The Swiss Army is one of the strongest in Europe. It is a tough, well-trained professional fighting force so formidable that it has kept the country from being invaded through two World Wars. Every able-bodied Swiss male is required to serve and remains in the army as a reservist until age 50. As a condition of preparedness, each soldier is provided with the most advanced technology and simplest – a folding pocketknife.
ACCESSORY TO THE RIFLE
It dates back to 1886 when the Swiss Army decided to equip every soldier with a regulation single-blade folding knife. In 1889, a new rifle was introduced. To disassemble the rifle, a screwdriver was needed. So a decision was made to create a multi-purpose tool incorporating a knife, screwdriver, reamer and can-opener – The Swiss Army Knife. At that time, the cutlery industry in Switzerland was well established but incapable of mass production. So the knives were made in Solingen, Germany. However, a Swiss cutler soon established a knife manufacturing company, today Victorinox, and began to make army knives. Shortly after in 1893 at Courtetelle in the Delemont valley, the second industrial cutlery manufacturer of Switzerland, Paul Boechat & Cie – and the future Wenger – received a contract from the Swiss Army to produce knives. In 1895, a group of entrepreneurs from Delemont bought Boechat and built a new plant at Courtetelle. About two years later, Theodore Wenger was hired to be its General Manager. The son of a pastor, Theodore Wenger was a minister who had served in the USA. He decided this calling was not for him and his Swiss wife was homesick, so he returned to Switzerland. There he learned the world of business in his father-in-law’s cloth trade. After a few years, he applied for a job at Courtetelle. One of Wenger’s first acts was to acquire a manufacturer of spoons and forks, which he moved to a rented factory in Delemont. Then in 1900, he built a new 18,000 square foot facility there. Both the utensil operations and the Courtetelle cutlery production were incorporated into the new plant now called Fabrique Suisse de Courtetelle at Services. A few years later, Wenger acquired Fabrique Suisse, renamed it Wenger et Cie. and shepherded its growth for the next forty years.
THE COMPROMISE OF 1908
The company from which Wenger emerged had been a supplier to the Swiss Army as early as 1893, and its sister-company, Victorinox, since 1890. Wenger is in the French-speaking Jura region and its competitor is in the German-speaking canton of Schwyz. To avoid friction between the two cantons, the Swiss Government decided in 1908 to use each supplier for half of its requirements. So Victorinox can lay claim to being the “original”, Wenger can state its Swiss Army Knives are “genuine”. In any case, both have been manufacturing Swiss Army Knives for over 100 years and both must meet identical specifications defined by the Swiss Army.