Sometimes referred to as an automatic or flick knife, the switchblade is a form of pocketknife that is equipped with a folding or sliding blade that is controlled with the use of a spring mechanism. Most designs call for the inclusion of a small lever or button on the surface of the handle, making it easy to free the blade for use when and as necessary. When the blade is retracted or folded, there is no chance of accidentally coming in contact with the sharp edges.
While the exact origin of switchblade knives is a matter of debate, most experts trace the beginnings of the device back to the first half of the 19th century. Knives that were constructed with either a spring release that allowed a blade to pop out of the front of the handle, or designs that used a lever to trigger the blade to unfold from the main body of the knife were found in the United Kingdom and France as early as 1840. Some of the designs were reminiscent of small handguns that date from the same period. Switchblades that bear a closer resemblance to the knives in use today appeared just before the dawn of the 20th century.
Over time, the folding switchblade has tended to become the more popular design for the knife. A knife of this type is considered an ideal option for camping trips as well as for general use around the home. Because the blade is concealed when the device is not in use, it is considered relatively safe in comparison to other types of knives that feature a constantly exposed blade. A switchblade knife is also considered safer than the standard hobby or camping knife that must be unfolded manually, since there is no need for the fingers to come in contact with the blade while the blade is being unfolded from the main body of the knife.
By the middle of the 20th century, many nations began to pass legislation that limited the ability of people to carry switchblades into certain settings. Schools began to confiscate switchblades found in the lockers or in the possession of students during school hours or school sponsored activities. In some countries, the switchblade attained the status of being considered a concealed weapon, making it a crime to carry one in public buildings or other areas where people gather in large numbers. While efforts to outlaw the switchblade completely have been made from time to time, those efforts remain largely unsuccessful in most areas of the world.