I was born in the wilderness of Northern Wisconsin, in a log cabin, built by my grandfather, as a wedding gift for my parents, for $42. It measured 20′ wide, by 30′ long, and I slept in the corner of the kitchen in a child's antique, spool bed.
My dad was a school teacher, who taught in a number of one room schools throughout Northern Wisconsin, where many times he instructed the same students all the way from kindergarten through graduation in the twelfth grade. I was raised on “the farm.” My grandfather's eighty acre dairy farm, working like all the other “farm kids,” cleaning, milking, bailing hay, and driving tractors from the time I was tall enough to reach the pedals on the 1954 John Deere tractor. I also worked with my father in the woods, cutting and hauling pulp, and timber every summer, his summer vacations, just to make ends meet. I got to start using the chainsaw when I turned twelve.
We never had a lot, but I can never remember myself, or my family wanting for anything. There was always good food on the table, and although my pants got pretty short sometimes, they were always clean, and patched.
Although at this point in my life, many may see me as being successful at my endeavors, and without knowing, assume that I had it easy, or that my road to success was nicely paved before me. Now, I never thought I had it bad, but the truth is, I didn't start out with anything, and I came from pretty humble beginnings. I had a mother, and father, a brother, and sister, grandparents, and dozens of cousins all around me while I was growing up. All of us were in the same boat, trying to make a living out of the ground, in the Northern Wisconsin fields and forests.
My whole family was all about hard work, a little rest, and then more hard work. There is no Saturday or Sunday, no holidays off for a farmer. I remember attending all the Memorial Day Services, Veterans Days, and Fourth of July Parades. Hell, everyone who was from my home land did the same thing. We all pledged allegiance, and sang the National Anthem, with our hand over our hearts, every time it was played.
My family respected this country, and what it stood for, what so many have given their lives for, and when it was their time, I had numerous aunts, uncles, brothers, and cousins who all wore the uniform in service of our country.
My father once told me that hard work was the only secret ingredient to success, and that most people just never learn that secret. My mother told me to, “Never expect anything, and that no one owes you anything,” but then she said, “There’s one thing, and only one thing, that you can expect from this country. Everything else has to be earned. The one thing that you will get from this country, is opportunity, and that opportunity does not exist in many other places. You can grow up to be something, or you can grow up to be nothing. The choice is yours, but you can never blame anything or anyone else but yourself if you don't succeed, and never forget to thank God for this country, if you do.”
Why do we stay, “Made in America?” We're made in America, because America gave me the opportunity to succeed. America gave me the freedom to pursue my dreams. America gave me the choice to be nothing, or something. America gave me the power to provide for my family, and their future. America gave me the opportunity to learn. America gave me the freedom to protect my family, and my home. America gave me the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Why do we stay, “Made in America?” We're made in America, because America gave me the opportunity to succeed. America gave me the freedom to pursue my dreams.
My parents gave me the secret ingredient. My work ethic. The knowledge that hard work pays off, and the wisdom that made me realize that no matter what opportunities America provided, I still had to work hard, very hard, to make them come to fruition, and that nothing was ever going to be given to me for free. I was entitled to nothing except a chance. I took my parent's advice, and then I took my chance.
I excelled in high school and was chosen as a National Merit Scholar and a four year honor student. I lettered in three sports, for three years. I went to school on a football scholarship, earned a double major degree, and went on to play pro baseball. People might say, “Man, you had it made. How lucky are you?” Well, I'll tell you this, “It wasn't luck.”
No one but me knows the countless midnight hours I spent doing homework. No one knows the thousands of books that I've read to satisfy my thirst for knowledge. And no, I wasn't a gifted athlete at only 5'7″ tall, and when I was playing, bounced from 145 pounds, to 155 pounds, depending on the sport. But I was the guy who spent hours throwing baseballs into a chalked in strike zone on a brick wall at the high school tennis court. No one knows the hours I spent out on the dirt driveway, swinging, missing and finally, hitting marble-sized rocks with a broomstick. Nobody knows the hours I spent throwing footballs through a hanging tire in my back yard. All of this was because I wasn't the gifted “natural athlete.” Everything I excelled at was because of the blood, sweat, and tears I spent trying to become what I wanted to be. I had to work harder, and try harder than everyone else to earn my spot on every team that I played on.
“Everything I excelled at was because of the blood, sweat, and tears I spent trying to become what I wanted to be.”
I learned a lot from my days on those teams, and a lot from all the hours of practice that I would put in, long after the official practices were over. What I learned was that if I wanted something, I had to earn it, and in order to earn it, I had to work for it. These were the same principles I employed in starting this company. I knew it would be a hard road. I knew I would have to earn every inch of it, and we did.
We started in my garage, and our living room, setting up shop in the morning and taking it down each night so we could eat dinner. Eventually we grew to be a major force, and the major influence in the cutlery industry. That was where we ended up.
Now a paper, and degreed, business expert could say, “You're not a good business man. You should have gone where there were less startup costs, and a higher profit margin. You should have gone overseas.” Well, maybe I'm not a good businessman because I sunk every penny I had in my retirement accounts, took a second mortgage out on my house, and maxed out every credit card we had to get this business going. Thank God, and thanks to my wife, who had the unwavering faith in me to let this happen. Without her support, none of this would have ever been possible.
Anyway, I ransomed everything we had in the dream to start this business. I put our entire future up as stakes in this cutlery poker game. Yes, there were many who told me I was crazy, that I had made a stupid decision, that I had done a very bad thing. There were those who told me that I couldn't do it, that it could not be done. Little did they realize, that telling me that I couldn't do something, have always been the words that guaranteed I would do it or die trying in the effort. “You're too small. You're too short. You can't win this match. You can't beat this guy. You can't win this fight.” I've heard this all before, and every time, it only made me double my efforts to succeed, and it has paid off.
My knife company, actually, our knife company, our family business, succeeded in spite of all of the naysayers, and the hardships along the way. I did not draw one paycheck for the first two years that we were in business, and many were the times that we maxed out our credit cards, just to make payroll. Several times my wife and I looked at each other and asked, “Is this really worth it?” But we never lost faith, and neither of us was a quitter. I never walked away from a challenge, or a fight, and though I've certainly lost my fair share of times, it was never because I had gave in, gave up, or didn't give my best effort. I wasn't giving up this time, either.
We did succeed. We did prevail, and we did carve out stone by stone, our reputation, and our place in the cutlery industry. And now, the result is that our foundation, has been carved out of solid granite.
I wanted a company that I could be proud of, that my family could be proud of, and that every Emerson Knife user on the planet could be proud of. The only way that could be possible, in my book, was if we were “Made in America.” Not assembled in America. Not just labeled made in America, according to some minimum requirement, something printed out by the State Department, or the Department of Commerce. We had to be literally, truthfully, and honestly, 100% Made in America. Down to the last screw. If I needed to consult some chart to see if my product qualified to say, “Made in America,” then guess what? It's not made in America.
I wanted a company that I could be proud of, that my family could be proud of, and that every Emerson Knife user on the planet could be proud of. The only way that could be possible, in my book, was if we were “Made in America.”
I owe everything I have to the freedoms, and the opportunities that this great country has given to me. I saw how this country's workers were being hammered by jobs being lost to overseas manufacturing. I'm from a small town, a place that never had a lot to start with, and I've seen them feel the pain, suffering, and loss from unfair overseas competition. These were my friends, and families, and I vowed to do my best to put Americans to work, in an American factory, making a product, made right here, in the United States of America, and I did it. Our customers know it, and because they know this, many fellow Americans are willing to stake their lives on the integrity, strength, and dependability, of Emerson Knives.
I grew up in America. America gave me the opportunity to pursue my dreams. America gave me the chance to make something of myself. Americans, for over 250 years, have given their lives to protect me, and my family. America gave me my past, and my future. America made me who I am.
I am Made in America. Our knives are 100% Made in America. We are America's Knife Company. And that is why we are “Made in America.”
Ernest Emerson, 2016
I just purchased my first Emerson knife (CQC-7BW BTS). One of the factors that led to my purchase was the knife being “Made in America”, I’ll be 70 years old this month and I have seen our country ship it’s jobs and manufacturing to dozens of foreign countries. Its refreshing to find a product made in America by Americans. Another factor that led to my purchase was Mr. Emerson’s commitment to building products for our military and police officers. I served in Vietnam in 1967 & 1968, with the 1st Battalion 1st Marine Division and I’m a retired California police officer. When I find a company that supports America, our troops and police officers it’s a done deal for me. I want to support that company. Mr. Emerson keep up the good work!
I have been a long time fan of your work. I am a welder by trade and have made a few knives myself over the years. I am also a former Marine. We also have many things in common with our upbringing. Point being your “Why we are American” story literally brought a tear to my eye. And I honestly couldn’t tell you the last time that happened. Much respect
Been carrying one of your knives every day since July of 1996 and this post of yours makes me proud to continue to do so.
Glad to see this. I logged on tonight to buy my first Emerson and this just confirmed that I made the right decision.