The Swiss: We love them for their decadent cheese, their masterful timepieces, and their awesome corporate tax loopholes.
But aside from being the world’s unofficial peacekeeping hippies (do those guys even have an army?), they’re known for something we all recognize: their knives. The Swiss Army Knife is a modern marvel that was made out of necessity (the first models included only a blade, a can opener and reamer for consuming canned food, and a screw driver needed to assemble the Swiss Army’s rifles), but its staying power proves its unbeatable utility.
Every U.S. President since Lyndon B. Johnson has issued their guests an original Victorinox Swiss Army Knife. Why? We have no clue. But here are 10 other things you didn’t know about the Swiss Army Knife:
1. They were born in Germany, not Switzerland.
The first Swiss Army knives were actually produced in Germany by Wester & Co. The Swiss military force required quality compact knives for its army, but no Swiss company had the capacity to produce such a knife.
The first official Swiss Army Knife, the Modell 1890, was outsourced to Wester & Co. and produced in Solingen, Germany, over 300 miles from the Swiss border.
2. But they didn’t stay there long.
Miffed about the whole “Made in Germany” thing, Victorinox founder Karl Elsener, who at the time was in the surgical equipment production business, decided in 1891 that it was time to bring the Swiss Army Knife — and the production jobs it entailed — to Switzerland.
Fun Fact: Elsener got the name “Victorinox” by combining the name of his deceased mother, Victoria, and acier inoxydable, the French term for stainless steel.
3. There were actually two official Swiss Army Knives.
In order to provide a level of competition and ensure the quality of goods and goals of production, the Swiss government awarded 50 percent of their order contract to Victorinox, and 50 percent to another Swiss cutlery company, Wenger.
Victorinox advertised their knives as “The Original Swiss Army Knife,” and Wenger “The Genuine Swiss Army Knife.” That is, until Victorinox acquired Wenger in 2005, retaining sole control over the Swiss Army Knife market, and kicking Theodore Wenger’s ghost in the balls.
4. The Swiss Army Knife is a literal work of art.
The Swiss Army Knife has been selected for inclusion in exhibits for excellence in design at both The New York Museum of Modern Art and the State Museum for Applied Art in Munich.
5. Some even come with thermometers. And ballpoint pens. And fucking flashlights.
The SwissChampXAVT is the largest production Victorinox Swiss Army Knife, and includes over 44 tools that serve over 80 functions. (). s
6. There's a 9-inch, 2-pound version.
The Giant, produced by Wenger and first released in 2006, weighs two pounds and includes 87 tools which perform 120 functions other than cutting the shit out of things.
7. Victorinox is still Karl-owned.
Karl Elsener founded and ran the company until 1918 when Karl Elsener II took over from 1919 to 1950. Karl III ran the company from 1951 to 2007, and Karl IV took over and currently mans the helm. Sorry Derek, John, William, Luke, Brian, Robert, and Sean, but it’s Karl’s only.
8. Quality control at the Victorinox factories is a big deal.
Fifteen to 20 million parts pass through the assembly line at the Victorinox factory every month. Each and every knife, product, and tool undergoes a rigorous quality inspection at all of the seven phases of production.
Every inch of raw steel is inspected, as well as the content of the metal digitally analyzed for tensile strength. The blades are cut, polished, forged and then ground down and sharpened, and then stamped—where again, they are inspected by real eyes and real hands and real micrometers after every single step of production. Perfectionism is an understatement.
9. Today, you can buy everything from Swiss Army forks to Swiss Army perfume… kinda.
Victorinox dabbles in other Swiss-made products like household cutlery, watches, general tools, and even cosmetics, perfumes, and clothing. Only 40 percent of the company’s output is still dedicated to their namesake knives.
10. But beware: there are many fakes out there — many, many fakes.
Though they say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, the folks at Victorinoxtake counterfeit products seriously. While legal recourse for imitation is limited, the company displays a showcase of various knock-offs from the hundreds of imitators around the world.
Luckily, spotting the difference between a real-deal Swiss Army Knife and a fake is simple. The trick is in the spring mechanism and the telltale Swiss Army Knife “snap” of the tools. You can also tell by the classic Victorinox shield, as well as the inscription on the big blade: “Victorinox Swiss Made.” If your knife doesn’t have these qualities, chances are, you got duped.
You just can’t fake quality.