“Fill your bowl to the brim and it will spill. Keep sharpening your knife and it will blunt."
Lao Tzu, Taoist philosopher
When the Swiss Karl Elsener (1860-1918), owner of a company that made surgical equipment, found that the pocket knives supplied to the Swiss army were, in fact, made in Germany, Elsener decided to make them in Switzerland. With help from engineer Jeannine Keller, he launched a multifunctional pocket knife in 1891. Called the "Soldier's Knife," it had a wooden handle and incorporated a cutting blade, screwdriver, can opener, and punch. The knife was adopted by the Swiss army, but Elsener continued to work on the design.
In 1896 he developed a knife with blades at either end of the wooden handle and a spring to hold them in place. This innovation enabled Elsener to increase the number of useful tools in the handle for the Swiss army, so he added another blade and a corkscrew. The knives proved very popular, and when Elsener found himself facing rival manufacturers he marked all his knives with a symbol—the Swiss flag's cross in a shield—so that the original Swiss army knives could beclearly identified as such.
In 1921 the company adopted newly invented stainless steel to make the knives stronger and easier to clean. Stainless steel was also known as "inox," short for the French name for the metal, acier inoxydable. In memory of his mother, who had died in 1909, Elsener named his company "Victorianox."
The essential design of Swiss army knives has changed little since the original versions, though plastic is now used for the handle, and the range has been developed. In 2006 a special 100th-anniversary commemorative knife with eighty-five different tools was offered as a collector's piece.