Newly Swissed Online Magazine

An Unabridged History of the Swiss Army Knife

You may not be aware that the history of the Swiss Army Knife is still a matter of debate among the Swiss. Either way, everyone agrees that the Swiss Army Knife was invented in Switzerland. Even if it may not be true, at least that's a start.

Actually, unbiased historians believe that the first pocket knife was invented by the Romans in 200 A.D. It combined an iron blade, a spoon, a fork, a toothpick, a little hook that would come in handy if you want to eat some snails (an ancient Mediterranean delicacy), and a little poker that was probably used to unstop small bottles.

Original Roman Swiss Army Knife

It's a given that there are light years between this tool and the Swiss icon that was to become the Swiss Army Knife, right? Actually, there is great consensus that today's version was reinvented for Swiss soldiers in need of a pocket sized tool that could open canned food and aid in disassembling a rifle.

The color red is no coincidence either, as it makes the knife stand out when lost in the snow - duh!

With input from Switzerland Tourism and experts such as Willhelm Tell, the first Soldier Knife in 1897 featured:
- a red oak handle
- a blade
- a reamer
- a can opener
- a screwdriver

However, museum curators and Victorinox marketing folks still to this day disagree over the appearance of the Swiss Army Knife in the original "American Gothic"...

It was Dr. Seuss in the 1950's who tried to incorporate the Swiss Army Knife into his children's books, but this famous graphic went straight to T-shirt...

Dr. Seuss Swiss Army Knive

Around the same time, M.C. Escher tried to express his intrigue in the Swiss Army Knife with a mathematical work of art entitled "Swiss Army Knives". This masterpiece appears to be stacked away in a private collection as no credible reference can be found online.

MC Escher - Victorinox Knife

Fast forward to 1969, and Switzerland suddenly dropped the debates on the Swiss Army Knife. This small country was proud to see a glimmer of red when Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon... The knife even showed on black and white televisions!

Buzz Aldrin Apollo 11 with Victorinox knife

After an absence during the days of flower power, the term "Swiss Army Knife" reappeared in pop culture in 1985. In fact, this is the glorious year when McGyver became the ultimate spokesperson for the Swiss Army Knife!

MacGyver - Victorinox Knife

The question is, would MacGyver still know how to use a 21st century Swiss Army Knife with touches like laser pointers, USB storage drives, and fingerprint scanners with built-in data encryption?

Tell us, has a Swiss Army Knife ever saved your butt?

Dimitri Burkhard

As the founder, editor, and community manager of Newly Swissed, Dimitri owns the strategic vision. He is passionate about storytelling and is a member of Swiss Travel Communicators.

Dimitri loves discovering new trends and covers architecture, design, start-ups and tourism.

Dimitri Burkhard


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