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Swiss Army Knife Launches the Age of the Multitool

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Swiss Army Knife Launches the Age of the Multitool
: Photo: Courtesy VictorinoxThe first spring-loaded Swiss Army knife, the Offiziersmesser, included a single knife blade, two screwdrivers, a can opener and an awl punch.
When it was registered as a trademark by Swiss-blade-craftsman Carl Elsener 111 years ago, no one would have believed that his simple multifunctional tool would dominate the survival/useful gadget market for more than a century.
Over the years, useful attachments ranging from spoons, forks, USB keys, toothpicks, lighters and compasses have all recessed quietly into the elegant steel handle with the familiar White Cross logo. What began with a few surgical instruments and razors led to a revolution characterized by three important qualities: Durability, portability and multiple-purpose utility.
Click through the gallery to see the Swiss Army knife's cultural impact and the current tools it inspired. (Do you have your own favorite multitool? Tell us about it in the comments.)
Left: The classic Swiss Army design for the 2008 collection contains a few more basic tools than the original design.
: Photo: Donald Stampfli/APCuban President Fidel Castro proudly holds up the Swiss Army knife he received as a gift from the Swiss Press Club on May 20, 1998, in the notoriously politically centrist city of Geneva, Switzerland. Weíre guessing he used it to chop off the end of a fine Cuban cigar.
The toughest individuals in the world, as well as the not so rugged, carry Swiss Army knives. U.S. presidents have been known to cradle a Swiss Army in their pocket, and astronauts keep them in the space shuttle, just in case.
President Lyndon Johnson was known to commission thousands of personally engraved Swiss Army sets to be sent out to his friends and most loyal supporters.
: Photo: Karl Mathis/Keystone Former President George Bush shows off the Swiss Army knife he received from Carl Elsener, chief of Victorinox, left, in Lugano, Switzerland, 2001. Carl is the descendant of founder Karl Elsener.
The Swiss Army knife was one of the first multifunction tools to be available to the public, and the knife's use on the battlefield contributed to its popularity, especially after World War II. The Victorinox Swiss Army Company is currently the most-recognized tool brand in the world.
The origin of the companyís success comes from an early modification by Karl Elsener. When building the first tool for the Swiss Army, he included a sharp-edged "erasing" blade that could be used to erase the pen handwritings of the Army officers. (He included the corkscrew later on, as a lifestyle-specific addition.)
: Photo: Wenger/Keystone/Photopress Among the many top Swiss Army knives, the 24-tool Champion is often ranked among the most prized and efficient, but the craziest one of all has to be 2007's Swiss Army Knife XXL, left, (created by former rival Wenger, after its 2005 acquisition by Victorinox). Selected by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's Most Multifunctional Pen Knife, the XXL includes 87 tools and 141 functions. But doesnít it defeat the spirit of the original's weightless portability?
: One of the world's first true gadgets, the Swiss Army knife initiated the quest for the perfect multitool. Today, the dream of a unified tool is mostly fantasy, but there are tons of specialized innovations that follow in the spirit of the original Victorinox standard.
The Crank Brothers Multi-19 bicycle tool includes four different screwdrivers, a chain tool, seven different types of hex keys (all made out of superdurable high-tensile steel), a spoke and an open wrench. It's also ridiculously light at only one-third of a pound.
This type of tool is usually reserved for an emergency, but itís indispensable for a quick adjustment or repair.
: The Li'l Guppie looks like the metal, horror-movie version of the Nemo clownfish, but this little multitool is no joke. Based on a wrench platform and its older precursor, the Guppie, the Liíl Guppie is one of the most popular form factor tools today: keychain tools.
Even if you are disgusted by its unbearable cuteness, the number of features will undoubtedly win you over. Among its features are an adjustable wrench jaw, a blade made out of high-carbon stainless steel, a screwdriver tip, an additional Phillips screwdriver and a pocket clip. Not only that, but the tail end of the gadget serves as a bottle opener.
: The Shopro multifunction hammer pushes the multitool outside the realm of knives, but also out of the realm of pockets. Not too many multitools provide the weight balance necessary to include a quality hammer. True, it wonít drive like a forged-steel sledgehammer, but it makes up for lack of strength with portability.
The Shopro is able to separate into two different sections, so when the torque (for the pliers) is applied to the connected sections around the handle, the grip functionality is transferred to the jaws. And itís also very manageable -- itís about the same size as a Wiimote.
The Shopro also includes pliers, a nail puller, large- and small-slotted screwdrivers, a serrated saw, a large and a small knife and a bottle opener.
: The Leatherman is the brave multitool that dared to question the superiority of the Swiss Army knife as the best multitool out there, and lived to create its own niche. The four-inch long, 100 percent stainless steel Pocket Survival Tool was interesting from the beginning because it fit the needs of everyone from the construction worker to the weekend warrior, mainly because of the simple, durable pliers and the comfortable grip.
That first version also included wire cutters, a clip-point knife, a metal/wood file, a ruler, different screwdriver sizes and an awl punch -- all in a small container which rendered pocket-size the regular toolbox.
By the time Leatherman tools were selling over a million a year in 1993, and Keanu was using it to open elevator doors in Speed, the tool had become a household name.


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