US president Ronald Reagan once ordered 2000 penknives to be given as gifts. Yes, all of them were Victorinox Swiss Army Knives. More specifically, these were what Victorinox calls Officer’s Knife with ‘Officier Suisse‘ written on the main blade.
‘Officier Suisse’ are French words meaning Swiss Officer. A Swiss Army Knife with ‘Officier Suisse’ written on the tang of the blade indicates that the blade is installed onto a non-military issue knife. Today, most mid-size Swiss Army Knives have ‘Officier Suisse’ written on the tang of the main blade.
More than the Soldier’s Knife (‘Soldatenmesser’), it was the Officer’s knife (‘Offiziersmesser’) that made the Swiss Army Knife popular throughout the world.
German-French Dialect used to refer Swiss Army Knife
You will come across a lot of German-French words used to refer to certain models/designs of the Swiss Army Knife. This is because the two official makers of the Swiss Army Knife, Victorinox and Wenger, were located in German-French-speaking regions of Switzerland.
To know more about how Wenger differs from Victorinox, read:
German is the dominant language in Ibach in Schwyz, where Victorinox is located. Wenger was located in the French-speaking region, Delemont, in Jura.
Here are some of the common German-French words used in the context of Swiss Army Knife:
Written in the tang of the blade of the Officer’s Knife
Used to refer to any model of the Officer’s Knife
Used to refer to all pocket knives created by Victorinox and Wenger
Patented name of the first design of the Officer’s Knife created by Karl Elsener
Used to refer to any model of the Swiss Army Knife used by the soldiers in the Switzerland Army
The Original Design of the Officer’s Knife
In 1897, Karl Elsener, a knife maker in Switzerland, designed the Swiss Officer’s and Sports Knife.
The motivation behind the design was to make the Soldier’s knife, which Elsener’s company supplied to the Swiss army, more compact and functional.
It was primarily meant to be used by the officers serving in the Switzerland army.
Contrary to popular belief, the Soldier’s Knife is not the first Swiss Army Knife. The first Soldier’s knife was not even manufactured in Switzerland, or by any Swiss company. That credit goes to a German company, ‘Wester & Co’, based in Solingen.
To know more about the Soldier’s Knife, read:
However, the Swiss Officer’s and Sports Knife was conceptualized, designed, and developed in Switzerland. It was kind of a breakthrough in multipurpose knife design. The design was patented with the name ‘Schweizer Offiziers und Sportmesser‘.
- Large blade
- Small blade
- Large screwdriver
- Can opener
- Shackle (or bail)
The innovative design of the Swiss Officer’s and Sports Knife allowed it to have more tools than the Soldier’s knife, while at the same time being more compact. In particular, it added a second blade and a corkscrew.
The Switzerland army never made the ‘Swiss Officer’s and Sports Knife’ a standard issue.
The new tools, viz. the small blade, and the corkscrew were not considered necessary in the field. So this model never became part of the military contract.
The Swiss officers in the army did not get the Soldier Knife like the recruit
The officers could, of course, like anybody else, privately purchase the more compact and functional Officer’s Knife, as well as the bigger Soldier’s Knife from cutlery shops.
It was commonly referred to as the ‘Offiziersmesser’, which US soldiers found hard to pronounce
It was this ‘Offiziersmesser’ model and its later upgraded versions that the American soldiers stationed in Europe started calling “Swiss Army Knife”, a name which eventually became famous all over the world.
Evolution of the Officer’s Knife
Over the years, Victorinox has introduced several modifications to the Officer’s Knife. The original design had wooden handles, which later got replaced with fibre, then to celluloid, and finally to Cellidor. Most of the individual tools also evolved in design and functionality.
The ‘Swiss Officer’s and Sports Knife’ is only the first in a long line of Swiss Army Knife models that Victorinox has created.
In fact, all the models in Victorinox 91mm and 84mm SAKs have the ‘Officier Suisse’ markings on the blade.
This indicates that all such models are based on the original Officer’s Knife, the ‘Schweizer Offiziers und Sportmesser’.
Today, the SAK model ‘Spartan‘ is considered to be the first of the line, or rather, the direct descendant of the original design.
In 2014, Spartan got the Red Dot Design Award, one of the world’s biggest international design competitions for innovation, quality, and functionality.
In 2022, Victorinox celebrated 125 years of the birth of the ‘Officer’s Knife’ by releasing 9999 pieces of Limited Edition exact replicas of the first ‘Schweizer Offiziers und Sportmesser‘.
The “Officers’ Knife” is now available in over 100 different models. The model Spartan has been regarded as one of the best all-purpose pocket tools for many generations.
With its huge production capacity without compromising on quality, Victorinox has assured that anyone who wishes can own a Swiss Army Knife with the famous ‘Officier Suisse‘ written on the blade, a testament to its quality and functionality.