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In 1891, Karl Elsener, then owner of a company thatmade surgical equipment, discovered to his dismay that the pocket knives supplied to the Swiss army were in fact madein Germany.  Elsener set out to manufacture the knives in Switzerland itself. Elsener began working on what became the predecessor to the modern Swiss Army knife, called the "Soldier's Knife". The original had a wooden handle, as opposed to the plastic and metal seen today, and featured a cutting blade, a screwdriver, a can opener, and a punch. This knife was sold to the Swiss army, but Elsener was not satisfied with its first incarnation. In 1896, after five years of hard work, Elsener managed to put the blades on both sides of the handle using a special spring mechanism, allowing him to use the same spring to hold them in place, an innovation at the time. This allowed Elsener to put twice as many features on the knife; he added a second cutting blade and a corkscrew.

Karl Elsener used the cross and shield to identify his knives, the symbol still used today on Victorinox-branded versions. When his mother died in 1909, Elsener decided to name his company "Victoria" in her memory. In 1921 the company started using stainless steel to make the Swiss Army Knife. Stainless steel is also known as "inox", short for the French term acier inoxydable. "Victoria" and "inox" were then combined to create the company name "Victorinox"

The "Swiss Army Knife" gained international fame when U.S. Army Soldiers returning from Europe after service in World War II brought back red multi-tool pocket knives they had taken from German prisoners of war. German army officers were not issued these items from the Wehrmacht but bought these Swiss-made knives privately along with the silver cross on red background. Thus Americans began calling them the "Swiss officer's knife." As tourists began buying these souvenirs from Switzerland the most common purchase became what the Victorinox company now calls the "Spartan." The difference between the Spartan model and what the U.S. Army Soldiers first brought back from Europe is the lack of the folding scissor in the Spartan.