Learning the History and Information of the Stiletto Knife

History and Information of the Stiletto Knife
The stiletto is a knife that was designed for stabbing purposes. This Historyplex post deals with the history of stiletto knives, and a lot of other information, such as, whether it is legal to own one!
Historyplex Staff
Last Updated: Mar 26, 2018
Did You Know?
The popular stiletto heel seen on female footwear is named after the stiletto dagger, because of its similar shape.
Knives are one of the first cutting tools invented by man. They consist of a flattened blade, with one of the edges sharpened, and a blunt tip. With time, knives evolved into various types, apart from their original use as a tool. One of these types, called the dagger, has played a major role in shaping our destiny, as it was a precursor to the sword, which has been used in most wars preceding the 20th century. Contrary to a majority of knives, daggers possess a sharp tip, and are used predominantly as a thrusting weapon, though they may have sharpened edges too. However, not all daggers have flattened blades and/or cutting edges. The stiletto is a popular example of such a knife, having a rich history. How does a stiletto knife work though? Let's find out.
Stiletto Knife History
The stiletto knife is a dagger that is intended for stabbing or thrusting purposes. It features a long blade that tapers to an extremely sharp point. Its origin can be traced back to 15th-century Italy, where it began to be used by the knights, because it could slide between the gaps in chainmail armor or armor plates of their enemies. The term 'stiletto' is derived from the old Latin word 'stilus', which was a device used to write on tablets.
Antique Stiletto
Antique Stiletto
The original stiletto made in the Medieval Period was forged from a single, thick piece of metal, so that the blade did not fold, like modern folding knives. In most cases, the blade had a triangular cross-section, though some knives had square, round, and diamond-shaped cross-sections as well, which culminated into a very sharp point.
This had two implications. One, it made the blade stronger and a folding mechanism impossible, and two, it ensured that the edges were not as sharp, so the dagger could only be used for stabbing attacks, rather than slicing or cutting with its edges.
From the same period, the dagger became greatly popular with assassins, as it could be easily concealed, could be used for stealthy attacks, and drew very little blood, while ensuring that the knife blade punctured vital organs like the heart or lungs, causing death. However, the stiletto was more popular when the knights indulged in duels (fights for honor), especially for finishing off a critically-injured opponent, as it easily penetrated armor gaps, and even the eye-slits of helmets. While the right hand, known as the 'attacking' hand, held the rapier (thin, pointed sword), the stiletto was often held in the left, or the 'off' hand, to trap the opponent's sword at the cross-guard (protective metallic bar between blade and handle).
Black gun powder
When the gunpowder revolution heralded the use of artillery in battle, the stiletto was modified for a different purpose. In the 17th century, one of its versions was used to gauge the amount of gunpowder in a gun or cannon, by inserting it inside to understand how far it would fire. Such knives were 10 inches long with graduated markings on their blades. They were used just like a dipstick is used today to measure the level of motor oil in car engines.
Man using stiletto knife
The stiletto first found its way into the United States during the mid-19th century, when Italian immigrants reached the town of New Orleans, Louisiana. During this period, the town was terrorized by criminal gangs, who indulged in an extortion racket known as the Black Hand. Members of these gangs began using stilettos to eliminate Italian immigrants who refused to pay up, and even organized training camps to teach gang members how to use these daggers. The terror of this weapon made city officials pass laws banning the sale of the stiletto knife within city limits, in 1879.
It also found great use during the two World Wars, with the advent of trench warfare. Where long-range rifles had certain limitations, these daggers could be used to silently sneak up to and eliminate sentries keeping watch in trenches. This period saw several modified versions of the stiletto being developed by adversaries. The most famous version was the British Fairbairn-Sykes knife developed during the Second World War, which could be modified to allow both, slashing and cutting. It was developed by two popular combat coaches of the British army of the same name, who personally trained troops in the use of this dagger.
Modern Switchblade Version
Switchblade Stiletto
Switchblade Stiletto
While the stiletto knife was traditionally meant to be used as a stabbing weapon, and was non-folding, modern versions beginning in the 1950s use the term 'stiletto' to indicate a switchblade knife. This knife can be used for utilitarian purposes, apart from being a self-defense tool. It has sharp edges which can be used for cutting, and, depending on the mechanism, it can slide or fold within the handle. In the latter case, the blade is attached by a pivot at the top of the handle, and when folded, the blade can be released by pressing a button or switch which activates a spring mechanism.
Legality
The legality of owning and carrying a stiletto varies from state to state in the US. This is because of its potential to cause serious injury or death.
Stiletto knife
While most states allow the possession of stiletto knives, the following states have laws banning them for specific/different purposes.
  • Complete ban: California
  • Carrying forbidden: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts
  • Carrying in concealed manner forbidden: Iowa, Michigan, North Dakota, Rhode Island
  • Possession forbidden for offenders and/or mentally challenged: New Hampshire, New Jersey
While stilettos may seem to be cool, there is a great deal of history behind them, as you have just seen. If you own one, it's vital to take good care of your knife to ensure that it stays in good condition. Always keep the blade free from moisture to avoid rusting, and the pivot-points clean. In case the blade gets wet, wipe and dry it, and apply some olive oil to ensure smooth operation.