Merchandise Spotlight-Leatherman Tool (664 words)
"Necessity is the mother of invention."
—William Wycherley (1671).
By Denny Hatch
PEOPLE WHO TRAVEL need stuff—a tiny screwdriver with tiny screws to fix eyeglasses, a bottle opener, tweezers for splinters, a sewing kit, sunburn skin cream, a poncho, laxative, Imodium A-D—you know the drill. Ever tried to open a wine bottle without a corkscrew?
For Tim Leatherman, the epiphany came on his European honeymoon in 1975 where he had to deal with a very temperamental '68 Fiat he'd bought for $300. In an interview with USA Today, Leatherman said, "All I had was this Boy Scout knife, which we used for everything from fixing the car by day to slicing the bread at night. I kept wishing I had a pair of pliers attached."
According to the interview, this engineering graduate from Oregon State kept jotting down ideas about what to do with the rest of his life. "One of them was building that dream tool, which would look like a kind of Swiss Army knife with pliers and slide into a pouch worn on a belt."
For years, Leatherman worked on the design of his tool, getting his first patent in 1980. The New York Times reported its entrance into the world:
A mechanical engineer in Portland, OR, got patent 4,238,962 this week for a pocket tool that he calls Mr. Crunch. Timothy S. Leatherman thinks hunters, campers and cyclists will find it convenient.
When it was finally ready for market, retailers and catalogers turned up their noses because they couldn't figure out which department it belonged in. Among the tools it contains: pliers, knife, file, wire cutters, screwdrivers, container openers and ruler. Subsequent models include scissors, saw, wire stripper, electrical crimper, a choice of six screwdrivers and tweezers.
In 1996, the Leatherman Tool Group posted sales of $91 million and the gadget is sold in 50 countries around the world. A huge amount of Leatherman's time is spent suing imitators. In 1997, Leather sued the $5 billion a year tool maker Cooper Industries for violation of his patented design, and a federal jury awarded him $4.5 million in punitive damages and $50,000 in compensatory damages.