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A small but characterful town 5km northeast of Brunnen, SCHWYZ (pronounced shveets) is capital of its canton. First mentioned in a document dated August 14, 972, Schwyz was associated culturally and militarily with its neighbours Uri and Nidwalden from as early as 1144. After the combined confederate forces won a famous victory against the Habsburgs at nearby Morgarten in 1315, they all became collectively dubbed “Schwyzers” and the land of Helvetia became known instead as Schweiz, or Switzerland. The men of Schwyz were sought after as particularly accomplished mercenaries throughout the Middle Ages and after, and many were able to return to their home town with fat wallets to build for themselves the fine townhouses which characterize the old centre today.
Cutting a dash
In 1884, an impoverished young Swiss, Carl Elsener, believed he had spotted a gap in the market for dependable pocket knives, and founded the Swiss Cutlers’ Association in order to supply knives and blades to the army. But times were hard: by 1893 his venture had collapsed, and a German competitor had started making knives more cheaply. His colleagues departed, leaving him to be bailed out by his family. Elsener persevered, making lighter and more elegant version of his knives, which he patented in 1897. By word of mouth, the knives grew in popularity, and even without an official seal of approval, Swiss army officers began to ask for them specifically. Elsener had originally named his factory – located in Ibach, just south of Schwyz – after his mother Victoria, but when stainless steel was invented in 1921 and given the international designation INOX, Elsener combined the two into one. Victorinox knives gained official backing from the Swiss Army and, after World War II, from the US Army too. Today, in myriad varieties, they are the best-known brand of Swiss army knife in the world, and the only ones permitted to use the Swiss cross as their logo. Some 34,000 are still churned out every day by the same factory in Ibach, some ten minutes’ walk south of Schwyz town centre at Schmiedgasse 57. Its on-site shop sells the complete range of knives at discount factory prices (Mon–Fri 7.30am–noon & 1.15–6pm, Sat 8am–3pm).