CBS’s reboot of Angus “Mac” MacGyver brings with it a re-found love for our trusty Swiss Army knives. Mac’s got his in hand—alongside a few paperclips, of course. This time around, MacGyver is more clever and braver than ever, as the reboot shows him in quick combat and tricky situations. Let’s just say that Mac is a bit of an upgrade from the original MacGyver. His Swiss knife—of course—didn’t need the same kind of upgrade. Swiss steel lasts forever.
How the little red knife got its name
The little red knife is an icon made famous in part by the original MacGyver but was first widely recognized around the time of World War II. American soldiers purchased the knives as souvenirs to take home from Europe after the war. The American soldiers coined the term “Swiss Army knife” because they couldn’t pronounce the German name, “Offiziersmesser.” The name stuck and the Swiss multi-tool is found in most pockets today.
But the first model of the Swiss Army knife was created long before American soldiers touched down in Europe. The original knife dates back to 1891: Model 1890. This first multi-tool featured a blade, reamer, screwdriver, and can opener. Karl Elsener, with the support of his mother, Victoria, opened a knife cutler workshop in Switzerland and began manufacturing Model 1890 knives for Swiss soldiers. Elsener is responsible for the later introduction of the spring mechanism that attaches tools to both ends of the handle—a hugely innovative tool for his time. Karl Elsener is the original MacGyver we’re talking about.
Milestone models made for the Swiss soldiers 1908, 1951, and 1961 grew ever more multi-faceted and innovative. Corkscrews, varying blades, the use of stainless steel, and better grips are just a few of the additions to the iconic red knife.
Not all Swiss Army knives were created equal
After the death of his mother, Elsener renamed his company after her: Victoria. The “inox” suffix comes from the French term for stainless steel: acier inoxydable. Victorinox was born. Victorinox’s models are considered the true Swiss Army knife.
However, Victorinox faced competition when the Swiss government also contracted Thomas Wenger to manufacture Swiss Army knives. The basic knives are the same, and succeeding knives are similar, but their logos differ slightly: Victorinox’s cross is found inside a shield, while Wenger’s is inside a rounded square. Victorinox and Wenger operated separately until 2005, when Victorinox acquired Wenger. Victorinox is still family owned by Elsener’s great-grandchildren.
Which Swiss Army knife did the original MacGyver use?
Over 100 years later, Victorinox offers a variety of pocket knives. You’re probably wondering: which Swiss Army knife did the 1985-1992 MacGyver use? The answer: all of them. MacGyver’s weapon of choice changes episode to episode, ranging from the Tinker to the Executive, to the Camper, Fisherman, Spartan, and Climber. MacGyver also swaps between Swiss knives made by competing brands, Victorinox and Wenger.
When you’re a guy like MacGyver, you get the pleasure to swap which model of Swiss Army knife you carry. 1985-1992 MacGyver’s most used knife, however, was the Tinker by Victorinox. The Tinker has 12 functions and weighs 62 grams. It’s the perfect tool to tinker your way in or out of a tricky situation. Its tools include two different blades, a can opener, three screwdrivers, a bottle opener, wire strippers, a reamer, a toothpick, and tweezers, all attached to a key ring.
What exactly is a MacGyverism?
MacGyver and the Swiss Army knife together defined the term “MacGyverism” in the original show. The star uses his Swiss Army knife to MacGyver life-saving tools from nothing. The plethora of tools, including knives, screwdrivers, bells, and whistles makes the Swiss Army knife the best pocket tool to have in a pinch.
Regardless of what model of Swiss knife used, MacGyver proves that this iconic red multi-tool and a little brain power can solve almost any problem. Its unique design—pure art, according to the New York Museum of Modern Art, where a Swiss knife sits on display—showcases extreme craftsmanship on both the designer’s part and the handler’s uses. These knives can literally do almost anything.
Which Swiss Army knife is in your pocket?
We’re excited to see what the new “Mac” can do with his knife. In the reboot of MacGyver, it only took a few minutes for the show’s star to appear—the little red knife, that is. There’s a reason why MacGyvers everywhere still carry the Swiss knife today. A strong family history of success building tools fit for their army, and a widespread appreciation of the product make Victorinox’s Swiss Army knives popular amongst most pockets. Which Swiss Army knife is in your pocket?