William Burke Belknap founded this historic hardware company in 1840, along the
banks of the Ohio River
in Louisville, Kentucky. It started in a small shop that
produced iron products, such as horse and mule shoes, nails, spikes and other forged items.
The first building was a three-story brick on the corner of Third and Main
with three employees. When Belknap celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1940, it had grown to a complex of 37 buildings, covering
37 acres of floor space under one roof. It had underground passageways and covered bridges. Belknap Hardware and Manufacturing
was among the nation's largest wholesale enterprises with nationally recognized quality brands
W.B. Belknap was an astute businessman.
He was able to quickly discern the needs of his clients and community, focusing on what goods and services would best serve
to make his business grow. He began his venture at a time when rivers were the transportation freeways and horsepower was
real: mules and carts, horses and wagons. He built on this, providing quality, affordable tools, with brand names such as
'Belknap, King of the Bluegrass' and Thoroughbred, reflecting Kentucky's own pride in its unique topography and its love of
Some of Belknap trademarks are John
Primble (1931), Cyclone (1952), Crusader (1935), Belmont, Old Kentucky Home, Pride of Kentucky and Pine Knot. Nap (1909) Blue
Ribbon (1949). Spotless Town (1951) Homemaker (1958) Slumber Deep (1959) Speedmore (1962-83) Cap’N Nap (1964) Knap (1982)
Mr. Belknap's savvy business acumen
was quite an asset. And he would need every asset he could muster, seeing as he favored the Union during
the Civil War while living deep in Dixie. Being president of a bank in Louisville
and married to the daughter of its former president would also prove to be another asset. This gave him the solid financial
base necessary to support the health and growth of his business
Being another of that same breed of venture capitalists as E.C. Simmons and A.
F. Shapleigh, he was the right man, in the right place, at the right time, with the right goods and services. He rode on the
dual waves of an expanding frontier and the industrial revolution. His business philosophy was that whether his clients needed
builder's hardware, house wares, mechanics or farming tools, or even pocket knives, Belknap would fill that order with quality
merchandise, that came to be known as "goods of honor". Like these other men, he started small. His first catalog was a 3"
x 5 ½", 16 page pamphlet. Belknap's inventory in 1880 was a mere 100 items. In 1940, the company's catalog had grown into
a 3000-page tome, containing over 75,000 items. Still going strong! This was quite and accomplishment seeing that the immediately
preceding years had seen the disappearance of such giants of the industry as Simmons Hardware, bankrupt in 1939. The 1957
catalog provided 90,000 items. When it closed its doors in 1986, under bankruptcy, Belknap's inventory had reached more than
117,000 items, mostly Blue Grass tools.
The Company was W.B. Belknap from 1840-1860; W.B. Belknap and Co. from 1860-1880;
W.B. Belknap and Co. Incorporated from 1880-1907 and Belknap Hardware and Manufacturing Company Inc. since 1907
Belknap while obviously a hardware and manufacturing leader is also remembered
for its pocket knives. By the 1800's, pocket knives were some of its primary lines of merchandise. The company carried Russell
I*XL and LF & C, then introduced its own brands; Blue Grass, Pine Knot, Jas. W. Price and most noteworthy, the John Primble.
This trademark was used as early as 1890, and probably before. It is also found on cutlery. Pine Knot knives were most likely
made for Belknap by Robeson. The Primble knives (not those stamped Prussia
or Germany) were manufactured under contract by Camillus,
Boker, Schrade, Utica and Case
A business consortium in Maysville, Kentucky
purchased the Primble India Steel Works trademark. This group also operates the Blue Grass Cutlery Corporation in Manchester,
Ohio. In the late 1980's they released new knives bearing John Primble- India Steel Works
with the date of manufacture. (Editor’s note: The new cutlery company has continued the pocket knife traditions of the
old. Blue Grass Cutlery made brand new pocket knives, etc. that includes the John Primble, Blue Grass and Winchester
The Blue Grass trademark pocket knife was made for Belknap until the 1950's (with
the Barlow pattern continuing on for a while). This trademark was purchased by S & T Hardware which issues a limited edition
collector knife about every two years.
Belknap, like other major historic hardware houses, faced many challenges undergoing
many changes over the course of more than a century of operation. However, it is said to have retained a "family" approach
with its employees and their dependents, providing picnics, parties and doing all of its promotions from within the company.
Belknaps' final demise was in 1986.
Below is an eleven page article that a friend of my found for me from an issue of Hardware Age magazine
dated May 1986. The article is by Jim Cory the associate editor at the time and also a viewpoint by Terrence V. Gallagher
Editor in Chief of Hardware Age. It is very informative and there is some interesting reading on how Belknap Hardware met
its death in 1986. Click on any picture to read the articles.
Viewpoint on Belknap's Demise
Belknap page 33
Belknap Hardware Age Article page 34
Belknap Hardware Age article page 35
Belknap Hardware Age article page 36
Belknap Hardware Age article page 37
Belknap Hardware Age article page 38
Belknap Hardware Age article page 39
Belknap Hardware Age article page 40
Belknap Hardware Age article page 41
Belknap Hardware Age article page 42
It is to my understanding that the Belknap warehouse is no longer standing and was imploded in 1993 .
Douglas Ware was an eye witness to this implosion and wrote this about the event:
I attended and videotaped the implosion in 1993. The implosion was used for promotional purposes in the premiere of the
movie "Demolition Man" starring Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, and Sandra Bullock.
MTV sponsored a contest to rub elbows with the stars here in Louisville at a VIP area facing the warehouse, which had MTV
and movie logos painted on the side of the building. The finale being the implosion of the warehouse, which had drums of gasoline
placed in the upper floors for "Hollywood Effect".
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