Product Spotlight: Multitools!

Product Spotlight: Multitools!

Multitools such as the Swiss Army knife and Leatherman tools can make life easier. But did you know the concept of an easily carried multi-use tool dates back to at least ancient Rome?

Rick Cundiff

We’ve all been there. On a camping trip and in need of a knife. Or you need a pair of pliers to fix a balky throttle cable on the boat. Or at the side of the road with a minor breakdown, and just need to tighten a screw.

So what do you do in those circumstances? Sure, it would be nice to have a full-size pair of pliers, a pair of scissors to clip tangled fishing line, or a Phillips screwdriver at hand for that one little adjustment. But it’s not practical to carry a full tool kit everywhere you go. Space, weight and cost make that prohibitive.

Fortunately, there’s a modern alternative that fits right into a pocket, purse, glove compartment or briefcase: the multitool. One tool that offers multiple functions can be just right for those small jobs and minor emergencies.

What Is A Multitool?

The term “multitool” can apply to a variety of things. One woodworking machinery manufacturer, for example, markets a single machine that can perform the functions of up to 7 different ones.

Look to your pocket for another example. The modern smartphone is certainly a multifunctional tool, used as a phone, camera, video recorder, calculator and more.

However, for our purposes, we’re defining a multitool as a small, easily carried device that can serve as a knife, screwdriver, scissors, pliers and similar functions. You know the brands – Victorinox (Swiss Army™), Leatherman, Gerber and others.

What Can You Do With a Multitool?

When it comes to assembling, disassembling, adjusting, cutting, bending, and other such tasks, just about anything. Today’s multitools offer so many different configurations, including custom ones, that it’s hard to imagine being without one.

As the market for multitools has expanded, so has the number and variety of specific tools available on a device. From flash drives to screwdrivers, pens, and even specialized tools for specific industries, there’s a multitool out there for just about everyone in many sizes.

When Did Multitools Begin?

You might think compact tools that can perform multiple functions are a relatively recent invention. But multitools go back much farther in history than you might think.

One of the first known examples of a multitool is a compact, folding eating utensil from ancient Rome. The device, on display at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England, dates to between 201 and 300 AD. Made of iron and silver, it features a fork, spoon, spatula, pick, spike and knife.

The museum notes that the device might have been intended more for a wealthy traveler or soldier to show off, but not really intended for heavy use. That’s not unlike some fancy multitools today.

Join the (Swiss) Army

You’re probably familiar with the biggest name in multitools, the Swiss Army knife. But did you know it really was invented for the army of Switzerland?

The Swiss Army began issuing single-blade pocket knives to its soldiers in 1886. Three years later, it introduced a new rifle design that required a screwdriver for maintenance and cleaning.

When the army sought a multipurpose tool for soldiers to use, two Swiss companies won the contract. Each company was to produce half the army’s supply.

Both companies produced the same design, with the trademark red color. The companies, eventually named Victorinox and Wenger, continued as the primary producers of folding multitools for decades.

Leatherman Introduces Modern Tools

The next true innovation in multitools came as the result of a trip to Europe that included a balky Italian car and malfunctioning plumbing. Tim Leatherman saw the need for something more than a blade-based tool.

Once back in the U.S.A., Leatherman developed a prototype device of a multitool that featured a pair of pliers as the main tool. After being rejected by multiple manufacturers, Leatherman partnered with college friend Steve Berliner and launched the company that bears his name.

In 1983, they received their first order from outdoor goods store Cabela’s for the first Leatherman tool, known as the PST – Pocket Survival Tool. Today, the company is worth more than $100 million.

Other companies, such as knife-maker Gerber, soon entered the market, and consumers now have a choice of multitools from multiple companies. Even Victorinox, the original Swiss Army knife maker, now offers multitools that go beyond knife-based functions.

After 9/11: A Changed Market

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 forever changed many aspects of life, especially in the United States. Stringent new regulations on what types of knives or blades were allowed on aircraft severely affected sales of Swiss Army knives.

Wenger in particular faced financial difficulties as a result, and in 2005, was taken over by competitor Victorinox. Today, the single company produces products under both names.

Custom Promotional Multitools

With a broad range of sizes available, there are plenty of options for customizing multitools to promote your brand or logo. With smaller sizes, multitools such as the original Swiss Army knife can be an excellent giveaway at trade shows, conventions and conferences. You’re certain to be giving recipients something they will appreciate, keep and use, unlike other promo items they might receive.

Larger multitools such as Leatherman products make good giveaways for contests, raffles, or as a thank-you to valued customers, partners, employees or vendors. They’re a high-value product that shows you appreciate the recipient’s contribution to your success.

The Right Tool(s) for a Changing World

In a fast-paced world, you sometimes need to make a few small repairs or adjustments. Whether on a car, a garment, a machine at work, or a balky RV or camp stove, having the right tool can make life easier. In certain situations, it can even save your life.

A properly configured multitool is an easy every day carry item. It slips into a pocket, purse, backpack or briefcase and gives you an array of tools conveniently at your disposal.

If you’d like to find out more about custom imprinted multitools and how they can help your brand awareness, call or email us. We’ll be more than happy to discuss them and other great promotional products with you, and help you determine which best fit your specific needs.

Rick Cundiff

Rick Cundiff

Content Director, Blogger

Rick Cundiff spent 15 years as a newspaper journalist before joining TJM Promos. He has been researching and writing about promotional products for more than 10 years. He believes in the Oxford comma, eradicating the word "utilize," and Santa Claus.