Steel is the basis of every knife, the most important tool of mankind since ancient times. Outwardly, the steel knife seems simple. But if you take a closer look at the iconic Victorinox knives, you can see how versatile, complex and functional this tool is.
To a large extent, these characteristics are based on the outstanding properties of Swiss knife steel.
The triumph of Victorinox steel knives begins
Today, about a thousand workers are involved in the production of Swiss knives. Every day, overcoming hundreds of production stages, tens of thousands of units of products roll off the assembly line.
Almost the entire output is exported – these knives are used in more than a hundred countries around the world. Products find their place in the officer’s tablet, near the shoemaker’s machine, and in the table of the US presidents.
At the same time, at home, the Victorinox multifunctional knife has become a cult item. For more than a century, this steel tool has been in service with the Swiss army. And the very expression “Swiss army knife” has become stable in Switzerland – it is synonymous with “usefulness” and “universality”.
The Swiss Company
The Swiss company Victorinox was founded by Karl Elsener. who came from a haberdashery family that owned a shop in Zug, Switzerland for generations. But Karl did not want to become a hatter and went to work. As an apprentice in knife workshops in France and Germany.
There he learned how to make surgical scalpels. Even though Elsener refused to continue the family haberdashery business, the young man enjoyed the unconditional support of his mother Victoria.
In 1884, on the threshold of his twenty-fifth birthday, Karl made his first knife in his workshop, located in the small village of Ibach near Geneva. This day is considered the founding day of the world-famous company for the production of Swiss knives (then it was still called Elsener). Today, Victorinox is still a family business, led by Karl Elsener IV.
The next important milestone in the development of the company is 1891 when Karl Elsener. I united thirty Swiss cutlers into an Association that still exists today. In those days, knives were made by hand, and the volume of production of each knife-making workshop was relatively small. Accordingly, the craftsmen needed small batches of metal and other components, which were not cheap. By creating the Association, Elsener provided himself and his colleagues with the opportunity to save on raw materials for the manufacture of knives.
In addition, the consolidation of production facilities allowed the members of the Association. To receive an enviable order for the manufacture of knives. For the soldiers of the Swiss army, taking away the contract from the German cutlers.
True, having survived foreign competitors from the Swiss market, Elsener could not resist the local producers. In 1893, the second Swiss company Paul Boéchat & Cie (later Wenger SA) received an order to supply knives to the army. Both companies fought for the client with varying success until 2005, when Victorinox bought its long-term competitor.
Then the representatives of the company explained the purchase by the threat of leaving the assets of the Swiss manufacturer Wenger to a foreign investor. Such a deal, according to representatives of Victorinox, could lead to a deterioration in the quality of traditional Swiss products.
At the same time, it was declared that Wenger would have carte blanche in matters of marketing, production, and sales policy. However, in 2014, the production of knives under the TM Wenger was completely discontinued. Thus, Victorinox became the only manufacturer of army knives in Switzerland.
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Development of knife production
But in the distant 90s of the 19th century, the final battle was too far away – Karl Elsener and Wenger fought desperately for an order for the production of an army knife Modell 1890. It had one blade, a reamer (a tool for making holes ), a can opener, and a screwdriver. The knife was mainly used to open canned food and assemble/disassemble the M1889 rifle, which was in service with the Swiss army.
However, Elsener had a different opinion about the Modell 1890. In 1897 Karl created and patented the design of what is now known worldwide as the “Swiss Army Knife”. The master created a design that allowed many tools to be attached to the handle using a spring.
In addition, Elsener added additional functionality to the knife, designed for the target audience of Swiss army officers. A small blade was added to the list of tools, designed to clean up errors in documents, as well as … a corkscrew.
The innovation was a resounding commercial success. Not only does the Swiss military want to have an officer’s knife, but also civilians – students, farmers, workers … The public’s interest in the patented model gave rise to many varieties of knives with the most diverse functionality.
Elsener strung a nail file, scissors, tweezers, a magnifying glass, etc. on a spring. – up to 30 tools in total. Now the model called “Champion”, which performs 24 different functions, is considered the pinnacle of industrial design and is on display at the New York Museum of Modern Art.
In 1909, Elsener’s
The buying frenzy of the late 19th century significantly improved Elsener’s financial situation. In 1909, Elsener’s beloved mother, Victoria, died. Painfully experiencing the loss, the entrepreneur renames the company – Elsener becomes Victoria. Then Karl registers the famous logo – a white cross on a red shield, which is still used today.
Elseners experienced another boom at the end of World War II, in 1945. Fashion for the Swiss army knife spread among the personnel of the Allied army. Almost every soldier returning home from the battlefield sought to purchase a Victorinox knife as a souvenir.
Steel in swiss knives
In the early 20s of the last century, the Englishman Faraday and the Frenchman Berthier discovered a corrosion-resistant type of steel. Karl Elsener immediately appreciated the unique properties of stainless steel and immediately began introducing “stainless steel” into the production of knives.
Moreover, Elsener decided to commemorate the outstanding discovery and renamed his company. Adding the word inox, the French term for stainless steel, to its name. Thus, the Victorinox trademark has acquired all the attributes familiar to consumers today.
Such admiration for new material is not accidental. The basis of every knife is the steel of its blade. It is steel that is responsible for how long it will last how sharp the tool will be, what materials to use for sharpening it, etc. Before the invention of stainless steel, rust was a huge problem for knife makers and owners.
Once appeared, corrosion penetrated deeper into the blade, and it was almost impossible to stop it. At the same time, the first performance losses occurred when the cutting edge of the tool was subjected to corrosion, and in fact, its width is only a fraction of a millimeter.
In 1931, the oldest
In 1931, the oldest Swiss electrical company, Brown, Boveri & Compagnie, was commissioned by Victorinox to build the world’s first electric hardening machine. The use of this innovation provided Victorinox knives with consistently high quality.
What are Swiss knives made of now? The company uses Dauphinox grade steel produced in France by Bonpertuis. We are talking about medium-carbon high-chromium corrosion-resistant steels (nomenclature X55CrMo14, X50CrMoV15, X46Cr13, and X38CrMo14, depending on the type of tool).
To this day, the manufacture of each Swiss Army Knife blade begins with a sheet and strip steel. Before being used in production, every centimeter of metal is inspected at the plant (despite the impeccable reputation of the manufacturer of raw materials).
Its homogeneity, composition, and compliance with specifications are checked. Any marriage degrades wear resistance and corrosion resistance. Confidence in the excellent performance of steel allows Victorinox to give customers a lifetime warranty on their products.