POST FALLS, Idaho — It was 1902 in Leavenworth, Kansan when Hoyt Heath Buck took metal to stone and created the first Buck knife, primarily out of necessity. Hoyt could not find a decent cutting tool for work on the farm so the 13-year-old blacksmith wannabe made his first knives from broken rasps and other discarded farming material.
He started selling them to his friends charging a penny or a nickel. According to Chuck Buck, CEO of the Buck Knife Company, “That’s where we say our first actual Buck knife was made even though we were not organized as a company.”
Two years later, H.H. Buck moved to Tacoma where he would eventually meet his wife, Daisy. Chuck’s father Al Buck, was the first-born of seven kids of HH and Carolyn (Daisy) Buck and the ground floor of the Buck Knife dynasty was established.
From that Kansas beginning the Buck Knife Company has had several stops along the way, including one in Mountain Home, Idaho from 1941 to 1945 where from the basement of his home, Hoyt made more than 2,000 specialty knives for U.S. troops shortly after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
After the war Hoyt moved to Southern California to make a go of his fledgling knife making operation. His oldest son, Al, was a San Diego transit system bus driver with a nine-to-five job that paid pretty well. The young Buck had four kids and family obligations but shortly after he started helping his father in the evenings he quit his transit job because he saw financial potential in the knife making business.
They started buying small three-quarter inch ads in Field and Stream, Outdoor Life and Sports Afield selling knives for about five dollars apiece. Today, those knives are collector’s items and go for several thousand dollars on eBay.
Uncertain as to the future of their enterprise, the Bucks kept producing quality knives that were soon gaining in reputation for quality and their ability to hold an edge. The elder Buck would do all the fine grinding making the blade that would fit the handle Al created.
A few years later, Hoyt was diagnosed with colon cancer and ended up in the hospital. Without sounding too callus, Al thought “what happens to the knife making operation if dad passes away.”
So handle-maker Al went to the grinder and ground a couple of blades and brought them to his father in the hospital who said, “Al, I know your trying hard but you got angles wrong on this one and the hollow grind is too high on this side and the handle doesn’t fit.”
So Al took those home and ground them again and took them back to his dad who said “I can tell you are really trying, but this is wrong and that is wrong.”
But Al kept on grinding because he didn’t want the company to go away. The third time Hoyt said “Now you got it Al. That’s just the way to do it!”
Ramping up the business
For 11 years Al Buck kept the business going. In 1961, Al was in choir practice when the pastor walked over to him and asked a question about the knives the family was making. The pastor said “Al, you literally have your nose to the grindstone and you need to incorporate and put in some money so you can get equipment and tooling machines so you can start producing in volume.”
This was all new to my dad, Chuck said. “There was a guy that sat next to my dad in the little choir and he told my dad that he really had to do it and he would hock his house to invest in the knife company. So dad got really encouraged, and the rest, as they say, is history. ”
Buck Knives in the 21st Century
Through the years as the company has grown, diversified, moved some work off-shore, moved it back on-shore and moved to Idaho, quality has been a cornerstone of the operation.
Now 75 years old, Chuck Buck is the CEO of the knife company his grandfather would never have imagined as he put together his first knife with spare farm parts on his family’s Lawrence, Kansas farm.
The state-of-the-art headquarters and manufacturing plant in Post Falls, Idaho opened in 2005 and its commitment to American manufacturing keeps growing. “We had several options about locations to bring the company after we decided to leave California,” Chuck said.
“We were anxious to get out of California so we looked at Wash., Ore. and Idaho. Wash. and Ore. were similar and Idaho was different and I thought it would still be business friendly in 10 years,” he said. “I know we made the right decision. We hired about 245 people and brought about 60 with us. We are so glad to be here and be part of the community. It feels like coming home.”
Today Chuck has a special parking place in the rear of the company’s headquarters and manufacturing plant and he counts his blessing for the business he is in, the good fortune of the company and the niche they serve.
“There are a ton of people collecting knives and everybody uses knives,” he said. We are known as a hunting knife company, but we have gotten into everyday carrying knives, some assisted opening knives, kitchen knives and even tactical knives.
“We are now in a whole new realm,” Chuck said. “When I walk through the shipping area I see the huge boxes that are being shipped out and I am looking at Moscow delivery destination and it’s not Moscow Idaho, but Moscow Russia.”
Hoyt Heath Buck would be proud of his family legacy of quality and ability to change with the times.
Chuck Buck died at his Idaho home on February 6. He was 78.