John Ek Commando Knives (1941-1976)
Posted 01 August 2012 - 05:34 PM
The story begins in 1939 at the Whitney Machine Shop at 1242 Whitney Avenue in Hamden Connecticut in what is now a “cake design studio.” That is the year that John Ek, a machinist who had been in the boat business, developed a prototype of the knife that would make him legendary among American military men who appreciated a good fighting blade. Intensively patriotic Mr. Ek, who could not qualify for military service due to injuries received in an auto accident in 1936 (a crushed hand), began producing his “Commando” knives in 1941. His Company motto was “Made in America, By Americans, For Americans.” Interestingly, he not only employed Americans, but he specifically, employed disabled Americans, a practice he continued while he lived and ran the company. He started out with a few employees producing about 40 knives a week, but by 1944 he had as many as 37 men working around the clock, seven days a week. It was around this time that he began marking his knives with serial numbers using an unusual system; before that time, the knives were not marked with serial numbers.
Posted 01 August 2012 - 05:44 PM
The first number identified the model (or, “Style” number as Mr. Ek called it). A knife that is marked “2 B929” is a Model No. 2 knife. The letter prefix indicated the “thousands” (“A” = 1,000, “B” = 2,000, “C” = 3,000, etc.); so, B929 would be knife no. 2,929. While some collectors believe that each model had its own series of numbers, I agree with Mr. Mike Silvey who believes that all the models were in a common number sequence. A photo (No. 215) in Mr. Robert Buerlin’s book shows a Model No. 7 and a Model No. 6, which he describes as “two consecutively serially numbered, D237 and D236.” This strongly suggests that two different models were in the same series. The concept brings further implications.
The lack of an abundance of Hamden Ek Commando knives in today’s collectors market has been a subject of debate. Writer Steven Dick in a 1986 article on National Knife Magazine (“Where are all the John Ek Commando Knives?”) theorized that since they were not fancy knives in the style of the Randalls, when the GI’s came home they used them in their shops and tackle boxes until they were eventually discarded when they became ratty.
While that may be true in many instances, I believe that Mr. Silvey has the answer (see “Numbering System” above). It is widely repeated and generally accepted that John Ek Industries produced about 100,000 knives during WWII; however if you believe that the serial numbers were all models inclusive, like Mr. Silvey says on his subject article, the number would be closer to 30,000. While this production figure is still very impressive statistics for a small shop producing hand-made knives, it would help explain why there aren’t as many Ek knives around as you would think there would be.
Ten different Ek Commando knife models were produced in Hamden by hand. They all had rock maple grips attached to the tang with poured and hammered led rivets. The one piece blade, tang and butt was made from nickel-chrome moly steel, a very strong alloy that was made available to Mr. Ek when the availability of such alloy was highly controlled by the government due to being considered a strategic metal. This illustrates the importance that the U.S. government placed on the manufacture of quality military fighting knives in the same manner that the British government allowed the private sale of Wilkinson Sword Fairbairn Sykes knives. The quality was comparable to a custom knife and Mr. Ek made sure of that; I understand that one of his inspectors in Hamden was blind and he used his sense of touch for locating imperfections on the finished blades! And while it is true that they may not have the flair of a Randall, they are some of the WWII fighting knives most sought-after by collectors.
In 1949, four years after the end of the war, John Ek relocated the company to Florida. There he went back in the boat business, but not long afterwards he became the owner and operator of the Seminole Gun Shop in Miami along with his wife, Mrs. Elsa Ek, who had been in U.S. Navy Intelligence. He continued to supply knives to GI’s during the Korean War and later on during the Vietnam War. According to his son, Mr. Gary W. Ek, after some colleagues convinced his father to start making Commando knives again, at first Mr. John Ek only made these two models:
1. What used to be the Hamden No. 7 Jungle knife, which he renamed the Model No. 4 in Miami and…
2. A “Secret Agent” pen knife which had folding aluminum butterfly-type grips, later to be referred to as a Model No. 12.
Posted 01 August 2012 - 05:52 PM
Posted 01 August 2012 - 05:55 PM
Posted 01 August 2012 - 06:10 PM
Miami ink markings:
Posted 01 August 2012 - 06:19 PM
Rare Miami Model No. 11:
Posted 01 August 2012 - 06:22 PM
Posted 01 August 2012 - 06:32 PM
- The Gun Digest Book of Knives, p. 275-277, B.R. Hughes & Jack Lewis, 1973
- Allied Military Fighting Knives And the Men Who made Them Famous, Chapter V (“John Ek Commando Knives”), Robert A. Buerlin, 1984 & 2001
- The National Knife Magazine, p.22-23, “Where are all the John Ek Commando Knives?” by Steven Dick, August 1986 issue
- Military Knives—A Reference Book, “Knives of John Ek, p147-150,” November 1996 article on Knife World by Michael W. Silvey
- Theater made Military Knives of World War II, p. 152, by Bill & Debbie Wright, 2001
- OKC December 2005 Knewsletter article by Frank Trzaska on p. 2 (Knotes on United States Military Edged Cutlery – The John Ek Knife Company).
- Photographs of Mr. John Gibson and Mr. Gary Ruleford knives for sale.
If anyone sees any item on this post to which they hold ownership and I did not credit them, please contact me and I will be glad to credit them, or I will ask an Admin to remove it, whichever they prefer. Thank you!
Posted 01 August 2012 - 06:35 PM
S/N 1-G375 – Early Hamden production
• 6½” blade ground with a greater taper
• 4¼” (shorter) grip
• 1” L extended butt
• Early Hamden knives did not have thong holes. This one was drilled professionally on the extended butt either at the factory (special order) or added by the owner later on.
Posted 01 August 2012 - 06:37 PM
• 6¾” blade ground with a greater taper
• 4⅞” (longer) grip
• ⅝” shorter extended butt
• Thong hole drilled through grip
Posted 01 August 2012 - 06:39 PM
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