T.R.'s Axe: The Story of John King and the "President's Axe"

At our last open shop event our friend Howard Hardy traveled down from Oakland with one of his more unique Maine antiques:  a “President’s Axe.”  

In August, 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt was making a campaign trip to New England. One of the stops on the tour was to be Waterville, Maine.  Nearby Oakland (once known as West Waterville) was home to many axe makers:  Emerson & Stevens, Dunn Edge Tool and John King’s company among them.    Knowing that the President was an avid hunter, John King decided to make a special axe for him. 

The “axe” King made had a two-pound head hafted on a hollow oak handle into which was screwed a 14” long hunting knife with a black walnut handle. The head also had a claw for pulling nails.  Quite the multi-purpose tool!

[photo of a President’s Axe auctioned by Martin J. Donnelly on July 21, 2018 for $748]

When the President’s train pulled into Waterville, John King’s axe was presented to him by William T. Haines.  According to an account in the Pittsburgh Press on September 30, 1902:

“The President made a few remarks in acceptance, smiled as though he was much pleased with the gift, and waved his little axe triumphantly at the crowd as the train pulled out.  Since then John King has received a letter conveying the thanks of the President, and of this he is very proud.”


[Picture Source: http://maineanencyclopedia.com/roosevelts-in-maine/]

So enamored of this unique “axe,” T.R. had his secretary send a note to John King asking that another one to be sent to his son Kermit who was attending school at Groton. 

King Axe then began producing “The President’s Hunting Axe.”  Some of these were marked “KING” on the knife blade.  A paper label calling it a “Sportsman’s Axe” was put on some others.  It is unknown how many of these were made by King Axe, but they occasionally come up for auction. 

A unique piece of Maine history – the President’s axe (maybe to be re-created by Brant & Cochran?).

Sources: Tom Lamond, “The President’s Hunting Axe w/Knife in Handle,” Fine Tool Journal; “John King, Oakland, ME Who Made the Hunter’s Axe, Presented to President Roosevelt,” Lewiston Journal Illustrated, August 30, 1902, "Hunting Axe for President," Pittsburgh Press, September 30, 1902.  All collected in Art Gaffar’s Axe and Edge Tool Makers of Maine (August, 2018 ed.)