The Serrated Bread Knife

By Roger, Bob | The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, Inc., March 2010 | Go to article overview

The Serrated Bread Knife


Roger, Bob, The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, Inc.


First, there was bread. Then, a long time later in Fremont, Ohio, the serrated bread knife - an interesting tool that is both very functional and pleasing to look at - arrived.

Bread can be cut with almost any sharp knife, but a serrated blade performs exceptionally well, and knives with six- to ten-inch serrated blades are usually known as bread knives. The shorter versions are also used for cake, tomatoes, and other foods that are tough on the outside and soft on the inside. This article will examine serrated bread knife patents issued before 1940 in the United States.

The American table cutlery industry began in 1 834, and by 1919 there were more than sixty American kitchen, butcher, and industrial knife makers.1 The typical knife used for bread, cake, tomatoes, and similar foods was a sharp, thin-bladed slicing knife with a straight, smooth edge - a style that was well-represented in the products of this industry. But the industry was more than fifty years old by the time the serrated-blade bread knife was invented, which is especially interesting as the use of saw blades for meat and bone cutting had been established long before.

Russ J. Christy founded the Christy Knife Company in Fremont, Ohio, about 1 890, and he should be considered the father of the serrated bread knife. Figure 1 shows the drawing for patent no. 414,973, issued on November 12, 1889, to Christy. This patent was for his wire-handled, tang-less knives. In the patent drawing, he showed two different ways of fastening the handle to the blade, and in the description he referred to the bottom knife with the serrated blade in the drawing as a "bread knife." He explained the difference between his serrated blade and a saw blade by noting that the serrations were thinner than the upper blade and had no set in them. He also explained that the serrations are sharp at their bottoms as well as at their tops. He did not, however, claim the serrated blade in this patent.

Christy's next patent, no. 460,677, was issued on October 6, 1 89 1 , and assigned to Robert H. Rice of Fremont and Leonidas H. Cress of New York City. This patent for a tang-less serrated blade had the serrations ground on one side only and were formed by reverse curves, so that the space between the teeth was of similar curve to the teeth (Figure 2). Figure S shows an example of Christy's bread knife marked with the 1889 and 1891 patent dates. Christy introduced these in 1892.2

Christy had been residing in Sandusky when he submitted his applications for these two patents (no. 460,677 was submitted on November 4, 1890). By the time he submitted his third patent (April, 1 895), he had moved to Fremont.

The next patent related to serrated bread knives was no. 485,264 issued on November 1, 1892, to John J. Eberhard of Fremont for an iron knife handle (Figure 4). He assigned it to the Clauss Shear Company, also of Fremont. John H. Clauss, who had founded the company in 1878, introduced his scalloped-edge, tang-less bread knives with the Eberhard iron handle beginning in 1892. Figure 5 shows one of Clauss's knives, which is marked "CLAUSS and FREMONT," with the Eberhard patent handle. Note that Clauss's blade serrations are alternately large and small, and that there is not much of a reverse curve between them.

Kenneth Cope in Kitchen Collectibles illustrates two bread knives made by Charles F Spery & Company of St. Louis, Missouri.3 They are both marked "SPERY" and appear to have Christy's blade. The first was offered in 1894 and has a decorative handle quite similar to Eberhard's patent. In 1 895, the firm offered the second bread knife as part of a set, and all of the items in the set clearly have Christy's handle. The Spery company was probably absorbed by Illinois Cutlery in 1 898, which continued to offer nearly identical products.

A bread and cake knife with diagonal corrugations across the entire blade, called Ball's Bread & Cake Knife, was introduced in 1894. …

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