A huge chestnut tree that towered over the small hand tool factory of the Boker family in Remscheid in the 17th century is the name-giver of the Boker Baumwerk. The industrialist family first registered the trademark with the famous tree as a trademark in 1674. It shows a green tree on a silver background on the banks of a blue river. The high-quality Boker tools were extremely successful, and almost 100 years later they were among the leading products in Germany and neighbouring countries.
The increasing demand for blank weapons during a rather unstable political era led the brothers Hermann and Robert Boker to decide to start producing swords in 1829. Ledgers from September 1830 already spoke of a weekly production of 2000 pieces, made by 64 smiths, 47 grinders and a large number of unskilled workers. With an ever-growing variety of tools and cutlery, there were great opportunities for selling the products worldwide. The family realised that henceforth the tasks had to be distributed among themselves in order to make the best use of the potential. So Hermann Boker emigrated and founded H. Boker & Co. in New York. Young Robert Boker built up his company in Canada and founded the branch in Mexico in 1865.
Their cousin Heinrich Boker merely crossed the Wupper and went to Solingen, where the German cutlery industry was developing with enormous speed at the time. Together with Hermann Heuser, an extremely accomplished cutlery expert, he founded Heinr. Boker & Co. in 1869.
The Bokers in Remscheid and their cousins overseas showed great interest in the high-quality razors, scissors and pocket knives from Heinrich’s new company. They had to mark their products for the overseas markets in a simple way, because many customers had problems with the German name Boker, not to mention the widespread illiteracy of the time. Heinrich Boker chose the huge chestnut tree, which was already 200 years old at the time and had already been used by the hand tool factory as its coat of arms, as a memorable trademark. Another trademark of the Remscheid company was an arrow. One of the few valuable documents that survived the total destruction during the Second World War is an advertisement of Boker Remscheid from 1874. On it, both trademarks are depicted side by side.
There was always an extraordinarily friendly relationship between the two companies, so Heinrich could easily take the tree trademark mark with him across the river to Solingen. Since the company was founded, no knife has left the Boker Manufactory without this seal of quality. Unfortunately, the original chestnut tree was struck by lightning in 1925 and destroyed by the impact and subsequent fire. As a reminder of the great chestnut that has become the symbol of high-quality pocket knives from Solingen an artist carved the Boker logo from the wood of the original tree. This work of art still adorns the entrance area of the Boker Knife Manufactory today.
As early as 1900, the US market took the lion’s share of Boker production, and in New York, H. Boker & Co. concentrated almost exclusively on selling the high-quality cutlery from Solingen. Pocket knives soon surpassed scissors, razors and cutlery in importance. The demand grew even faster than the Solingen supply possibilities, so that the Americans began to produce pocket knives as well.
The Second World War
Since the tree-brand trademark had already become very well known in the USA, the use of it for the American products was also welcome by the Solingen side, not least because of the excellent transatlantic family relationship. At that time, there were therefore two different lines of Boker knives on the American market, bearing the same trademark and sometimes even the same article numbers. Whether the respective knife was made in the USA and in Solingen could only be identified by the brand mark – Boker USA or H. Boker Improved Cutlery Solingen.
During the Second World War, contact between the two parts of the family came to a complete standstill; trade between the warring parties was completely unthinkable. In addition, the Solingen factory burnt down completely, neither machines and tools nor catalogue material or samples could be saved. The few originals from the past that are still available today survived the war in private homes and were later thankfully made available to Boker.
The company also lost one of its most valuable assets: the registration of the tree-brand trademark for the US market was confiscated under American law. John Boker Jr. acquired the trademark in New York to use it for the distribution of American and German products. But soon after the war, new life came to the destroyed factory in Solingen. Those of the loyal skilled workers who had survived came back and helped to rebuild the factory building, so that production could be slowly restarted while maintaining the high-quality standards from pre-war times. Soon after, Boker USA renewed its business contacts with Boker Solingen, placed its first orders and within a few years became the main customer for Solingen production again.
In the early 1960s, Boker USA was sold and, after several changes, taken over by the well-known scissor manufacturer Wiss & Sons. Wiss kept up the production of Boker knives and sold them together with the products manufactured in Solingen. However, this meant that the Boker scissors disappeared from the American market as competition to the Wiss range. At the beginning of the 1970s, Wiss & Sons sold Boker USA again, and the multinational Cooper Industries became the new owner. For the Baumwerk, the change to one of the oldest large companies still in existence in the USA was extremely successful. A very close business and personal relationship developed with this industrial giant and Cooper, with its market power, helped the name Boker back to its original greatness.
A few years later, thanks to the very active business with Cooper Industries, the company in Solingen was able to rationalise production and develop modern, innovative products. In 1983, Cooper gave up its own production of knives and only dealt with the distribution of the items manufactured in Solingen. Three years later, as a result of friendly negotiations, Cooper transferred the American trademark rights back to Boker Solingen, so that they could once again operate independently in the huge market. Thus, in July 1986, Boker USA, Inc. was founded in Denver, Colorado. The Boker subsidiary has been operating very successfully on the North American market since its foundation.
In 1983, the subsidiary Boker Arbolito S. A. was also founded in Buenos Aires. It primarily produces household and professional knives, as well as high-quality hunting and outdoor knives in traditional design. The high recognition of Boker Arbolito products in the South American markets, especially in Argentina and Chile, goes back to the pioneering work of the Boker family in the 19th and 20th centuries. Due to the great importance of the North and South American markets for the Boker Manufactory in Solingen, the company logo from 1947 to 2020 showed the names Treebrand and Arbolito in addition to the Boker lettering.
The Pioneering Work
Even though Damascus steel has been known for centuries in the European and Oriental world, the intricately folded steel had never been used for the serial production of a pocket knife until 1980. Together with the masterful blacksmith Manfred Sachse from Moenchengladbach, Boker was able to do true pioneering work here and founded the Boker Damascus Annual Knife, a collector’s series that has been extended every year to this day. Just 10 years later, the first Magnum Collection laid the foundation for another exclusive collector’s series and at the same time gave the starting signal for the Boker catalogue, which is now published several times a year. With the publication of this first European private customer catalogue for knives, the import business of established international brands and the development of the own brands Boker Plus and Magnum were also initiated.
As early as 1990, representatives of Boker Manufactory visited knife sharpeners and manufacturers in the former GDR and established close contacts with Eastern European countries such as Russia, Hungary, Slovenia and the Czech Republic, which were continuously intensified as the disintegration of the Soviet Union progressed. The respectful relationship with the former Union Republics culminated in 2002 in the presentation of the first Boker Kalashnikov knife, which was designed and realised together with General Kalashnikov in the Boker Manufactory in Solingen. In the meantime, countless variants of the reliable pocket knife have been presented, which have been sold more frequently worldwide than any other automatic knife series. As early as the mid-1990s, Boker was the first company outside Japan to present knives with blades made of high-performance ceramics, which were soon to enjoy great popularity worldwide. The zirconium (IV) oxide used for this purpose has an extremely high edge retention and therefore rarely needs to be resharpened. In 1995, another absolute success story was written with the Boker Speedlock. To this day, the handy automatic knife with its innovative push-button lock and die-cast aluminium handle scales has been sold millions of times over.
In order to be able to meet the increasing market activities and the constantly growing demand worldwide efficiently and economically, it was decided at the end of the 1990s to build the new company building on the existing premises. From 1997 to 1999, individual parts of the venerable factory on Schützenstraße in Solingen were demolished for this purpose, new buildings were erected according to the most modern standards and finally occupied – without having to interrupt ongoing production for this purpose. In the course of the completed new building, the Boker Knife Shop, which is directly connected to the manufactory, was also opened, where, in addition to the products manufactured on site, a huge assortment of knives from all over the world is displayed and can be examined at leisure. But the new millennium began not only in the real world, but also on the internet with the opening of an innovative Boker knife shop. As one of the first German companies ever, Boker presented its own web shop back in 2000, where customers from all over the world have been able to search for the perfect knife around the clock ever since.