The jack knife, also known as the Swiss Army knife, has been around since about 600BC, believe it or not. Roman peasants carried folding knives around with them. The trend of putting a lot of tools in a knife didn’t start in earnest until the late 19th century, but today’s multi-tools didn’t come around until much later.
It was not until 1983 that Tim Leatherman (yes, that’s his real name, that’s why the company is called that) conceived of putting a full-size pair of pliers in a folding tool that also included full-sized flathead and Phillips head screwdrivers. Such a tool, he reasoned, would be much more useful in an urban environment than a simple jack knife, which was principally designed for camping.
The original Leatherman Pocket Survival tool was a hit and soon attracted the attention of The Sharper Image, the company which (in its 1980s heyday) sold expensive gadgets to wanna-be rich folks. The tool was an immediate hit in stores and is still available at finer stores (like, of course, Solid Signal.) In the meantime, companies like Gerber and Victorinox have created competing tools, ensuring that there’s a tool for every situation no matter what you need or even what your favorite color is.
Many Leatherman tools still carry a full 25-year warranty (although, sadly the Leatherman tool I bought in 1987 no longer qualifies.) They’re still made in the US at a single factory location and each one of them, of course, still carries the name of the person who invented the multi-tool.