Mr.Karl Elsener thought-up and designed a pocket multi-tool in the small village of Ibach, Switzerland. It was legally registered on 1897-06-12, and Mr.Elsener formed a manufacturing company — using his mother’s name (Victoria) and the French word for stainless steel (inoxydable) to get the company name: ‘Victorinox’, and used the Swiss Flag in a crest as the brand logo badge.
This soldier’s knife, or ‘Offiziermesser’ became popular with US American soldiers during World War 2 — but the GIs could not manage the foreign pronunciation, and simply referred to the tool as ‘The Swiss Army Knife‘. Today the company is still a family-run business, and still based in Switzerland too (in the town of Schwyz).
The original six blade knife was designed using steel of Rockwell C (unit of hardness) of 56. The various tools are hinged using brass rivets and separated by aluminium alloy wafers and share the power of the two springs (Rockwell C of 49), such that the effect is described as 20kg for the corkscrew, 12kg for the bigger blades, and 8kg for the smaller ones. This makes the knife difficult to open, and the tools to snap very firmly shut, but retains the spring strength over many years.
The file, saw, and scissors are Rockwell C 53, the reamer and tin opener are Rockwell C 52, and the corkscrew has a Rockwell C of 49, so the knife is very strong and difficult to break.
The Swiss Officers’ Knife “Champion (no. 5012)”, 1968, in Plastic and stainless steel and measuring 92 x 25 x 29 mm is on display at ‘The Museum of Modern Art‘ (MOMA) in New York as a work of art under the name of the artist: “Carl Elsener (Swiss, 1860-1918).”
The ‘Swiss Army Knife’ is a style icon, and even though there are many imitations and many versions of the multi-tool, the basic Swiss Army Knife remains instantly recognisable and immediately understood by most people. This is very unusual form a design point of view — despite the wide variety of options and models — the concept of ‘The Swiss Army Knife’ remains intact.