Monday, May 21, 2007

2005: Swiss Army knife makers stop fighting

A Swiss Army knife is a multi-function pocket tool with a knife blade and other tools, such as screwdriver, tweezers and can opener. It originated in Switzerland in 1897, but the term is not a government-protected designation of origin, and any knife can claim to be a Swiss army knife. The term "Swiss Army knife" was coined by US soldiers after World War II, as they couldn't pronounce its original name, "Offiziersmesser".

The most common tools featured are, in addition to the main blade, a smaller second blade, tweezers, toothpick, corkscrew, can opener, bottle opener, phillips-head screwdriver, nail file, scissors, saw, file, hook, magnifying glass, ballpoint pen, fish scaler, pliers and key chain. Recent technological features include USB flash drives, 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.

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 made in Germany. Upset, he founded the Association of Swiss Master Cutlers to produce Swiss knives for the Swiss Army.

The original had a wooden handle 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. In 1896, he managed to put blades on both sides of the handle using a special spring mechanism. This allowed Elsener to put twice as many features on the knife, and he added a second blade and a corkscrew.

Elsener, through his company Victorinox, managed to corner the market until 1893, when the second industrial cutlery firm, Paul Boechat & Cie, started selling a similar product. This company was later acquired by its general manager, Theodore Wenger and renamed the Wenger Company.

In 1908 the Swiss government, wanting to prevent an issue over regional favoritism, 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.

In 2005, Victorinox acquired Wenger, thus once again becoming the sole supplier of knives to the Swiss Army. Victorinox has stated that it intends to keep using both brands for consumer products.

In 2006, Victorinox produced a knife with 85 devices and 110 functions, to commemorate Wenger's 100th anniversary in the Swiss Army knife business. The Giant is a novelty collector's item that is nearly 9 inches wide, and retails for about $1200

The Swiss Army Knife was an important part of the American TV show MacGyver (1985 - 1992), where MacGyver often improvised equipment needed to solve problems. He often used his knife to help build mechanisms out of common items, which led to sayings such as "making a rocket out of a matchbox and a paper clip." (info from Wikipedia)

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