The Swiss army knife: A cut above the rest

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The Independent Travel

The Swiss army knife is perhaps Switzerland's most famous export. Although there are many imitators, Victorinox knives were the first. The origins of the company go back to 1884, when Carl Elsener founded the Swiss Cutlers' Association in order to supply knives and blades to the army. But times were hard: by 1893 his venture had collapsed, and a German competitor had started making knives more cheaply. Elsener persevered, making a lighter and more elegant version of his knife, which he dubbed the "Officer's and Sports Knife", patented in 1897. By word of mouth, the knives grew in popularity, and even without an official seal of approval, Swiss army officers began to ask for them specifically.

Elsener had originally named his factory ­ located in Ibach, in Central Switzerland ­ after his mother Victoria, but when stainless steel was invented in 1921 and given the international designation INOX, Elsener combined the two names into one. Victorinox knives quickly gained official backing from the Swiss Army and, after World War II, from the US Army too.

Today, in myriad varieties, they are the best-known brand of Swiss army knife. Some 34,000 are produced every day by the same factory in Ibach ­ everything from simple woodsman's knives up to intricate creations holding precision tools, altimeters and even 1Gb USB memory sticks.