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June 12, 1897: The Swiss Army Gets Its Own Knife

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June 12, 1897: The Swiss Army Gets Its Own Knife
1897: Karl Elsener legally registers his "soldiers' knife" for use by the Swiss army.
In an age when nationalism was fashionable, Elsener, a Swiss manufacturer of surgical instruments and cutlery, was a very fashionable man indeed. So he was less than thrilled to learn that the Swiss army was importing Solingen blades from neighboring Germany. Elsener set out to develop a homegrown multifunctional tool worthy of being carried by his local Alpine troops.
His prototype of what became known as the Swiss army knife appeared in 1891. The original -- made with a wooden handle -- included a blade, a screwdriver and a can opener. But Elsener was not happy with it and tinkered endlessly, adding a second blade using a revolutionary spring mechanism, and strengthening the housing.
The addition of a second blade necessitated extra space for the spring, which also opened up more room for other tools.
Elsener created a company, which he named Victoria after his mother, and opened a cutlery factory in Ibach, at the foot of the Alps.
After switching to stainless steel blades in 1921, the company -- which remains a family-run concern to this day -- was renamed Victorinox, "inox" truncated from the French word inoxydable for stainless. Today, in addition to its signature army knife, the company manufactures other precision instruments, especially watches.
The classic Swiss army knife bears the Swiss national symbol, a white cross in the center of a red shield, outlined in white against the red handle.
More than 34,000 Swiss Army knives are manufactured every day, and small wonder. This remarkably versatile tool is standard equipment for everyone from Boy Scouts to building contractors to mountaineers. It is even carried into space aboard the space shuttle.
Oh, and every recruit in the Swiss army still receives a knife upon entering the service. Victorinox supplies the army with about 50,000 knives each year.
Many variations are available, from relatively simple to jaw-droppingly complex.
The SwissChamp model, for example, which sells for around 88 bucks, boasts (take a deep breath): a large blade, small blade, can opener with small screwdriver, bottle opener with large screwdriver and wire stripper, scissors, pliers with wire cutter, wood saw, fish scaler with hook disgorger and ruler, metal saw with metal file and nail file, magnifying glass, reamer with sewing eye, Phillips screwdriver, corkscrew, hook, wood chisel, fine screwdriver, mini-screwdriver, ballpoint pen, straight pin, tweezers, key ring and … a toothpick.
A commemorative knife known as The Giant (it's 9 inches thick), contains 85 devices allowing for 110 functions. It's yours for around $1,200.
Other models reflect advances in technology and include features such as a laser pointer, USB flash drive and even an MP3 player.
Source: Victorinox,

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