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who invented the swiss army knife

who invented the swiss army knife

who invented the swiss army knife

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Swiss Army knife

The Swiss Army knife is a multi-tool pocketknife manufactured by Victorinox.  The term “Swiss Army knife” was coined by American soldiers after World War II after they had trouble pronouncing the German word “Offiziersmesser“, meaning “officer’s knife”. 

The Swiss Army knife generally has a main spearpoint blade plus other blades and tools such as screwdrivers, a can opener, a saw blade, a pair of scissors, and many others. These are stowed inside the handle of the knife through a pivot point mechanism. The handle is traditionally a red color, with either a Victorinox or Wenger “cross” logo or, for Swiss military issue knives, the coat of arms of Switzerland. Other colors, textures, and shapes have appeared over the years.

Originating in Ibach, Switzerland, the Swiss Army knife was first produced in 1891 when the Karl Elsener company, which later became Victorinox, won the contract to produce the Swiss Army’s Modell 1890 knife from the previous German manufacturer. In 1893, the Swiss cutlery company Paul Boéchat & Cie, which later became Wenger SA, received its first contract from the Swiss military to produce model 1890 knives; the two companies split the contract for provision of the knives from 1908 until Victorinox acquired Wenger in 2005. A cultural icon of Switzerland, both the design of the knife and its versatility have worldwide recognition.  The term “Swiss Army knife” has acquired usage as a figure of speech indicating extreme utility applicable to more or less any scenario at hand.

who invented the swiss army knife
who invented the swiss army knife


Victorinox and Wenger  

In 1908 the Swiss government split the contract between Victorinox and Wenger, placing half the orders with each. By mutual agreement,  Wenger advertised “the Genuine Swiss Army Knife” and Victorinox used the slogan, “the Original Swiss Army Knife”.

Elsener’s son Carl renamed the company in 1921 to “Victorinox”, incorporating the abbreviation “inox” for acier inoxydable, the French term for stainless steel which they started to use that year. 

During 1961–2005, the pocket knives issued to the Swiss military produced exclusively by Victorinox and Wenger.

On 26 April 2005, Victorinox acquired Wenger, once again becoming the sole supplier of knives to the Military of Switzerland. Victorinox at first kept the Wenger brand intact, but on 30 January 2013, the company announced that the Wenger brand of knives would be abandoned in favour of Victorinox. The press release stated that Wenger’s factory in Delémont would continue to produce knives and all employees at this site will retain their jobs. They further elaborated that an assortment of items from the Wenger line-up will remain in production under the Victorinox brand name. Wenger’s US headquarters will be merged with Victorinox’s location in Monroe, Connecticut. Wenger’s watch and licensing business will continue as a separate brand: SwissGear.

Originating from inside a cutler’s workshop in 1884, Victorinox stands for quality, functionality, innovation and iconic design, and has done for more than 130 years.

Today, Victorinox is a global company with five product categories: Swiss Army Knives, Household and Professional Knives, Watches, Travel Gear and Fragrances.

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Karl Elsener I opens a knife cutler’s workshop in Ibach-Schwyz. His mother Victoria actively supports him in his endeavors.


Karl Elsener I establishes the Association of Swiss Master Cutlers. As a result, he is able to deliver the first major supply of soldier’s knives to the Swiss Army.


The original Swiss Officer’s and Sports Knife patented. It known around the world today as the “Swiss Army Knife”.


Establishment of Carl and Elise Elsener Gut Foundation with the mission to support national and international charitable projects.


Market entry for “Travel Gear” with the American TRG Group in St. Louis as licensee.


Establishment of the Victorinox Foundation which holds 90 % of the share capital of Victorinox AG. The remaining 10 % belong to the non-profit Carl and Elise Elsener-Gut Foundation.


Launch of a clothing line in the U.S. and opening of the first Victorinox store in Soho, New York.


Acquisition of the long-standing Swiss knife and watch manufacturer Wenger SA in Delémont. Wenger remains an independently operating subsidiary of Victorinox.


Carl Elsener IV takes over the company management and further expands Victorinox as a global multi-product brand.

Establishment of Victorinox Swiss Army Fragrance AG.


Opening of the first European Victorinox flagship store in London.

who invented the swiss army knife
who invented the swiss army knife

Started as a German Import

In the late 1880s, before there was ever an official Swiss Army knife, the Swiss Army decided to purchase a simple folding pocket knife for their soldiers. This knife intended for use by the army in opening canned food and disassembling the M1889 Swiss service rifle which required a screwdriver for assembly.

At that time, no Swiss company had the production capacity to supply the knives, so the initial order for 15,000 knives was filled by the German knife manufacturer Wester & Co. from Solingen, Germany. These knives delivered in October 1891 and designated Modell 1890. The knife had a single blade, reamer, can opener, and screwdriver, with grips made out of dark oak.

Enter Swiss Craftsmanship

In 1891, Karl Elsener, the owner of a company that made surgical equipment, sought to manufacture the knives in Switzerland, and by the end of 1891 Elsener took over production of the Modell 1890 knives. But Elsener not satisfied with the knife’s design. In 1896, Elsener created a design in which tools attached on both sides of the handle using a spring mechanism. This innovation allowed him to use the same spring to hold all the tools in place, thereby putting twice as many features on the knife. In 1897 this knife featuring a second smaller cutting blade, corkscrew, and wood fiber grips originally registered with the patent office as The Officer’s and Sports Knife, though it was never part of a military contract.

Victorinox and Wenger Both Supply Knives

In 1893, the Swiss cutlery company Paul Boéchat & Cie, which later became Wenger, received its first contract from the Swiss military to produce Modell 1890 knives. Both companies, Paul Boéchat (Wenger) and Elsener (later to become Victorinox), used the cross and shield to identify their knives—a symbol still used today. While Wenger touted itself as the “Genuine Swiss Army Knife,” Victorinox laid claim to being the “Original Swiss Army Knife.” The two companies split the contract for providing knives to the Swiss Army from 1908 until Victorinox acquired Wenger in 2005.

Enter Stainless Steel

When Karl Elsner’s mother died in 1909, Elsener renamed his company “Victoria” in her memory. In 1921 the company started using newly invented stainless steel to make the Swiss Army Knife. Stainless steel known as “inox”, short for the French term acier inoxydable. “Victoria” and “inox” were then combined to create the portmanteau “Victorinox”, the name still used today.

How the Swiss Army Knife Got Its Name

Ever practical, the Swiss Army knife primarily a tool used by soldiers. Which prompted the popular name in English “Swiss Army knife,” a term coined by American soldiers who difficulty pronouncing their German name, “Schweizer Offiziersmesser,” or “Sackmesser” in the local Swiss-German dialect. To this day, each military recruit (which includes most of the male population, since the Swiss have compulsory military service for all men when they reach the age of adulthood) receives a Swiss Army knife upon beginning their service. Ironically, Victorinox, a company founded to keep Swiss soldiers from carrying German-made knives, is now the official supplier of pocket knives to the German Army.

Origins of Swiss Army Knife

A red handle, a small white cross, a blade or two, and fold-out tools for the job — a Swiss Army Knife is an icon of utility and smart design recognizable the world over. Invented in the 1880s, and today still made exclusively in only two factories in Switzerland, the pocket knives are produced in dozens of varieties at a tune of more than 15 million per year.

This summer, on a trip to Europe, I toured Swiss Army Knife factories in Ibach and Delemont, the idyll Swiss towns where pocket knives have made for more than 100 years. Amid the pounding of machines and the bins of knife implements on the factory floor, workers assembled knife after knife to meet the world’s demand.

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who invented the swiss army knife
who invented the swiss army knife

Ibach, in 1884

It was in Ibach, in 1884, where Karl Elsener and his mother, Victoria, opened a cutlery cooperative that would soon produce the first knives sold to the Swiss Army. The original model, called the Soldier Knife, made for troops who needed a foldable tool that could open canned food and aid in disassembling a rifle. The Soldier Knife included a blade, a reamer, a can opener, a screwdriver, and oak handles.

In Switzerland, I traveled by train from city to city. Across the country, in the French-speaking region of Jura. I toured Wenger S.A., the other half of the Swiss Army coin.

The Delemont company, founded as a cutler in the 19th century. And later modernized by businessman Theodore Wenger, shares the Swiss Army knife trademark with Victorinox. Both companies’ knives have a similar history, and both have been purchased in bulk quantities by the Swiss Army since the 1890s.

Like Victorinox, the Wenger Swiss Army Knives come in dozens of types. The company sells simple pocket knives on up to multitools like the Mike Horn Knife, a half-pound beast with two blades and a pliers.

Wenger’s EvoGrip line has added ergonomic contours to knife handles. In 2006, the company introduced the Giant, a gargantuan, nine-inch-wide “pocket knife”. With 85 implements that sells as a collector’s item for $1,400.

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