Swiss Army knife
A Swiss Army knife (SAK), (German: das Schweizer Taschenmesser) is a multi-function pocket knife or multitool. Generally speaking, a Swiss Army knife has a blade as well as various tools, such as screwdrivers and can openers. These attachments are stowed inside the handle of the knife through a pivot point mechanism. The handle is usually red, and features a white cross, the emblem of Switzerland. The knife model that is actually used by the Swiss Army has a knurled alox handle. It was originated in Ibach, Schwyz, Switzerland in 1897.
The term "Swiss Army knife" is sometimes used generically to describe a tool, such as a software tool, that is a collection of special-purpose tools. The term "Swiss Army knife" was coined by the US soldiers after World War II, as they couldn't pronounce its original Swiss-German name, "Offiziersmesser". The knife is now commonly referred to by German speakers as "Schweizer Taschenmesser" or, translated literally, "Swiss Pocket Knife."
Various models of Swiss Army knives exist, with different tool combinations for specific tasks. The model issued to the Swiss Army has a knurled metal surface with a red emblem, and includes a blade, a reamer, a bottle-opener/screwdriver/wire stripper, and a can-opener/small screwdriver.
The simplest model sold includes only a single blade. The most popular models typically include some combination of the tools included in the official army model; a small second blade, tweezers, toothpick, corkscrew, phillips-head screwdriver, nail file, scissors, saw, hook, magnifying glass, ballpoint pen, fish scaler, pliers and key chain. Recent technological features include USB flash memory, digital clock, digital altimeter, LED light, laser pointer, and MP3 player.
The official army model also contains a brass spacer, which allows the knife, with the screwdriver and the reamer extended at the same time, to be used to assemble the Swiss Army assault rifles, both the SIG 550 and the older SIG 510: the knife serves as a restraint to the firing pin during assembly of the lock.
The standard full-size SAK is approximately 9 cm (3.5 inches) long and 2 cm (0.75 inches) wide; smaller models are typically about 6 cm (2.25 in) long and 1.5 cm (0.5 in) wide. Thickness varies depending on the number of tools included. Although red SAKs are most common, black, blue, white, phosphorescent yellow, various camouflage patterns and other colors are available. The plastic cladding is usually opaque but may be transparent; metal- and wood-clad models are available. Many textures, colors, and in fact, shapes are now popping up in the Swiss Army Knife.
In 1891, Karl Elsener, then owner of a company that made surgical equipment, discovered to his dismay that the pocket knives supplied to the Swiss Army were in fact made in Germany. Upset, he founded the Association of Swiss Master Cutlers. Its goal was simple: Swiss knives for the Swiss Army.
Upon a suggestion by his engineer friend, Jeannine Keller, Elsener began working on what was the predecessor to the modern Swiss Army knife, called the "Soldier's Knife". The original had a wooden handle, as opposed to the plastic and metal seen today, and featured a blade, a screwdriver, a can opener, and a punch. This knife was sold to the Swiss army, but Elsener was not satisfied with its first incarnation. In 1896, after 5 years of hard work, Elsener managed to put blades on both sides of the handle using a special spring mechanism, allowing him to use the same spring to hold them in place, an innovation at the time. This allowed Elsener to put twice as many features on the knife; he added a second blade and a corkscrew.
Victorinox and Wenger
Elsener, through his company Victorinox, managed to have the market completely for himself until 1893, when the second industrial cutlery of Switzerland, Paul Boechat & Cie headquartered in Delémont in the French-speaking canton of Jura, started selling a similar product. This company was later acquired by its then General Manager, Theodore Wenger and renamed the Wenger Company. In 1908 the Swiss government, wanting to prevent an issue over regional favouritism, but perhaps wanting a bit of competition in hopes of lowering prices, split the contract with Victorinox and Wenger each getting half of the orders placed. By mutual agreement, Wenger advertises as the Genuine Swiss Army Knife and Victorinox uses the slogan the Original Swiss Army Knife. However, on April 26, 2005, Victorinox acquired Wenger, thus once again becoming the sole supplier of knives to the Swiss Army. However, on the consumer side Victorinox has stated that it intends to keep both brands intact.
The two Swiss Army knife manufacturers, Victorinox and Wenger, together supply about 50,000 knives to the Swiss army each year. The rest of production is devoted to exports, mostly to the United States. Commercial Victorinox and Wenger SAKs can be immediately distinguished by their logos; the Victorinox cross is surrounded by a shield with bilateral symmetry, while the Wenger cross is surrounded by a slightly rounded square with quadrilateral symmetry. The knives supplied to the Swiss Army bear a simpler bilaterally-symmetric shield.
At this time, the most sophisticated knives include a Wenger model with a laser pointer (using AAAA batteries) , and a Victorinox model with a 2 GB detachable USB flash drive . Wenger has even manufactured a $1200 Swiss army knife that has all of the implements of the other knives in it. Victorinox is located in the Swiss town of Ibach with a show room, Wenger is located in the Swiss town of Delémont with no show room.
There are also many other manufacturers of similar-looking multi-tool folding knives, at a wide range of price and quality points.
- Victorinox manufacturer's web site (English version)
- The Victorinox Army Ranger Knife their most popular model
- Wenger manufacturer's web site (English version)
- SOSAK SOSAK is the Secret Order of Swiss Army Knife, discussion group/forum
- sosakonline SOSAK is the Secret Order of Swiss Army Knife, a collectors' and users' community
- Does the Swiss army really use the Swiss army knife? at The Straight Dope