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The History Of The 99-Year-Old Buck Knife

Buck Knives: A century of American knifemaking.

Published in the June 2001 issue.

The Buck Knife story began in 1902, in Kansas, with the curiosity and imagination in the fertile mind of a 13-year-old apprentice blacksmith named Hoyt Heath Buck.

He learned to shoe horses, fix wagon wheels and repair farm equipment. He was also the one who had to sharpen the farmers' grub-hoes. They came back so often that Hoyt decided there must be a way to make the metal hold an edge.

After much experimentation, Hoyt developed a tempering process which helped the farmers' hoes hold their edge. Then, with an ample supply of worn-out rasps on hand, he used the same technique to make knife blades that held an edge.

From those first efforts came the basic concepts still embodied in Buck Knives' sophisticated heat-treat and tempering processes.

It sounds simple and direct, but the Buck story is one that followed a circuitous path that led to Buck becoming arguably America's foremost name in knives.

Born in 1889, near Kansas City, Mo., Hoyt Buck was the third of six children. By formal education standards, he was not "well educated." He quit school after the fourth grade, but he was a voracious reader who taught himself English, history and mathematics--and even some Latin and Greek.

And there was wanderlust in this lad. In 1907, he headed northwest to Washington. In Tacoma, Buck sold insurance, worked as a streetcar conductor, and on weekends he helped crew a boat that cruised Puget Sound.

It was on this third job that he met Daisy Louise Green, whose church group had chartered Buck's boat for a day-long retreat in 1908. The two were married and on October 20, 1910, Hoyt and Daisy Buck welcomed the arrival of their first child, Alfred Charles Buck, and over the next 12 years had six more children.

As a teenager, Al Buck was anxious to strike out on his own. In 1927, only 16 and too young to enlist, Al convinced his mother to sign papers that lied about his age.

"It may have been the most dishonest thing she'd ever done in her life," Al recalled years later. "We both had tears in our eyes, but she signed."

In April 1927, Buck reported to the Naval Training Center in San Diego, California, the then-small Navy town that would play a major role later in his life.

When Al Buck's four-year enlistment expired in 1931, he decided to leave the Navy. It didn't take long for him to realize he'd made a mistake. It was tough to find work in the early days of the Great Depression.

By the fall of 1932, Al Buck returned to what he knew best--he joined the Coast Guard. Almost immediately, he was sent to New York and was stationed on a Coast Guard cutter.

While stationed in New York he met and married Ida June Shapter. Interestingly, the Coast Guard quickly sent Buck back to San Diego. The newlyweds loved it and decided to stay after he got out.

When Al Buck left the Coast Guard in 1935, he decided to make his way as a civilian. He began by operating a small laundry business out of his garage.


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