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A Swiss Army Knife

Astronaut Cmdr Chris Hadfield’s advice is to never ’leave the planet without one’. Not that Anna Hyman is planning on a trip into space, but nevertheless she always makes sure that whenever possible there is a Swiss Army Knife in her suitcase – just in case of emergencies.

A Swiss Army Knife might be an odd thing to find in a woman’s suitcase, but I wouldn’t dream of travelling without one. Yes, I have more than one, and try to keep one in each suitcase – just in case.

In case of what you might ask?

A disaster averted

Well, a Swiss Army Knife has come in useful so many times – opening a bottle, can of beer; cutting off labels; cutting more or less anything in fact – including cheese, ham, tomatoes for an impromptu snack or picnic – a loaf of bread is a tad more difficult, but is doable – just!

And there was the time in Ecuador when the hotel where a friend and I  were staying recommended that we go down the road to a little convenience store to buy some less expensive wine to go with a snack.

We did, but it wasn’t until we got back to the hotel that we realised the bottle had a cork, not a screw cap! It was such a lovely hotel and we knew the staff would willingly have pulled the cork out for us, but nevertheless we were a bit embarrassed.

Then I remembered that my trusty travelling companion – my adored Swiss Army knife – came with a corkscrew. Once again, a problem solved, a disaster averted.

The knives have been around for 125 years

I probably had my first Swiss Army Knife about 30 years ago. I was enchanted by its lovely shiny red case and all the tidy little gadgets that opened out from it. But neither then, nor indeed until recently, did I give much thought as to the origin of these knives.

It turns out that my much-loved travel companion is not a recent invention –2022 saw it celebrating its 125th anniversary.

Officer’s and Sports Knives

The knives certainly date back to 1897  and were known as ‘Officer’s and Sports Knives’ (incidentally, also the year when the Swiss Army Knife was patented). But they actually date back further to the 1880s or thereabouts, when it was realised that the army needed a basic tool to help men repair guns, and to open cans of food, etc.

The original knives were good, but didn’t quite cover all requirements so the knife’s inventor, and founder of the original cutlery company, Karl Elsener, tried again – this time adding other useful gadgets – like my favourite, the corkscrew.

How the company got its name

It is to Karl Elsener, and indeed his mother Victoria who supported him in his endeavours, that we have the knife we know today with its famous cross-in-shield emblem on the case. He named his company after her but also added the Swiss term for stainless steel inox giving us – Victorinox.

Today Victorinox, based at Isbach in the Swiss canton of Schwyz, in streamlined high-tech headquarters so very different to the original chalet-style building, is run by CEO Carl Elsener, great grandson of its founder, Karl Elsener. 

From the original knife the company has developed into selling a variety of items, including not only the Swiss Army Knives, but also household and professional knives, watches, travel items and fragrances – thanks in part to taking over Wenger SA of Delémont with their wide range of products.

Today Victorinox sells over 400 different models of the Swiss Army Knife along with other tools, in over 120 countries.

The Swiss Army Knives range from a knife with just one function to one with 73 functions; the lightest weighs 17g, the heaviest 335g and the company sells some 10 million knives per year, which come in several colours, patterns and special editions.The knife blades are made from a high-carbon stainless steel and are razor sharp – and yes, I have cut myself.

A mountaineer and an astronaut

Evidently British mountaineer Chris Bonington used his knife when climbing Mount Everest; and Swiss army knives are part of the official equipment for every NASA space flight.

Indeed, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield found his knife exceedingly useful when travelling aboard the Atlantis space shuttle and attempting to dock with the Russian Mir space station. NASA engineers had sealed the Atlantis hatch so tightly that Commander Hadfield had to resort to using his knife to break into Mir. Consequently, his advice is to ‘never leave the planet without one’.

London flagship store

Although not planning on mountaineering or heading into space, whenever possible I shall continue to carry one of my handsome red Swiss Army Knives in my luggage. They truly are far too useful to be left behind.

And whilst it would be a joy to travel to Switzerland to buy another, I don’t have to go quite so far these days because Victorinox has recently opened a stylish new flagship store in central London.

A tad expensive, but I am sorely tempted by the £43 Swiss Card Lite – it doesn’t have a corkscrew, but it does include useful gadgets like a magnifying glass, scissors, tweezers, screwdrivers, a pen, LED and a pin. Pretty well everything a girl might need!

More information

Copyright @: We are truly grateful to Victorinox AG for their help and very kind permission in allowing us to reproduce their pictures used in this article.

London Flagship store: 388 Oxford St, London W1C 1JT. Tel: 020 7647 9070.

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