How the Swiss Army Knife was the iPhone of its day

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The first Swiss Army Knife, which was issued to soldiers in October of 1891.
The first Swiss Army Knife, which was issued to soldiers in October of 1891.
Photo: Wikipedia

With an iPhone in your hand and thousands of apps at your disposal, you may think you have the one gadget that can get you out of any situation.

But there’s a kind of analog handset that offers sharp solutions to cut through unexpected challenges. The Swiss Army Knife comes from the 19th century but never gets old.

The red handle and silver cross is enough to inspire confidence knowing that what unfolds from it could help you solve problems, build things, keep you on the job or possibly save your life.

The trademark red handle was added to the knife a few years later.
The trademark red handle was added to the knife a few years later.
Photo: Wikipedia

Aron Ralston used a Swiss Army Knife – with a dull blade no less – to cut off his arm to free himself after he got pinned by a boulder while climbing through a canyon in 2003. Granted if he had had an iPhone to call for help, he might still have his arm, but smartphones weren’t around then and the Ralston story just adds to the many testimonials that give the multi-purpose pocket knife its deserved reputation.

Maybe you can’t compare the two, but find two tools more suited for an everyday carry MacGyver could feel good about.

A modern Swiss Army Knife, the EvoGrip S54, features 31 implements.
A modern Swiss Army Knife, the EvoGrip S54, features 31 implements.
Photo: Victorinox

Even in its infancy, the first model to be issued to Swiss soldiers in 1891 was more than a simple pocket knife. It had a sharp main blade, a can opener, a reamer and a screwdriver for disassembling the Swiss service rifle. The grip was black with the trademark red to come a few years later. Karl Elsener, whose company made surgical instruments, was the only Swiss factor larger enough to fulfill the government’s order of 15,000 knives.

He later changed the name of the company to Victoria in memory of his mother and today, Victorinox, makes the a variety of Swiss Army Knives designed with a multitude of tools for soldiers, hunters, hikers, boaters, even business executives.

The Swiss Army name and the knife’s iconic look has become synonymous with dependability and its legion of fans shares stories on this website on how the knife got them out of jams.

Two companies produced the knife until 2005, when Victorinox took over the other company, Wenger, and today produces 25 million knives annually.

Common implements in the Swiss Army Knife include a couple of blades, scissors, tweezers, toothpick, a can/bottle openers and a corkscrew.

New model with 32GB thumb drive.
New model with 32GB thumb drive.
Photo: Victorinox

Some include saw blades, a magnifying glass, a flashlight and some of the latest models include a 32 GB thumb drive that folds in with the blades.

Before the purchase by Victorinox, the Wenger brand made a $2,100 Giant Knife, which ceases to be a simple pocket knife given it weighs two pounds and has 87 tools, including several kinds of screwdrivers, a ruler, flashlight, saws, compass, fish scaler and cigar cutter.

The Giant Knife earns its name from its two-pound weight and 87 tools.
The Giant Knife earns its name from its two-pound weight and 87 tools.
Photo: Wenger

So never leave home without your Swiss knife and iPhone. But what about the Apple Watch? Victorinox announced earlier this year that it would enter the smartwatch game next year. Now that may be a fine tool to have.