"Ever since I was a kid I've always wanted to be an inventor. I was always building things, taking things apart, trying to invent something." --Mike Miller, inventor of the Knork
Museums collect more than just antiques. The Kansas Museum of History actively collects modern objects its curators believe will have a lasting impact in history. These include items invented by Kansans and used by people around the world.
One recent Kansas invention that has been added to the collections is the Knork--a combination knife and fork with two thin outer tines and a wider platform-like handle for cutting foods. In addition to the stainless steel Knork, Wichita inventor Mike Miller has also designed plastic Knorks and many other ergonomic utensils.
Inspiration for the Invention
Miller first conceived of the Knork in eighth grade while eating at a pizza restaurant in Newton, Kansas. The cheap plastic fork he was using smashed the pizza instead of cutting it, and made an indentation in his finger. Inspired by the restaurant's staff who cut pizza by rocking a knife across it, Miller believed he could design a fork that would employ a similar rocking motion. He recalled, "I went home that same night and drew everything up on a piece of paper, and came up with the word Knork."
Miller set the idea aside, believing that someone else had already thought of the same concept. He continued to be reminded of the Knork, though, at nearly every meal. Years later, while studying at Kansas State University, Miller began seriously considering a Knork manufacturing company. "I didn't want to be that guy someday down the road, thinking 'I thought of that idea but I never did anything about it,'" he explained. Miller moved back to his hometown of Wichita and started a company.
Evolution of the Knork
First, the inventor made a series of prototypes "using a basic regular fork and putting car putty and Bondo all over it." The finger platform proved difficult to design, as did the cutting edge. Because Miller is left-handed, he designed the Knork (and every other product) to be comfortable for both right- and left-handed people. "It took me probably a year to a year and a half to think of every aspect I could change on a fork," Miller told museum curators.
The first Knork sales took place at the Kansas State Fair in 2003. Today, an expanded line of products sells to high-end restaurants as well as merchandisers such as Bed Bath & Beyond and Target on-line. Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken have expressed an interest in plastic Knorks, and the Wichita company is working with the U.S. military to develop a lightweight, folding, titanium Knork. Miller also wants to continue inventing other two-in-one concepts for flatware, particularly knives.
Miller has been surprised by the wide variety of people attracted to the Knork, originally believing the utensils would be used primarily at cocktails parties or fast food restaurants. Because the Knork stabs, cuts, and scoops food, however, it is especially useful for persons with disabilities. Not only people who have limited mobility in their hands or arms, but also those with limited eyesight have told Miller that his design helps them eat comfortably and confidently in public.
As an inventor, Miller takes pride in inspiring others and acts as a consultant for young inventors. "Young people will come up with an idea and I'll meet with them and help them," he said. "So that's fun--trying to take everything I've learned from the last eight years and help somebody else pursue their dream."
Both metal and plastic examples of Kansas' own Knorks have been donated through the generosity of Mike Miller and the Knork Flatware corporation. They are in the collections of the Kansas Museum of History.
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: August 2010
Date Modified: December 2014
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