Millard F. Robeson founded the company, which bore his name in 1879 as a cutlery-jobbing firm, operating from his home in Elmira, New York. Selling knives was, at first, a sideline but business grew. Robeson’s first storage area was his dresser drawer but, as additional space was needed, it overflowed into the closet and underneath the bed. Upon returning from a business trip and finding his cutlery inventory moved to the porch he agreed with Mrs. Robeson that larger facilities were needed. They first came in the form of a new room added to the house, next a new building adjacent to the house, and finally a move to the New York town of Camillus.
After leasing the cutlery works in Camillus, Robeson employed about three-dozen workers making knives. Their tenure at this factory lasted about four years, until 1898. Robeson had purchased an interest in Rochester Stamping Works and it became Robeson Rochester Corporation. A move of the Robeson Cutlery Company’s headquarters and manufacturing was made in Rochester and, about two years later, in an additional location in Perry, New York.
In 1901, the trade name SHUREDGE was adopted for Robeson’s quality line of cutlery. After Robeson’s death in 1903, his company remained although business declined. In 1940, Saul Frankel, a Rochester businessman, purchased the then bankrupt company. Frankel was not like Robeson, who had the knowledge and expertise for manufacturing high-quality knives. But, he was an excellent businessman and recognized his shortcomings. In order to seek success for his company, Frankel sought out and hired Emerson Case to serve as Robeson’s vice president and general manager. Case reorganized the company and became its president in 1948.
In 1958, Robeson purchased Kinfolks Inc of Little Valley, New York, which just happened to be Emerson Case’s former employer. From then until 1965, Robeson produced Kinfolks brand knives in addition to its regular line, using many of the same features and handle material.
Robeson continued to make knives until 1965, the year that Emerson Case retired. Cutler Federal Inc. at purchased the company about that time, and for the next six years Robeson knives were made by Camillus Cutlery Co, but were shipped from the Perry headquarters.
In 1971, the Ontario Knife Company bought Robeson and continued to offer Robeson brand knives until 1977. In 1995, Ontario’s sister company Queen Cutlery briefly returned the Robeson brand to production with a line of SHUREDGE knives, followed by a line of POCKETEZE Robeson in 1999. Their blade etching and other markings can readily identify these knives.
Many Robeson knives were stamped with a variation of ROBESON CUTLERY CO or R.C. CO from 1891 to 1940. From 1911 to 1940, the well-known stampings of ROBESON SHUREDGE ROCHESTER and ROBESON SHUREDGE USA were used, with “Shuredge” in script. From 1940 to 1965 the mark was ROBESON SHUREDGE USA in all block letters. The last production years up to 1977 were marked ROBESON (pattern number) USA. A few very early and rather late Robeson knives will be found marked GERMANY, indicating their country of manufacture.
Robeson was a very progressive company, introducing many innovative knives to the market, particularly during the Emerson Case years. One line of knives popular with collectors is those named POCKETEZE and identified by the shield bearing the name. Registered in 1914, the trademark meant that the blade backs were recessed below the knife handles, reducing their wear on pant pockets. MASTERCRAFT, another Robeson trademark, was used on knives with bronze tang inserts, and PERMALUBE knives had the bronze inserts placed in the back springs instead. Etched on the blade of some Robeson knives are the words FROZEN HEAT, indicating a cryogenic tempering process developed in 1950 by Emerson Case. Finally, some later knives were produced with a tungsten carbide coated edge, which Robeson called FLAME EDGE.
Older Robeson knives were handled in green bone, brown bone and starting in the 1950s, a unique red bone referred to as strawberry bone. It was dropped from the line in the 1960s in favor of plastic or composition handles of a similar color. The last Robeson knives made until recent years had a darker Delrin handle.
Although Robeson bone was and is quite popular, Robeson also handled knives in mother of pearl, genuine stag, and the various composite handle materials. The shortage of bone during World War II forced the company to use rough black composition handle material.