1. Karl Elsener’s Original Company Didn’t Make Knives.
When you think of Swiss Army, usually you think of the ubiquitous Swiss Army Knife. However Karl Elsener, the founder of Victorinox, owned and operated a workshop in Ibach-Schwyz that produced surgical equipment for doctors in the area.
2. The First Army Knife Was Not Swiss.
Due to the lack of resources and suppliers in Switzerland, the first army knife was supplied from the German company Wester & co. The knives weren’t made in Switzerland until 1891 when Karl Elsener took over the contract between the Swiss army and Wester & co to produce Modell 1890 knives.
3. Why The Name Victorinox?
To honor his mother, Victoria, who passed in 1909, Elsener named his company after her. When stainless steel was invented in 1921, Elsener took the French translation, “inox” and combined it with his mother’s name. Hence, Victorinox.
4. Victorinox Was Sued By The Swiss Confederacy.
Victorinox tried to trademark the name “Swiss Military” in the United States and was sued by the Swiss Confederacy for taking their name. Eventually, they came to a compromise and made a deal stating that Victorinox would not be allowed to register the name “Swiss Military” in the United States, but in return Victorinox would receive an exclusive license to market perfumes under the “Swiss Military” name.
5. The Swiss Army Trademark.
Forschner Group, an American company, had started buying Victorinox knives to sell in the late 1930s and became one of the biggest clients for Victorinox. In 1972 the two companies signed an agreement giving Forschner exclusive rights to market Victorinox knives in the United States. The Swiss Defense Ministry gave them permission to use the “Swiss Army” name to sell other Swiss-made products in the States and allowed them to trademark the “Swiss Army” name. Forschner Group rebranded to “Swiss Army Brands Inc” (SABI) in 1995.
6. Swiss Army Knives In Space
Victorinox has provided knives to NASA since the late 1970s for small fixes and repairs. The Victorinox Master Craftsman knife was so popular for being used by NASA people started calling it the “astronaut.” In 1995 Astronaut Chris Hadfield arrived at the Mir space station but couldn’t get the hatch open. Hadfield is quoted saying “So we did the true space-age thing: we broke into Mir using a Swiss Army knife. Never leave the planet without one.”
7. Victorinox watches weren’t available until the late 80s.
In 1989 Forschner Group watched to sell other Swiss products under their new “Swiss Army” name. They decided on sunglasses, compasses, and watches. However, neither Forschner nor Victorinox knew how to make a watch. They outsourced to the Swiss company Xantia SA. Xantia SA was a private label watchmaker meaning their watches were sold under different brands. Xantia was purchased in 2000 by SABI.
8. Victorinox VS. Wenger
While Victorinox gained the contract to produce the Modell 1890 knife in 1891, another company named Wenger received a contract from the Swiss military to produce Swiss army knives in 1893. While Victorinox and Wenger both produced knives for the Swiss military, they mutually agreed that Victorinox would be known as the “original Swiss Army” and Wenger as the “genuine Swiss Army.” Victorinox eventually acquired Wenger in 2005.
9. Victorinox Vs Swiss Army Brands
Victorinox owned some shares in SABI but were not the majority shareholder. Victorinox didn’t want to branch out to different products because they did not want to weaken their brand of knives. To their surprise, SABI was successful and played a big part in the sales of Victorinox knives. In 2002 Victorinox became the sole shareholder of Swiss Army Brands Inc.
10. Victorinox Is Still Family Owned
Victorinox has always been helmed by an Elsener. Karl Elsener founded and ran the company until 1918 when his son Carl Elsener took over from 1919 to 1950. His son, Carl Elsener Sr. ran the company from 1951 through 2007. Today Victorinox is run by Carl Elsener Jr. He is quoted saying “Obviously he would like to see another family member leading the business” Hopefully we will get to see the fifth generation of Elseners at the helm in the years ahead.
Times Ticking has been in operation for more than 30 years, since 1982. We have performed watch repair for customers both locally and internationally. If it Ticks! We KNOW it! Our team of watch repair technicians have a combined experience in watchmaking of over 120 years.