One of the new six inductees for the 2008 Boulder County Business Hall of Fame represents one of the oldest knifemakers in the U.S. and one of Boulder's oldest manufacturers as well.
Harlow C. Platts, who died at age 90 in 1983, entered the family business, Western States Cutlery, in 1919. Western States was known for their quality sheath and pocket knives and axes. The Western brand ended with the February 2007 closing of the Camillus Cutlery plant, which had purchased the brand name.
The earlier Western knives made here in Boulder were already sought after by knife collectors, and now even the more modern Western knives made by Camillus are rising in value.
Today, not many people remember Western's business here in Boulder, but the company was an important employer. Its red brick buildings were a landmark at Broadway and Marine Street for more than 50 years until it moved in 1957 to a new building in Boulder Industrial Park on Arapahoe Avenue. The older manufacturing site was torn down in 1960.
When Harlow's father retired, he and his brother Reginald managed the business for several decades. In 1978 the company moved to Longmont, where it was run by Platts' son, Harvey.
The family's knife-making history goes back to an early craftsman, Charles W. Platts, born in Sheffield, England in 1838. His father also had been an expert knife maker, according to "Western Knives and Knife Nostalgia." Charles immigrated to America in 1866 and became superintendent of the Northfield Knife Co. in Northfield, Conn.
The "Western States" brand, now prized by knife collectors, met a strong demand by ranchers, miners, farmers and cowboys as the West began to grow. The Boulder factory was established by H.N. Platts, who moved west to Boulder in 1911. He trademarked the knives with the words "Western States" and "Sharp Cutlery" with a drawing of a buffalo skull in between, similar to the buffalo skulls that could be seen around the plains at the turn of the century.
Right after Pearl Harbor, Western States Cutlery began manufacturing knives for the armed forces, including knives for sailors cutting lines and a floating survival knife for downed pilots.
Foreign competition eventually spelled the end to the Western brand, as was the case for many U.S. knife manufacturers. Coleman Co. of Wichita, Kan., purchased Western Cutlery in 1984, after it had moved its manufacturing to Longmont in 1978. Then in 1989 Western went on the auction block. Coleman said it had considered moving the plant to Texas on the Mexico border to save on labor costs.
It appeared to be one more stop for the company, now out of the Platts' hands, as a deal was announced to sell the company in 1990 to a Colorado investment group headed by Bob Hatting of Mancos, a small town near Durango. Hatting operated a small custom knife company, Wilderness Forge, in Mancos. Camillus bought the brand from Coleman. That deal never materialized, finally resulting in the sale of the product line, patents, orders and customer list to Camillus for $90,000, according to news reports. The contents of Western's headquarters in Longmont, including many knives that were in a company museum, were auctioned off in August 1991.
Harlow Platts will be inducted into the Boulder County Hall of Fame at its 16th annual induction luncheon at 11:30 a.m., Thursday, May 1 at the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center in Longmont.
The Hall of Fame recognizes businessmen and women who have and continue to exemplify business, cultural and philanthropic achievements that serve as the foundation of our communities.
Other Hall of Fame inductees for 2008 are:
Peter D. Behrendt: Behrendt joined Exabyte in 1987 after spending 26 years with IBM. With Behrendt at the helm, Exabyte became a leading designer and manufacturer of computer tape drives and libraries, and contributed tens of millions of dollars in value creation to Boulder County through its successful IPO in 1989. Today he is chairman of ProStor Systems.
Joan Brett: Brett built the Culinary School of the Rockies (CSR) from an idea when she was a practicing attorney. The School is now a world-class institution that brings people to Boulder County from all over the United States.
John Fenstermaker: Fenstermaker joined IBM out of the University of North Dakota and held various challenging engineering and engineering management assignments at IBM and Staodyn, Inc.
Edwin Kanemoto: Kanemoto has been vice president and co-owner of Longmontâs largest real estate company, Prudential Rocky Mountain Realtors, since 1977. He has been one of the leading commercial real estate brokers.
David M. Wyatt: Dave is president and owner of Wyatt Construction Company, which he formed in 1970. His company has employed hundreds of construction personnel in the Boulder County area.
The Boulder County Business Hall of Fame was established in 1992 to recognize and honor businesswomen and men who personify âbusiness at its best.â Since 1992, more than 110 individuals have received this prestigious award.