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HTK: A Look Back to the Beginning

December 21, 2021

In the days of online shopping carts, credit card transactions, and same-day delivery, it’s hard to imagine life before the Internet revolutionized the way we do business. HTK has been around for over 120 years, and its history holds treasures and stories that are remarkable now. 

Shipping and “Handy”ling

Most of HTK’s orders come through email or our website these days, but when we first got started, a new or returning customer would call in to request an order. Our knives were a quarter each (later, we began selling the knives by the dozen) with no shipping charge, until 1962 when we began charging for postage. When a call came in, we mailed the customer a measuring card and a coin card. Our customer calculated the amount of the order for how many knives they wanted, insert cash, tape the flap down, and mailed the card in so we could fulfill their order.

Marketing and Advertising

Long before digital advertising on the Internet, the best way to spread the word about a quality product was to offer it in the places where people congregate. Back in the 1920s and 30s, that was hardware stores. Hardware stores were the center of daily life for farmers and general laborers. These stores often included samples of the knives in their catalogs and would occasionally place an ad in the newspaper. The newspaper folks saw the product advertised in their own newspapers and started to buy them for their bundling and delivery services. Handy products speak for themselves, and word of mouth went a long way for growing the HTK business.

The U.S. government had purchased knives from HTK even before WWI. Some soldiers must have carried the knives to Europe during this time, because hardware stores in Germany and Belgium eventually started ordering knives from HTK as well. These early purchases first ignited HTK’s international business. One of the family’s, the Hanssens family (HABO now), came to the States to see HTK’s operations and to set up a purchasing agreement back in 1965.

Customer Service

Ever since the invention of the Handy Twine Knife by James R. Caldwell to make his own job as a Railway Postal Clerk easier, the company has sought to provide a safe and efficient product to meet people’s needs. Before the company was founded, James spent his evenings making twine knives for his coworkers to help make their jobs easier, too. That work eventually led to the development of his business and a patent to protect his invention.

It was always important to meet the needs of their customers, and customers often called asking for larger rings they could use over gloves and other such requests. Up until 1961, customers could send their handy twine knives back to HTK to be resharpened for no fee. James, and later, his son, Henry, sharpened the knives at a desk that still resides in HTK’s offices. All the way through the 1980s, the team made half sizes of their rings and did what they could to accommodate the needs of their customers.


Today, that same commitment still holds true as HTK strives to meet the variety of needs of a variety of customers. The tactics and technology may have changed, but the same heart has beat on through four generations of family-owned operations, a desire to provide a safe and high quality product and to meet the needs of each customer, whether a backyard gardener or an international manufacturer. Learn more about HTK’s history and explore our variety of products.

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