US WW1 Model 1909 Bolo Knife Dated 1917 by Plumb, Philadelphia
Broadening, ‘bolo’ profile unfullered blade with hatchet point, one flat and one chamfered side forming an asymmetrical edge. Blade 14 inches in length (19.5 inches overall). Simple steel hilt with pierced lower quillon, wood scale grips secured to the exposed tang with three brass rivets and brass cap piece held by a screw. Brown leather scabbard with brass throat piece including a short retaining piece which slots into the lower quillon’s hole, and brass eyelet at the chape.
The blade is stamped at the forte on one side with the maker’s mark ‘PLUMB PHILA.’, (indicating Plumb of Philadelphia) a flaming bomb or ‘Shell and Flame’, the mark of the US Army Ordnance Department, and the manufacture date ‘1917’, and on the other side with ‘US’ and the serial number ‘46918’.
The scabbard is stamped to the reverse with the maker’s mark of ‘LADEW’ (indicating Fayerweather & Ladew of Long Island) and ‘H.J.B.’
The US Army bolo knife evolved from the Filipino bolo: a cutting tool similar to a parang, kukri or machete which the Americans encountered during the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902. The first model of US bolo introduced in 1904 was issued only to the Hospital Corps, but was successful enough to warrant designing a general-issue bolo. Initial attempts to make this bolo double as a bayonet that would attach to the Krag rifle were judged to be failures, so the M1909 was designed purely as a belt knife. It was produced initially at Springfield Armory from 1909 to 1915.
Fayette R. Plumb, Inc. was a tool manufacturer based at Bridesburg, Philadelphia. During the early years of WW1 they took on contracts from Britain, France, Belgium, Serbia and Russia to manufacture a wide variety of soldier’s tools including entrenching picks, hand axes, wire cutters, and bayonets. After the United States joined the war in 1917 Plumb received US government contracts for millions of tools including a new run of M1909 bolo knives, the company increasing its workforce by 70% to meet the new demand.
The firm provided feedback from its work which informed the Ordnance Department in its design of the M1917 bolo, a simplified and shorter version of the M1910 better suited for mass production, both types seeing use in the field during the First World War. Bolos were not standard infantry equipment, but a few would be issued to units expected to need such a tool for their mission – the primary recipients were machine gun squads, which needed to clear brush away from their field of fire.
Some patination to the blade, which also has what look like grinding marks or scrapes on the flat side and one nick to the edge. The hilt has a dark finish with some brighter scratches and rubbing to raised edges. The wood grips have some surface scratches and dents, and a small chip on one side. The leather of the scabbard is in good condition with all stitching intact, only surface level scuffs and dents. The simple profile of the blade and lack of pitting would make it simple to polish to a brighter finish if desired.