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Do Swiss soldiers really use the army knife?

You may be wondering whether members of the military in Switzerland actually carry Swiss army knives and, if so, what do they use them for?

An iconic army knife is part of Switzerland’s lore. Photo by Patrick on Unsplash
An iconic army knife is part of Switzerland’s lore. Photo by Patrick on Unsplash

The iconic, multi-bladed army knives with a Swiss cross logo are as much part of Switzerland’s image as cheese, chocolate and yodelling.

Looking at the cutting-edge models available today, it may be hard to imagine that when these knives were first issued to Swiss soldiers in 1886, they were very simple  — basically just a blade with a black handle.

Swiss cutler Karl Elsener, founder of the Victorinox company, began making more functional knives, equipped with a blade, reamer, can opener and screwdriver, in 1891. By the end of the century, an improved version, the officer’s knife, featured a second blade and corkscrew.

In 1891, the army ordered 15,000 knives to be distributed to its soldiers. At that time, however, Switzerland had no capacity to produce that many pieces and, in what could be considered as an early example of outsourcing, it placed the order with a German manufacturer.

This means that, paradoxically, Swiss knives were made in Germany – just like the quintessential Swiss mountain girl, Heidi.

Soon another cutlery manufacturer, Wenger, was also commissioned by the army to produce the knives, with the contract split evenly between the two.

This has eventually led to a knife-to-knife combat between the two companies, with Victorinox, as its name suggests, being victorious, and taking over its rival in 2005. From 2014, the army knife has been manufactured exclusively under the Victorinox name.

READ MORE: Victorinox cuts Wenger Swiss Army knife brand

What do the soldiers actually use the knives for?

In the early days, the knife’s primary purpose was to help troops perform basic tasks such as cutting string and wires, opening a can of food, as well as assembling and disassembling their service rifles.

To this day, each new recruit receives a basic ‘Soldier’ knife at the beginning of their service. This particular model features a can opener, screwdriver, blade, wood saw, cap lifter, wire stripper, reamer, and key ring — all the accoutrements  needed to defend Switzerland.

All these recruits receive a ‘Solider’ knife. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Although this was not the original intention, most of the hundreds of models of army knives today are used by civilians.

In fact, these once strictly military tools, are now geared toward specific users like campers, fishermen, hunters, handymen and even computer repairmen.

Karl Elsener would no doubt be surprised to discover that his original, no-fuss knife now features a wide variety of modern attachments, such as USB flash drives.

He would also be shocked to find out that Victorinox has branched into decidedly unmilitary products like Swiss Army perfumes, watches, and luggage.

And speaking of the military…

Swiss Army products are separate from a similarly named brand, Swiss Military, which manufactures watches. It is based in Aargau.

Even more so, it is also unrelated to a namesake Swiss Military company, based in…India.

Here is some more information about Switzerland’s army:

Women in Swiss military can finally wear women’s underwear

Swiss army bans WhatsApp due to privacy concerns

No marching orders: Swiss soldiers told to do military training at home

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For members


Say cheese: Switzerland re-legalises raclette and fondue in cable cars

Cheese and altitude lovers rejoice: it is now legal once more to consume two of Switzerland’s best-known dishes while riding in a ski gondola. This is what you should know.

Say cheese: Switzerland re-legalises raclette and fondue in cable cars

It is entirely possible that you have not been aware that eating raclette or fondue while riding in a cable car has been outlawed  in Europe since 2019.

Until then, a number of Swiss ski lift companies routinely served these dishes to passengers taking scenic rides over the Alps.

However, when the European Union introduced a new law banning open fires in closed cable cars, Switzerland had to reluctantly follow suit, even though no incidents of any kind had ever been reported in the country.

READ MORE: The 12 strange laws in Switzerland you need to know

However, Swiss legislation allows exceptions to European standards under certain circumstances —  in this particular case, by ensuring that the two melted cheese dishes don’t increase the risk of fire.

Photo by Pixabay

Rather than fan the flames, the Swiss Ski Lift Association (RMS) has found a solution to ensure fire safety: the table in the cabin will be firmly fixed and made of fireproof material.

RMS submitted its proposal  to the Federal Office of Transport, which has re-legalised the practice.

From now on, “the guests will [again] enjoy a beautiful view and a delicious menu without having to worry about safety”, said RMS director Berno Stoffel.

After three years of cheese-less rides, the fate of ski-lift fondues and raclettes is no longer up in the air — but the cheese dishes certainly are.

READ MORE: Ten varieties of cheese you should be able to identify if you live in Switzerland