Webster Marble was born in Wisconsin in 1854 but grew up in the wilds of Michigan. He was a hunter, trapper, fisherman and a professional timberman. He was a man of the outdoors, and he knew what kinds of tools a man of the outdoors needed. Thankfully, he was a creative genius, as well as a manufacturing genius. He built the tools he used himself and for many other men of the outdoors, yet few people know how important he is in the history of outdoor tools.
In 1900, he developed his Ideal Hunting Knife. While the clipped point was inspired by the mythology of Jim Bowie’s eponymous knife, everything else was Webster L. Marble. It was the knife he made for himself. Thick steel blade with hollow-ground reliefs cut out of both sides. Some people call these blood grooves, but reliefs and fullers are the correct names. By removing some of the metal from the blade, the knife was lighter in weight, but still rigid and strong for camp chores and processing game. You needed this knife, but you would also want to carry it on your belt outdoors all day. Marble’s Ideal came in blade lengths from 4 ½ to 8 inches, with a hilt (or guard) that protruded up and down or just down on the cutting side of the blade. Handles were of stacked fiber & leather washers, antler slabs, or early molded hard rubber. Butt caps were initially of stag, but later aluminum was added to the lineup.
This clipped-point and fullered blade style with stacked leather washer handle became so universal that even the U.S. Navy accepted its characteristics as their Mark 2 Fighting/Utility Knife in 1942. The Mark 2 was made for the Navy and the Marine Corps by many companies, including the Union Cutlery Company that stamped their KA-BAR trademark onto the blades they made. Thus, the KA-BAR name came to mean the Marines’ Fighting Knife.
Webster Marble had many other important inventions. His metal match holder kept folks’ strike-anywhere matches dry, gave a knurled surface to strike them on, and was airtight so they could not combust if they rubbed together. He made a brass-mounted compass with two brass pins that held the compass out at a right angle on your hunting jacket so it could be used hands-free.
His Woodcraft knife had enough curve to be perfect for skinning game, but with an end point straight out so it could be used to stab as needed. The Trailmaker was a 10-inch-long, flat-ground blade knife for hacking through brush, making tent poles and pegs, and impressing the fire out of Crocodile Dundee’s grand pappy.
Marble even made officially licensed knives for the Girl Scouts of America and the Boy Scouts of America. Both organizations ordered versions of his lightweight, flat-ground, 4-inch blade Sport Knife with their emblems etched in the blades and leather sheaths. Additionally, the Boy Scouts of America ordered an emblem-stamped Woodcraft model.
Marble made full-sized axes, and he also made hatchets. He called them Belt Axes and Pocket Axes. One variety of belt axe was the Marble’s Safety Axe with had a stamped metal guard that hid in the front of the axe handle and pivoted outward to cover the axe head’s cutting edge, and thus make it safe to carry around.
From gun sites to actual guns and tons in between, Webster L. Marble made what you needed, as his trade slogan read, “For every hour in the open.” Come check out a few of Mr. Marble’s knives and guns and help us celebrate our 50th anniversary at the J.M. Davis Arms & Historical Museum in Claremore, Oklahoma.