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Swiss Army Knives

Oh, the pocket knives of my youth! :-)

Swiss Army Knife - wrw  / pixelio.de
I remember my dad teaching me and my siblings to carve a branch of a tree (preferably still green and fresh from the tree) into a beautiful walking stick or bow (with the addition of string obviously). Although this craft of carving wooden sticks has not been of very great use during my adult life, it definitely enriched my childhood and the sweat and blood shed to create a work of art like this were definitely well spent. Yes, I must have cut myself several times, slipping the blade off the branch and into my finger, arm or leg. Luckily, the memory of those cuts has disappeared into a foggy cloud labeled "childhood forgetables". But wait, what is the connection between carving sticks and Switzerland?!

I dare to declare the Swiss Army Knife to be the most famous pocket knife in the world. And it was exactly such a tool that we used as children to carve sticks, cut our sausages and as grown ups to beer and wine bottles. Most any Swiss person owns (or has owned) a Swiss Army Knife; either by Victorinox or Wenger. But why are these useful pocket knives called Swiss Army Knives? And what makes them so uniquely Swiss? I've heard several stories over the years but here is what I found after some research.

The first Swiss Army Knife was produced for the Swiss Army in the 1880ies. It was small compared to todays versions and contained a knife, can opener, screw driver and a bodkin. Also, it was black (and not yet its typical red). The first Swiss Army Knives were produced in Germany. The Swiss company Karl Elsener (later Victorinox) started producing it only in 1891. Wenger started even later in 1893. Even today, every Swiss soldier receives a Swiss Army Knife as part of his/her basic equipment. Sadly, the new knives are not red anymore but in the good old boring army green. :-)

In regards to the Swissness of the Swiss Army Knives I only came up with a theory. Obviously, they are called "Swiss" because they were manufactured explicitly for the Swiss Army. However, their characteristics match those of a regular Swiss citizen in many ways: orderliness, practical thinking, compactness and a great sense of design.

If you want to buy your own Swiss Army Knife and take it on adventures around the globe (or your backyard) remember to never carry it in your hand luggage while traveling by plane (it WILL be confiscated), never try to close the blade from its sharp side (seen that, not pleasant) and keep it clean (it  is rust resistant so cleaning it should be no problem). To order your knife go to Victorinox or Wenger or  buy one at the local retailer or airport.

Have fun!




© 2011 IRENE WYRSCH "A HUMOROUS GUIDE TO SWITZERLAND" ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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