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Digital Subscriptions > Lonely Planet Traveller (UK) > October 2018 > THE SECRET HISTORY OF: The Swiss Army Knife


This pocket-knife is as much a Swiss icon as fondue and big, droopy-faced dogs – find out how its versatile design came to be a cut above the rest

AN INNOCUOUS-LOOKING implement that unfolds to reveal multiple blades and other, more inscrutable tools, the Swiss Army knife fits in proudly with the traditions of this small, Alpine country. Switzerland has been neutral since 1815, but also keenly maintains military service.

In the late 19th century its army was looking to issue soldiers with a pocket knife to disassemble rifles and open cans of rations. Initial orders came from the famous German blade-making town of Solingen, but in 1891 the Swiss knife cutler Karl Elsener won the contract to bring production within the country’s borders. His family company, later named Victorinox, is now in its fourth generation, and is onto the fifth incarnation of the basic soldier’s knife supplied to the Swiss Army. Military orders were once diplomatically split with a second company, Wenger, but it was acquired by Victorinox in 2005, after a sales downturn blamed on airline restrictions on knives following the 9/11 attacks in the US.

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October 2018 Issue of Lonely Planet