Who invented the Swiss Army knife?

Karl Elsener is credited with the invention of the Swiss Army Knife in 1891. This invention has become so widely known that many who visits Switzerland leaves  with a new red-handled knife with the Swiss white cross. 

Short Biography of Elsener

Karl Elsener was born in Switzerland on October 9, 1860, to parents Balthasar Elsener and Victoria Elsener. Karl was interested in cutlery and decided to study knife-making at a very young age. He became an apprentice in Zug, Paris, and Tuttlingen. When he finished his apprenticeship, he settled in Ibach, Switzerland, and opened his own workshop for knives and a factory for surgical instruments. His mother, Victoria, was supportive in all of these endeavors. However, only a little is known about his marriage life. It was said that Elsener married thrice. 

The Beginning of the Invention

red pocket knife
A Swiss Army style of mulitool knife and equipment for the great outdoors.

Two technological developments in the Swiss military led to the evolution of a specialized standard pocket knife; first was the adoption of the 1899 Schmidt–Rubin rifles, which required a screwdriver to disassemble, and second, was the increasing use of tinned food for soldier rations. During this time, the production capacity was inadequate to meet the vast majority of the army’s needs. The government placed an initial order with Wester & Co. from Solingen, Germany, for an order of 15,000 knives. It was completed and standardized in 1891 and was called the Modell 1890. Its grip was made of dark oak and featured four tools: a 100-millimeter spear-point knife, a reamer, a flat-blade screwdriver, and a can opener.

Elsener was not pleased with the arrangement, and in 1891 his firm began manufacturing the Modell 1890, hoping that the government would withdraw the agreement with the Germans. However, the manufacturing process of the Germans was more cost-effective. Despite Elsener’s effort to produce various civilian pocket knives to offset the cost of his production, his company almost went bankrupt. 

It was in 1897 that Elsener made a breakthrough. He was able to patent a more refined version for officers, adding a razor blade and a corkscrew. Another breakthrough he achieved was finding a way to put blades on both sides of the handle, using a shared spring to hold both sides in place. It allowed him to put in twice as many features as the previous multi-tool, allowing six tools to be locked by only two communal springs—which later became a standard for Swiss Army knives. 

Although the Swiss Army did not officially approve the invention, it became a popular purchase for army officers. 

Another company named Boéchat & Cie, which later became Wenger, also began manufacturing the Modell 1890 for the Swiss military. In 1908, the Swiss government finally withdrew its contract from the Germans and gave 50-50 manufacturing duties to Elzener and Wenger.

The following year, Elzener introduced its iconic logo based on the Swiss coat of arms and its distinctive red grips to make it easier to spot once dropped. 

In 1909, Elzener renamed his company Victoria in honor of his recently deceased mother. It was further changed to Victorinox in 1921. 

When Karl Elsener passed away in December 1918, his sons and grandsons continued to develop and manage the family’s business.


In an interview with Prisma Reports Chief Executive Officer Carl Elsener Jr., the great-grandson of the deceased Karl Elsener, stated that his great-grandfather’s invention had become so popular over the years; that more and more customers were asking for more products.  

Other Victorinox Products

  • Cutlery: As the famous Karl Elsener was interested in cultlery since he was young, the company never stopped selling cutlery products. They have chef knives, knife sets and blocks, paring knives, flatware and tableware, peelers, steak knives, bread baking, cutting boards, and many others. 
  • Watches: The production of watches began in 1989 and was an immediate success. Since a lot of customers trusted their previous product, which is the multi-tool knife, it was easy for customers to also trust this product. Some popular Victorinox watches are Victorinox Swiss Army I.N.O.X., Victorinox Alliance Sport Chronograph, Victorinox Swiss Army Maverick, and many others.
  • Travel Gear: Victorinox is a popular brand for ordering travel gear. Their products range from carry-on bags, luggage, backpacks, messenger bags, and other accessories essential for traveling.
  • Fragrances: Victorinox is also a famous brand for shopping for high-quality fragrances. They offer variants for both men and women. Their fragrance names are derived from the Swiss Army Knife’s history, making it a little more magical.


The Victorinox company started with a long history and a lot of risk-taking. Its success story reminds everyone that perseverance always has a good result.