Straight Out of the Roman Empire: The Fascinating Evolution of the Multi-Tool


You might think that any link between the multi-tools we use today and the Roman Empire would be a tenuous one, to say the least, but it is fascinating to discover how this handy tool that is still so relevant today can be traced so far back in ancient history.

Here is a look at some of the landmark innovations that have shaped today’s multi-tool designs, including a fascinating insight into Roman ingenuity, and a more recent patent that made its mark on the industry.

The Swiss Army knife – 1,800 years in the making

The Roman empire was incredibly sophisticated for its time and amongst the many innovations they introduced during that period in history, it seems they also had the time and the know-how to create what could be argued as the first Swiss Army knife, long before that multi-tool even existed.

When you check here to look at the range of multi-tools available today you might want to offer a moment of appreciation to the Romans who developed a tool that incorporated a spoon, fork, toothpick, spatula, and retractable spike.

Apparently, the spike was used to extract meat from snails, and you can even see this ancient tool amongst a host other Roman artifacts on display at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, UK.

The modern Swiss Army knife that we are familiar with today was credited to Karl Elsener and first introduced back in 1897, but when you see the level of sophistication on display with the Roman multi-tool discovered, you could argue that this familiar tool has been in use for a lot longer than that.

Vintage multi-pliers

If you are talking vintage multi-tools with anyone in the know one of the first names they are going to mention is probably Oscar Barnett.

The Oscar Barnett Pliers Knife was patented towards the end of the 19th century and although it definitely wasn’t the first of its kind, it set the bar in terms of being the first multi-tool to be mass produced.

It ticked all the right boxes in terms of delivering a high degree of functionality and because the price tag was considered to be relatively modest, it is not hard to see why it made such a big impact with the buying public as well as historians.

The secret to the success of the Barnett is a solid plier mechanism and the fact that it was fully-loaded with a number of features that even included a flathead screwdriver blade contoured into the steel liner plate, helping to justify its multi-tool status.

Continuing innovation

These traditional folding tools have paved the way for further innovations and even though going back to 1983 is not exactly traveling too far into the past, that is a year that witnessed another multi-tool that has subsequently become a mainstream item, the Pocket Survival Tool.

There are now many different versions available of innovative multi-tools like this, many of which are light to carry and feature very few moving parts, despite their multi-tool status.

Even the insightful Romans could not have predicted where multi-tools have ended up today and how they have become such an essential item for so many people.

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