There is probably no man on Earth who wouldn’t have a Swiss knife or its look-alike. And though the idea of a pocket knife may have originated nowhere near Switzerland, it gained global fame thank to a Swiss Karl Elsener and is now associated unbreakably with his motherland and perfect Swiss quality. OUTLOOK tells the story of the most famous and popular knife of the world.
In a distant year 1891 the owner of surgical equipment production company Karl Elsener suddenly discovered that folding knives used by the Swiss Army soldiers were produced in Germany, not in his homeland, so he hastened to set the misfit straight. Without further ado he founded Association of Swiss Knife Manufacturers with the goal to provide national army with home-made knives. Elsener united about 25 craftsmen to create his first instrument. It was called ‘soldier’s knife’, had a wooden handle and was significantly improved by the team of experts. Besides the knife itself the item included a sword-blade, a can opener, an awl and a screw-driver. Swiss soldiers had an extreme need of the latter one due to the fact that right about that time the army was armed with new Schmidt-Rubin M1889 rifles that required a screw-driver to be assembled.Photo youtube.com
However, Elsener’s knife turned out to be much more expensive than the German analogue so it lost the competition spectacularly. Upon the failure many entrepreneurs dropped the idea; Elsener on the other hand went on with the experiments to create a model after a model and in five years of meticulous work he presented the perfect ‘officer’s knife’ to the army: lighter one and with even greater number of useful tools. The arsenal was increased by a cork-screw and blades on each side of the device, all held together by a special spring mechanism which was a know-how back in the days.Photo etsy.com
Realizing the value of own invention, Karl Elsener patented the unique product in 1897; the government however remained reluctant to place a large order. But the multi-functional tool instantly won hearts of the officers and number of individual orders was growing fast. After a while it became impossible to ignore Elsener and his creation so the businessman finally concluded a contract with the Swiss army to become the official supplier of knives for the soldiers. The knife had a substantial, even stylish look but only 12 years later the emblem emerged on its handle to become the signature of the brand that is familiar to people all over the world nowadays: a cross against the background of a shield that symbolizes the coat of arms of Switzerland. It was elaborated to distinguish authentic knives from numerous imitations and fakes that had already begun to flood the market. Karl’s mother Victoria died the same year, and the company adopted the name Victoria, and 12 years after that it was added by “inox” ending stating that Elsener’s company produces knives of stainless steel. This is how the brand got its present-day name Victorinox.Photo thegadgetflow.com
Till the end of the World War II Victorinox worked mainly for the Swiss Army and only thank to the American military Alpine army knives gained global fame. The US Army showed genuine interest in this practical good and established its supply for own soldiers. But by that time Victorinox were no longer the only player in the market. As far back as in 1908 another company with the same kind of product emerged to provide sizable competition to Elsener – Wenger. The thing is that Victorinox’s place of origin was German-speaking Schwytz while Wenger originated in French-speaking Courtetelle. In order to avoid the strain between the two cantons, the government decided to divide the contract between the two suppliers equally. Elsener didn’t have much choice but to make a deal with the competitor and live on in peace. For the time being, that is. Wenger went on to market as the “genuine Swiss Army knife” while Victorinox opted for the “original Swiss Army knife”. The giant managed to get its share of the market back and repay for the losses only in 2005 when Victorinox bought Wenger to become the only supplier of knives for the Swiss Army. Wenger-branded knives were still produced for some years (in smaller and smaller batches each year) but since 2014 their production was over. Elsener ultimately had the better of Germany, too – the country that used to supply the Swiss Army with huge consignments of folding knives now purchases them from Switzerland itself..Photo sakwiki.com
Nowadays, despite a pretty broad range of products (the company also produces army watches, pocket tool kits SwissCard, kitchen knives, tourism equipment and even clothes), Swiss knife remains the key product of Voctorinox and it gets the most of the attention. Each of them has 8 to 30-something functions now. The product evolved so greatly that most recent models have, for instance, memory cards with USB interface, light emitting diode and laser pointer, electronic watches and even an MP3-player. These gadgets enjoy popularity all over the world and are included into the list of standard NASA astronauts’ equipment. In 2009, for example, level of yearly sales of Victorinox produce constituted about 500 million Swiss Francs; also, there are over 1700 people employed at the plants of the company. Miniature knife Victorinox Classic along with its various variations is considered the most popular model of the brand. They are most often bought as a present. These tools have been tested during numerous tourist trips and professional expeditions.Photo victorinox.com
As we can see, the legendary Swiss knife has gone a long way to fame and currently men willingly use it not just in the army but also in everyday life. Victorinox won back its title of the largest folding knives producer in Europe and there are its representations and flagship stores all over the world from Europe to North America and Asia. Swiss knife has become a paragon in its trade sector and took a rightful place at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Applied Arts Museum in Munich thus being presented among the best samples of industrial design.
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