A Swiss Army knife (SAK), (German: Schweizer Taschenmesser, French: Couteau suisse) is a brand of multi-function pocket knife or multi-tool. Generally speaking, a Swiss Army knife has a blade as well as various tools, such as screwdrivers and can openers. These attachments are stowed inside the handle of the knife through a pivot point mechanism. The handle is usually red, and features a Cross and Shield, usually featuring a white cross, the emblem of Switzerland. The knife model that is currently in use by the Swiss Army has a knurled alox handle with the Swiss crest, a blade, a reamer, a blade combining bottle opener, screwdriver, and wire stripper, and a combined can-opener and small screwdriver. It originated in Ibach Schwyz, Switzerland in 1897. The term "Swiss Army" is a registered trademark owned by Wenger S.A. and Victorinox A.G., longtime suppliers of knives to the Swiss Armed Forces.
The term "Swiss Army knife" is sometimes used metaphorically to describe usefulness, such as a software tool that is a collection of special-purpose tools. The term "Swiss Army knife" was coined by US soldiers after World War II, presumably because they had trouble pronouncing its original name, "Offiziersmesser". The "Swiss Army" knife has been added to the collection of the New York Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and Munich's State Museum of Applied Art for its design.
The brand "Swiss Army" has arguably achieved near iconic status and is said by some to connote the best versatility, dependability, and quality.
Various models of Swiss Army knives exist, with different tool combinations for specific tasks. The simplest model sold includes only a single blade. The most common tools featured are, in addition to the main blade, a smaller second blade, tweezers, toothpick, corkscrew, can opener, bottle opener, slotted/flat-head screwdriver(s), phillips-head screwdriver, nail file, scissors, saw, file, hook, magnifying glass, ballpoint pen, fish scaler, hex wrench w/bits, 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 simultaneously, to be used to assemble the SIG 550 and SIG 510 assault rifles: the knife serves as a restraint to the firing pin during assembly of the lock.
The standard full-size SAK is approximately 9 cm (3.5 inches) long and 2 cm (0.75 inches) wide; smaller models are typically about 6 cm (2.25 in) long and 1.5 cm (0.5 in) wide. Thickness varies depending on the number of tools included. Although red celidor SAKs are most common, there are many colors and scales available. Many textures, colors and shapes now appear in the Swiss Army Knife.
As of 2007, the most technologically advanced model includes a laser pointer and a 2GB detachable USB flash drive Wenger has even manufactured a $1200 Swiss army knife that includes every implement the company has ever made. Victorinox is located in the Swiss town of Ibach with a show room; Wenger is located in the Swiss town of Delémont with no show room.
The Victorinox Cybertools have many tools of use with computers and electronic equipment. In addition to the usual tools, including pliers and scissors, they have a 4mm hex screwdriver bit holder and bit case with 4 double-ended bits (8 ends); the bit-holder can be used with no bit fitted to turn the hex pillars often used to fasten chassis-mounted D-connectors in place.
Karl Elsener used the cross and shield to identify his knives. The same symbol is still used to identify a Victorinox Swiss Army Knife. When his mother died in 1909, Elsener decided to name his company "Victoria" in her memory. In 1921 the company started using stainless steel to make the Swiss Army Knife. Stainless steel is also known as "inox", short for the French term acier inoxydable. "Victoria" and "inox" were then combined to create the company name "Victorinox".
The "Swiss Army Knife" gained international fame when U.S. army soldiers returning from Europe after service in World War II brought back red multi-tool pocket knives they had "liberated" from German army officer prisoners of war. German army officers were not issued these items from the Wehrmacht but bought these Swiss-made knives privately along with the silver cross on red background. Thus Americans began calling them the "Swiss officer's knife." As tourists began buying these souveniors from Switzerland the most common purchase became what the Vitorinox company now calls the "Spartan." The difference between the Spartan model and what the US army soldiers first brought back from Europe is the lack of the folding scissor in the Spartan.
Elsener, through his company Victorinox, managed to corner the market until 1893, when the second industrial cutler of Switzerland, Paul Boechat & Cie, headquartered in Delémont in the French-speaking region of Jura, started selling a similar product. This company was later acquired by its then General Manager, Theodore Wenger, and renamed the Wenger Company. In 1908 the Swiss government, wanting to prevent an issue over regional favouritism, 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. However, on April 26, 2005, Victorinox acquired Wenger, thus once again becoming the sole supplier of knives to the Swiss Army. However, on the consumer side Victorinox has stated that it intends to keep both brands intact.
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, as it's called, is a novelty collector's item that is nearly 9 inches thick, and retails for about U.S. $1200 (See complete list of implements, p.4)
The two Swiss Army knife manufacturers, Victorinox and Wenger, together supply about 50,000 knives to the Swiss army each year. The rest of production is devoted to exports, mostly to the United States. Commercial Victorinox and Wenger SAKs can be immediately distinguished by their logos; the Victorinox cross is surrounded by a shield with bilateral symmetry, while the Wenger cross is surrounded by a slightly rounded square with quadrilateral symmetry. The two models supplied to the Swiss Army instead bear the Swiss Coat of Arms.
Numerous other companies manufacture similar-looking multi-tool folding knives in a wide range of quality and prices.
In 2007, the Swiss Government made a request for more knives for the Swiss army for distribution in late 2008; however, due to size of the order, WTO rules that it open to all companies around the world, not just the native Victorinox and Wenger. However the contract was again granted to Victorinox.