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Leatherman 35th Anniversary World Heritage Tour

Earlier this week I was very privileged to be invited to the first event, held in London, of the World Heritage Tour celebrating 35 years of production of the Leatherman Multi-Tool, writes Mike Gormley.

Although marking a milestone for a product that has now sold in 70 countries across the globe and is undoubtedly used in most countries, it was a relatively small, select gathering. The event was appropriately staged at London’s Science Museum, amongst an array of highly significant developments from spacecraft to steam engines, and notably amongst this display was a very old Fiat 500 car. It was in such a car while touring Europe as a young man with his wife Chau that Tim Leatherman forged the idea of a single tool which would have multiple capability from a blade to pliers, doing away with the need for carrying a Swiss Army knife and pliers as well as other tools.

The impressive and well-suited setting in the main hall of The Science Museum [© Mike Gormley]

Tim made notes as he went and on return to home in the USA he began what was to be a six year journey developing and eventually bringing to market what we all now know as a Leatherman. Prototypes were made in a friend’s garage and slowly things came together to convert a dream, noted on scraps of paper, into reality.

As is so often the case, it is amazingly difficult to convert what now seems such an obviously great idea into a marketable product. However, one day an order for 200 units arrived in the post. This created a stress of its own as these now had to be made. This done, they quickly sold and another order came and then another, larger one, from the same retailer. Young Mr Leatherman was on a roll at last.

The Leatherman Tool was first conceived by Tim during a trip around Europe in a FIAT 500 with his young wife in the 1970s [© Mike Gormley]

It was a long journey for a very determined man. Had Tim not been such a determined man with a very supporting wife, the Leatherman Pocket Survival Tool would never have made it to market. This is undoubtedly a theme that has travelled with the Leatherman Multi-Tool brand and continues to do so.

Amongst the small group gathered at the Science Museum to celebrate with Tim were some extremely determined people, all Leatherman users and as diverse as one could imagine, including on the military side: Royal Marines Reservist Matt Croucher GC, awarded his George Cross for throwing himself atop a Taliban grenade in Afghanistan to save his comrades; Major Richard ‘Johno’ Johnson MC of the Royal Engineers, awarded his Military Cross when a QMSI after defusing a bomb under a bridge with his Leatherman whilst under enemy fire in Iraq; former Para and UKSF soldier Ken Jones who self-rescued from an avalanche and cliff fall in the Transylvanian Alps, effectively using a Leatherman as an ice axe and grappling tool; and rower and five times Olympic Gold winner Royal Navy Lieutenant Peter Reed MBE.

From left: Mike Gormley, Nick Wildman, Tim Leatherman, Sarah Begum and Ken Jones at the 35th Anniversary Leatherman Event

There were a few, like me, who have used a Leatherman for many years and are seldom to be found without one on our belt, but us ordinary folk were totally humbled by those gathered with us. Medal holders and winners, people that have climbed / run / rowed / driven, adventurers and explorers, all rubbed shoulders with those who had disarmed IEDs while under fire, rescued other people and self-rescued, were fastest around the world in a RIB and one person, Steph Jeavons, who had done pretty much the same on land a 250cc motorbike.

Then there were those with the most astonishing stories of personal survival undertaken when many would have just given up. Whoever you talked to and listened to there was this theme of determination running through their stories.

I was talking with Tim after dinner on the first evening and he echoed my thoughts when he said, “I just stopped talking, and listened”. Even he, as the ‘star of the show’, was overwhelmed by the conversations around the table. It was astonishing. Those on our table of just eleven held records for going around the world in a RIB, multiple treks to the South Pole, travelling some 4500km on foot, the UK Iron Man title and many other adventures.

Tim Leatherman hard at work signature engraving Leatherman tools – he did the same for the Editor and myself back in 2009 [© Mike Gormley]

Listening to Ken Jones, who spent four days hauling himself to safety after having his pelvis shattered in an avalanche, and who had been been taken over a cliff in the process as well as losing all his kit, was incredible. He could not walk for two years but got that fixed and now runs endurance events. Ken and all of the other amazingly determined people had been brought together by the determination of Tim Leatherman as they are all users of his invention and have cause to be very thankful of it.

For most who will read this, the Leatherman is the name associated with a multi-tool / survival tool that many will own or know of. These days there is a significant range of these devices which continues to evolve, and we will bring more detail on these in time (Bob the Editor has just penned a review on the WAVE+ which he took with him on assignment to the Middle East within the last month).

A Heritage PST Leatherman is given to those that really deserve them – I borrowed this one from a Northern Air Ambulance Paramedic crewman [© Mike Gormley]

There is not a new Leatherman Tool to flag the past 35 years, though a Limited Edition Heritage PST run has been released, and there have been a small number produced which mirror the original and these are given to some of those that have earned them along their determined journeys. Sadly, I have not earned this accolade but was more than happy to be in the presence of a few that have.

Something else of note from this event is that Leatherman has launched their Innovation Grant Programme where they are offering a significant sum to a worthy non-profit organisation to enable them to kick start an innovative project. If you think you are worthy, contact grants at leatherman dot com. If, like Tim, you are a true innovator – good luck!

For the UK Leatherman online shop go to leatherman.co.uk/multi-tools

Part of the product display at the Leatherman Heritage Event – many familiar items and some less well known such as the Raptor, lower left, a real life-saver for Paramedics [© Mike Gormley]

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