Victorinox Evolution of the Knife

The Swiss Army Knife story began when Carl Elsener, the fourth son of a Swiss hat maker decided to become a cutler. At the age of 24, after his journeyman's years in the South German district of Tuttlingen, he returned to his home and in 1884 opened his own business in Ibach near Schwyz in Switzerland. In order to create new employment opportunities, Carl Elsener took the initiative in 1891 to form the Swiss Cutlery Guild with the main aim of producing the soldiers' knives which the Swiss Army had up to that time purchased from Solingen in Germany.

Elsener’s Soldier model was made for specifically dismantling Swiss military service rifles incorporating a heavy-duty screwdriver into the knife for this purpose. In October 1891 the first delivery was made to the Swiss Army. Thereafter Carl Elsener began producing other ingenious pocketknives that he did not identify with numbers but with names, such as Student knife, Cadet knife and Farmer's knife.

The Soldier's knife was very robust and also relatively heavy. Because of this, Carl Elsener developed a knife specifically for officers. This model was a lighter and more elegant knife that apart from the blade, awl, can opener and screwdriver on the Soldier's knife, also had a second small blade and a corkscrew. This new model with only two springs for the six blades he called the "Officer's knife". Its design was officially registered on June 12th 1897. Swiss officers do not receive their knives from the Army as the recruits do, but many of them purchase them privately at cutlery shops where the simple Soldier's knife is also available.

Carl Elsener, through his company managed to have the market completely for himself until 1893. In that year, Paul Boechat laid the original groundwork at Fabrique Suisse De Coutellerie S.A., a cutlery factory headquartered at Delemont, in the French-speaking canton of Jura. This company started selling a similar product as Elsener. In 1898 Theodore Wenger was named director of the factory. In 1901 he acquired the company and renamed it Wenger & Company S.A.

Wenger Evolution of the Knife

In 1908 the Swiss government, wanting to prevent an issue over regional favoritism but perhaps wanting a bit of competition in hopes of lowering prices, split the contract with Elsener and Wenger each getting half of the orders placed. By mutual agreement, Wenger advertises as the Genuine Swiss Army Knife and Victorinox uses the term the Original Swiss Army Knife. One more note of interest is that the Ibach area of Switzerland where Victorinox was founded and is produced is German speaking and the Delemont area of Switzerland from where Wenger is located is French speaking.

In 1909, after the death of his mother, Carl Elsener chose her Christian name VICTORIA as his trademark. In 1921 the invention of stainless steel took place. Subsequently in Ibach, when stainless steel knives were made, the word INOX meaning “stainless” was added to VICTORIA, and out of these two words the present-day trademark VICTORINOX was created.

In 1929, following the death of Theodore Wenger, Kasper Oertli gained controlling interest of Wenger & Company S.A. The Victorinox Company however, has remained in the hands of the Elsener family to this day.

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 present 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 knives supplied to the Swiss Army bear a simpler flat-topped bilaterally symmetric shield.

The Victorinox shield has remained virtually unchanged since the early days with only slight variations of size. It is mainly found as a metal inlay but sometimes is heat embossed on economy models or painted on some scale variations. The Wenger shield has gone through an evolution of many designs that range from forms of various crossbows inside of federal shields, a federal shield with a cross to different varieties of the modern form. The older Wenger shields were inlayed but many modern forms are either inlayed, painted or are differently colored plastic molded into the handle as found in the new EVO models.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Staatliches Museum für angewandte Kunst in Munich, have, on their own initiative, selected the VICTORINOX Original Swiss Army Officer's Champion model (1.6783) and SwissChamp model (1.6795) for their collections of "Good Industrial Designs".

The "Swiss Army Knife" is being constantly copied abroad, e.g. in Germany, France, Spain, USA, Japan, China, etc., but the original quality has never been equaled. Unfortunately, however, on some of the foreign imitations the Swiss cross was added, which could be stopped thanks to the intervention of Swiss embassies and court orders. The application of the Swiss Cross was undertaken in order to confuse the public and give the impression that they were dealing with a genuine Swiss product. The official ruling, however, gives only the two Swiss manufacturers, VICTORINOX and WENGER, the right to use the Swiss cross on their knives.

On 26 April 2005 Victorinox acquired Wenger, thus turning the Swiss Army knife market into a monopoly for supplying the knives to the Swiss Army once again. However, on the consumer side Victorinox has stated that it intends to keep both brands intact. This move by Victorinox was generous and a win/win situation for all Swiss as it kept Wenger a Swiss Company and prevented foreign interests from buying Wenger.

And now, what seems to be the final chapter on Wenger Swiss Army Knives... On 31 January 2013 Victorinox anounced they would take over production of the former Wenger Delemont factory and Wenger would not be producing knives in 2014. Victorinox now produces about two-thirds of the former Wenger models and they are now known as “Victorinox Delemont” knives. The former Wenger cross on the obverse scale is now replaced with a Victorinox cross and the tang of the main blade is now stamped “Victorinox Delemont.” A few more differences include the replacement of some Wenger designed tools with the Victorinox Ibach style tweezers, tootpicks, and can-openers on the Victorinox Delemont models. But, I’m estimating about 90 or better of the Wenger design stays with the new Victorinox Delemont Models.

Will Victorinox eventually phase out the Delemont plant or change tooling in Delemont to produce only former Victorinox Ibach designs? Presently there are no plans to do either, but then again in 2005 there were no plans to eliminate “Wenger” as a brand of Swiss Army Knives and now that has come to pass. However, the 2005 acquisition still proves to be good for the workers and the economy in Delemont as the factory is still producing Swiss Army Knives. As for now, “Wenger” may not be stamped on any new SAKs but their design lives on as long as there is a Victorinox “Delemont” Series.

Delemont Transition Patch

Original Wenger EVO Delemont design cross shown on scales.

 *Taken From Various Sources

A New Victorinox EVO design with the traditional Victorinox cross shown on scales.

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