Unless you don’t have any uncles and have never ventured outdoors, chances are you’ve owned at least one Swiss Army knife. These versatile tools have been utilized for more than 125 years, and today hold a special place in pop culture (largely thanks to MacGyver). Here are a few surprising facts about the little contraption:
The first SAKs were German, not Swiss
In the late 1880s, the Swiss Army wanted to create a knife that essentially performed two additional functions: opening canned food and assembling the Schmidt-Rubin M1889, the standard service rifle for Swiss soldiers. At that time, there weren’t any Swiss companies large enough to take on a project of that scale, so the Swiss Army commissioned Wester & Co., a German manufacturer, to create the knives. The first prototypes were created in 1890, and finished models were introduced the following year.
But if we want to get technical, the oldest multi-purpose pocket tool– which featured a knife, fork, spoon, toothpick and small hook — dates back to the 3rd century.
The original SAK was made of wood, not metal
The Wester & Co. SAK models included metal blades, can openers, screwdrivers and reamers, but the base was rendered from oak; subsequent incarnations used ebony wood. Stainless steel SAKs did not appear until the 1920s. However, the color red dates back to the original version; designers reportedly used the distinctive color in case the tool was dropped in the snow.
U.S. troops coined the term ‘Swiss Army knife’
Following WWII, Europe was full of American soldiers who were dying to get their hands on this nifty little multi-tool. Locals referred to it as the ‘Schweizer Offizer Messer (Swiss Officer’s Knife)’, but this name was apparently tough on the Yankee tongue. So the simple, more easily pronounceable ‘Swiss Army knife’ became part of the common vernacular, and the name has stuck ever since.
The largest SAK weighs 11 pounds
In 2006, Wenger began producing its largest SAK model to date, ’The Giant’, which incorporates 87 tools that perform more than 140 different functions. Pretty impressive, but the largest, most versatile pocketknife was crafted by a master cutler named Hans Meister in 1991. Weighing in at just over 11 pounds, the model featured 314 tool and required roughly 750 man-hours to complete.
The SAK is constantly evolving
In addition to the eponymous blade, classic SAK models feature other recognizable tools like the can opener, magnifying glass, and Phillips-head screwdriver; this we all know. But some recent incarnations have also adopted tech-savvy implements like MP3 players, flash drives, laser pointers and data-encrypted fingerprint scanners.
By Brad Nehring