In 1891, a Swiss cutlery maker decided to put an end to a monopoly.
Karl Eslener, 31, discovered, much to his horror, that the pocketknives used by the Swiss Army were supplied by German manufacturers. Driven by a prevailing atmosphere of heady nationalism, he founded the Swiss Cutlery Union, which worked towards a singular goal: Swiss knives for the Swiss army.
Talking Point: The 125 year special edition merchandise from Victorinox comes with a unique, commemorative casing.
The first prototype he designed had a wooden handle, which contained a knife, screwdriver, can opener and metal punch. At a time when tinned rations, and guns that required constant dismantling were becoming staples of army life, the knife was a Godsend, and the Swiss Army Knife was born.
Founded in 1884, Eslener’s company would later be known as Victorinox, which combined his mother’s name ‘Victoria’ with ‘inox’, an abbreviation of the French word that described the rust-resistant steel they used: ‘inoxydable.’
2009 is the company’s 125th anniversary, a century-and-a-quarter that has seen it expand from humble cutlery-maker to global brand, and an expansion in business to travel gear, timepieces, fashion lines and perfumes. In 2006, the company produced a 85-device, 100-function knife called the Giant, and holds the Guinness World record for the largest pen-knife with a model that holds 314 blades. Victorinox knives are now standard issue on Nasa missions, and have been taken on expeditions to Mount Everest, and the Antarctic.
Sharp Dressed Man: The commemorative range also extends to travel gear and perfume.
As part of its anniversary celebrations, the company has launched a commemorative website that charts their history and products (http://125years.swissarmy.com/). Limited edition replicas of the original Soldier’s Knife, delivered to the Swiss army in 1891, are being offered, including The Climber, a 14-implement modern ‘reinterpretation’ of the original knife. There are also anniversary editions of Victorinox’s other products: cutlery knives (a 7” Granton Edge Santoku Knife), the card-shaped Swiss Army knife (the 10-function Swiss Card), watches (with styling reminiscent of army trucks in World War II) travel gear and a perfume, apparently inspired by a simple ‘chocolate birthday cake’.