The History of Knives in the Kitchen

Knives have a long history in the kitchen and were one of the first true utensils to appear at mealtimes. Predating both forks and spoons, knives started as simple rocks, eventually turning into the chef knives we know today.


Knives originally date to prehistory, where stones were smashed together to form a sharp edge—a far cry from the modern blades, like Messermeister or Wusthof knives. Sharp rock fragments turned up in Tanzania and Kenya, dating back about 2.5 million years ago. Later, instead of rock-on-rock, a bone instrument was used to chip away at rocks to make axes and cleavers, as well as serrated edges.

Copper and the Bronze Age

Early metalworking involved bronze, an alloy of copper and tin. It was used not only to create kitchen knives but also weaponry as well. These copper and bronze knives were the first genuine knives. With the mass use of copper for bronze weapons, the metal became scarce enough to require an alternative.

The Iron Age

The next significant advancement came about with iron refining in the Iron Age. This metallurgy allowed for shaping molten cast iron with molds, including single- and double-edged knives. People in the Middle Ages in Europe carried short swords and daggers, often using these as knives at meals for cutting and spearing food.

The Modern Metal: Steel

Iron is a soft metal and prone to breaking if used too much. It also rusts easily. Neither are good qualities for blade edges. To counter this, metallurgists refined iron and added carbon, giving rise to steel and then stainless steel. Knife blades using steel were sharper, stronger, more durable, and resistant to corrosion and rust.

Cardinal Richelieu

The advent of blunt-tip table knives is attributed to Cardinal Richelieu of France in 1637. He was not pleased with dinner guests’ manners, as they picked their teeth with the tips of the blades. Instead, he offered blunted knives, the first instance of the modern table knife.

Solingen and Seki

The modern chef’s knife originates in Solingen, Germany, one of two major knife making centers in the world. Peter Henckels created one of the first knife making trademarks here. Meanwhile, in Seki, Japan, knife makers were taking cues from sword makers to create razor-sharp blades.

The 20th Century

The chef’s knife and santoku knife are now staples of the modern kitchen. Both can be found in a typical blade set, from a Zwilling J.A. Henckels collection or a Wusthof knife set. From paring knife to cleaver, serrated bread knife to nakiri bocho vegetable knife, there’s a knife for every job in the kitchen.

About CHEFS Catalog

Since 1979, CHEFS Catalog has offered the highest quality equipment to the culinary world, from professional chefs to home cooks. CHEFS Catalog’s collections provide practical kitchen solutions with bakeware sets, recipes, appliances such as the All Clad slow cooker, advice, and more. With a passion for all things culinary, they understand the need for durable, reliable kitchenware. They started out as a premier commercial catalog, featuring Julia Child on an early cover. In 2017, CHEFS Catalog transformed into the go-to online source for quality cookware, bakeware, and accessories.

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