largest commercial printers and marketing agencies in the Pacific Northwest. The agency was known as a do-it-all shop, providing everything from stationary to flashy marketing and PR for their large industrial clients. So how did Gerber become a knife brand? It was this strong relationship with these clients, the creative and pioneering mind of an advertising man, and a fortuitous encounter with a knife maker that would launch a whole new endeavor. 

Sometime around 1938, Joe met David Murphy, a local blacksmith employed by the city of Portland. When Murphy was off the clock, he would craft steel culinary blades with aluminum handles and sell them around the city. One day he stopped by the Gerber office and Joe bought out the entire stock. The original plan was to give these knives to the Gerber clients as Christmas presents, but Joe’s entrepreneurial spirit quickly took over. Joe believed with a little marketing and pizazz, he could sell these knives. He met with Murphy again to discuss a deal, a few new designs, and of course, marketing aspects like a wooden presentation box. Murphy thought he was out of his mind, but agreed nonetheless. He’s even quoted as saying “That crazy S.O.B. says he can take three of my knives and put them in a wooden box and sell them for $25.” He then added, “If he is that crazy, I’m just crazy enough to do it for him”. The two had a deal and got to work on this crazy idea. 

Once Joe had this deal done, he got to work on some marketing for these high-end culinary knives. He wrote some copy and story about the superior craftsmanship of the blades and handles. He sold the first set to a little company by the name of Abercrombie & Fitch in New York City. Yes, you did indeed read that correctly. Long before they became the store you still see in the mall, they were one of the original outfitters for outdoorsmen in New York. 

A&F was the first Gerber sale ever made and would be a long-time friend of the brand. Joe continued to do what he did best and began to send samples to journalists and department stores across the US. 

The knives began to take off and sell well until production halted during World War II. Once the war was over and they began to manufacture knives again, Joe’s son Ham, (who had just returned from the war) joined Gerber as president of the company. It wasn’t until 1951 that Pete would join and take over Ham’s position, leaving him to do what he loved most, traveling around setting up Gerber dealerships. 

During these early years, Gerber exclusively made culinary knives. Which begs the question, how did they become an outdoor knife brand? That is a story unto itself, but Gerber made its first hunting knife in 1948 when Hale Woolf of Kalispell, Montana sent in a sketch with a request for a small knife. Gerber obliged and then began to produce the “Shorty”. 

This is just a small glimpse into the history of Gerber. Stay tuned for more stories and insights into the past of this legendary outdoor brand. 


Van Smith

I have had a Gerber carving set in my family since the early 1960’s. My Dad worked for a laundry company and won it as a bonus. I was only 3 or 4 years old but still remember it to this day. It’s in my possession now and while I never learned to use them, I have always been impressed with them and treasure them as a family heirloom. I am a bit of a knife guy, have a couple of other Gerber’s as well.

Matthew Taylo

I worked for Gerber in Portland Oregon in the early 80s and the Cutlery Shop engraved a carving set with steak knives with my fathers initials that I sent him on his birthday in NH, he is now 95 and still has them, I worked in the folding knife department and had a blast working on the old folding knifes they produced back then it was a fun time!

Ralph Williams

Used a Gerber hunting knife for fifty years of big game hunting. Finest hunting blade that I ever owned. I retired from hunting ten years ago and passed the blade onto my barber who is also a big game hunter here in Alberta. The blade is as good as it was fifty years ago.


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