For a penny a day, young Ernest did his part by driving neighborhood cows outside of town to pasture, then returning them home in the evening. When five-year-old Ernest was driving cattle, he spotted a treasure on the ground. A pen knife! His life’s adventure was about to begin.
A few years later Ernest met a whittling hobo at the local train station. This hobo could form a small piece of wood into a moving pair of pliers by making only ten strategically placed cuts in the small, rectangular, wooden block.
Ernest, called Mooney by his friends, watched the hobo carefully before he headed off to another town. Soon Mooney was making these magical pieces with ease. During his lifetime it is estimated he made nearly 750,000 pairs of pliers, most of which he gave to children. His fastest time for carving a pair of pliers occurred on the Johnny Carson “Tonight Show” when Mooney finished in 9.4 seconds.
Whittling became Mooney’s favorite pasttime, now making double pliers and more. But as is often the case, one thing leads to another. What do you need the most for whittling, especially ebony and ivory? A sharp knife! That was something Mooney could not find. Sometimes the best way to do something is to do it yourself, so Mooney developed a knife that would keep its sharp edge.In his workshop, Mooney developed techniques for tempering and sharpening steel blades so they would hold their sharpness. For whittling purposes, the knife had to have a big handle with small blades – shorter than his thumb. His knife had 139 interchangeable blades so he could work easily with any material of any size. When his mother needed a sharper paring knife in the kitchen, seventeen-year-old Mooney created a small kitchen knife for her. Soon the neighbors were all wanting a knife just like Mooney’s mother used.He added a distinguishing trademark swirl on the blade so his knives were easily recognized. Thus began the business of Warthers Cutlery, handcrafted in the USA since 1902.
Realizing his real riches laid at home, his five daily hours of carving were scheduled for early in the morning before the family awoke. After breakfast, Mooney would ride his bicycle to work at the steel mill, then spend time in the afternoon playing with the children he adored. He didn’t really care much for money; however, when the family needed something, Mooney would make knives. He never sold his carvings.
In 1912, Mooney ended his whittling with a plier tree that can be seen in a glass case today.The tree was made with 511 cuts and was featured at Ripley’s Believe It or Not. This is the point where his whittling turned to carving as he began his history of the steam engine in walnut, ebony, and ivory.During WWII, a lady asked Mooney to make a knife for her son to carry with him during conflict. Mooney made 1100 Commando Knives during this time and carved the names of the military men into the handles. Today the knives of Warther Cutlery are still made in Dover, Ohio with all USA products by third and fourth generation family members. They continue demonstrating Mooney’s signature pair of pliers for visitors, with children usually receiving the newly carved pair.
Before you leave, stop by the gift shop and purchase one of the Warther Cutlery knives with swirl trademark. My little paring knife, “Old Faithful”, was purchased there over twenty-five years ago and is still like new. Whenever you happen to be in the area, visit their knife shop where they will sharpen your Warther knife for life at no cost. When you stop by, they will ask you which hand you use to cut with, so they can sharpen the blade accordingly. They strive for perfection!
Older residents still remember Mooney riding his bicycle down the middle of the road with his white hair flying. The basket on his bicycle was always handy for items he found or was given along the way that eventually might become part of his carvings, either mechanically or in their design. While Ernest Warther worked at his passion nearly every day for 83 years, he died almost penniless, but happy beyond imagination.
Warthers can be found easily off I-77 in Dover, Ohio. Take Exit 83 to the east and follow the well placed signs to Warthers.