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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. At least, everyone agrees that it was invented in Switzerland.

To the dismay of some Swiss, unbiased historians believe that the Romans invented the first pocket knife 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 wanted to eat some snails (an ancient Mediterranean delicacy), and a little poker that was probably used to un-stop small bottles.

Original Roman Swiss Army Knife

The invention of the Swiss Officer's and Sports Knife

There are light years between the Roman cutlery tool and the iconic red multi-tool we now know as the Swiss Army Knife.

Today's version of the knife was designed in the late 19th century by Karl Elsener. The Swiss knife maker had opened a cutlery factory in Ibach in 1884. Striving to create employment opportunities for the locals, Elsener's pioneering spirit resulted in the invention of a soldier's knife.

In 1891, Elsener manufactured the first major supply of such knives for the Swiss Army. This tool was still quite heavy, but it allowed troops to open canned food. The built-in screwdriver provided aid in disassembling a rifle. And the hole punch - well - allowed soldiers to punch holes in their belts.

Elsener continued developing the knife to create a lighter, more elegant version for officers. The Swiss Officer's and Sports Knife featured a clever fold-out mechanism with six functions - including a cork screw!

The iconic red knife was patented in 1897 and is still popular today.

The name Victorinox was inspired by Elsener's mother Victoria, and the French term for stainless steel, les inox.

And in case you were wondering: the iconic color red is no coincidence. It makes the knife stand out when lost in the snow.

The Swiss Officer's and Sports Knife featured these tools:

  • Red oak handle
  • Blade
  • Reamer
  • Can opener
  • Screwdriver
Swiss Officer Knife Patent - Copyright Victorinox
Copyright Victorinox

Victorinox Swiss Army Knife

  • Classic SD knife with seven functions
  • Durable construction with a stainless steel blade
  • Available in 17 color variations

"Compact, agile, and ready to face any adventure head-on."


The Swiss Army Knife in pop culture

Museum curators and Victorinox marketing folks still disagree over the appearance of the Swiss Army Knife in the original "American Gothic":

In the 1950s, it was Dr. Seuss who tried to incorporate the Swiss Army Knife into his children's books:

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, when the small country of Switzerland was overcome with pride. Even on black-and-white television, the Swiss spotted a glimmer of red when Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon...

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. This was the glorious year when MacGyver became the ultimate spokesperson for the Swiss Army Knife. He would use the knife at least once per episode!

MacGyver - Victorinox Knife

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

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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