Before the soldier’s knife…
Before the soldier’s knife, the Swiss army had "Vetterli tools”, multifunctional tools for disassembling and maintaining 1870 and 1878 Vetterli rifles.
These tools are, in the largest interpretation, the most likely “ancestors” of the Swiss soldier’s knife...
(*) Source : Private collection of M. Borgognon
"Model 1870" : The movable blade is divided in two by a stop pin which passes through the blade, the blade is attached to the handle by means of a screw which is tightened to hold the blade in place. Length 115mm, width of the handle 40mm, the wooden handle has the federal stamp, intended for wood, and sometimes cantonal stamps.
"Model 1878" : Designed by Col. Rudolf Schmidt, the two parts of the blade are separated, at about 1/3 of its length, by a wider piece of the blade containing a rectangular hole which is used to fix the blade to the handle. Some of these tools have the end of the blade shaped like a fork, used for the specific screw used for the 1872 and 1872/78 revolver. The rod is made of steel and is used to clean the barrel and to free jammed cartridges from the chamber. The federal controller uses his personal stamp with a letter under the Federal Cross.
At the end of the 19th century…
The Swiss Army decided to purchase a new-multifunction, folding knife for its soldiers. Among other things the knife should be used for eating as well as disassembling rifles (Schmidt-Rubin rifle).
The tools included in this model are a blade, a tin opener, a screwdriver and an awl.
In January 1891 the Swiss Army declared this knife fit for service and gave it the name “1890 Model”. It measures 100mm, has a darkened, oak wooden handle (certain later versions have an ebony handle) and has an acceptance stamp in the form of the Swiss Cross.
At that time no Swiss company had the necessary production capacity, so the first 15’000 were delivered by the German knife manufacturer Wester & Co. de Solingen, and this until the end of 1891.
In October 1891, the company Karl Elsener à Ibach, in the canton of Schwyz in Switzerland, which later became Victorinox, took over the manufacture. Numerous other cutlers from Germany and Switzerland have manufactured this and subsequent models. One of which was a company formed in 1893 under the name Paul Boéchat & Cie later to become Wenger.
A first development :
The "1901 Model" is similar to the previous model except that a wooden fibre handle replaces the original wooden handle.
A second development :
The "1908 Model" has a clip point blade (angle blade).
From 1915 the use of the old Swiss Cross marking on the side is replaced by a cross containing the letters "WK" (Waffen-kontrolle), heat stamped showing that the knife had successfully passed the Swiss Army quality control – thus ready for service.
From 1921 the year of manufacture of the Swiss soldier’s knife has been stamped on the heel of the blade (the last two digits of the year). A practice still carried out today.
A third, relatively important, development :
For the "1951 Model" the knife’s length decreases from 100mm to 93mm, it becomes rust resistant (stainless steel), the blade is once again curved as in the 1890 model, the screwdriver has a notch for stripping electric cables and the rivet shaft, holding both the tin opener and the awl, has a 2mm hole so the knife can be used as plumb-bob (when using the FASS 57 rifle as a grenade launcher). However, in 1954 a 6.2mm diameter rosette reinforced the drilled rivet.
From 1957 to 1964 the soldiers’ knives were manufactured with sides made of Grilon (commercial name for a family of thermoplastics), but this production has remained an exclusivity for the company Wenger.
On "1961 Model" there are many changes :
The knife’s body is made of anodized aluminium and the tools in stainless steel (in the “Swiss Army Knife world” these models are nicknamed “Alox” which is a contraction of “aluminium and inox” or also “aluminium éloxé”), the knife’s length remains 93mm and the number of tools does not change.
The notable evolutions are the tin opener and screwdriver that become those already used, since 1951, on the “officiers suisses” knives. The awl has a sharp, reamer edge and towards the end of the 80s all the tools are polished.
Note that the positions of the screwdriver and tin opener have been reversed from previous models. This was done to reduce injury by making it impossible to use the awl and the screwdriver simultaneously.
During its years of service there were many variants of the "1961 Model" the most important are :
- From 1961 to 1964 red anodized sides then from 1965 they were silver.
- In 1972 the “WK” stamp is rotated through 90°.
- In 1977 the Swiss coat of arms appears on the knife the “WK” stamp changes shape.
- In 1988 the “WK” stamp disappears at the same time the acceptance test.
- In 1993 the drilled rivet is replaced by a solid one, the screwdriver is thinner and receives a notch for stripping electric cables.
Victorinox and Wenger become the official suppliers for the Swiss army. The "1961 Model" will remain the Swiss soldier’s knife for 49 years until 2008, the last year of manufacture stamped on the blade is "08".
Finally the 2008 model…
End 2007 the Swiss army announces its intention to buy a new model of its knife, better suited to current needs. Following some controversy the tender being placed on the global market, ultimately Victorinox wins the contract.
Thus the new "2008 Model" is now part of the Swiss Army equipment, however, it is actually only put into service from 2009.
The new "2008 Model" brings major changes to the long line of Swiss Army soldier’s knives. It is 18mm longer than its predecessor, reaching 111mm. It has green-khaki and black anti-slip bi-material sides, it has a large serrated blade intended for one-handed opening. Its bottle opener, with a large screwdriver, and its large blade are self-locking and, furthermore, it has two brand new tools, a Philips screwdriver and a wood saw. For the other tools only the tin opener with its small screwdriver remains the same, all the other tools (large blade, large screwdriver, awl and bottle opener with large screwdriver) have new features.
- The Swiss Army soldier’s knife never has a corkscrew.
- In 2005 following financial difficulties which started in 2001, Wenger was acquired by its rival Victorinox, Wenger still carries on its activities under its own trademark. According to Victorinox, the objective of this acquisition was to prevent this great cutler falling into foreign hands thus avoiding the risk of undermining the worldwide reputation of the excellence of Swiss cutlery.
- Victorinox is the only brand available for the new 2008 model.
- In January 2013 Carl Elsener, head of Victorinox, stated in the Tribune de Genève the end of knives marketed under the Wenger, brand, they would soon be integrated into the Victorinox brand. This integration would eliminate duplicate products and present a clear picture to the customer. It appears that only Wenger knives will be incorporated into the Victorinox brand, Wenger watches and other licensed products will still be marketed under the same brand..