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History of Switzerland: Introduction / Sitemap A Short History of Switzerland History of Switzerland: Detailed Timeline  Early Swiss History
Prehistory: Lake-dwellings in Switzerland Swiss History: Celtic Helvetians Switzerland during the Age of Romans, Aventicum Aventicum, Old Swiss Capital in the Age of Romans Switzerland during the Middle Ages  Old Swiss History
The Old Swiss Confederacy (1291-1515) William Tell (Switzerland's National Hero) The Swiss Reformation (Calvin, Zwingli)  A Modern Constitution
Swiss Revolution and Helvetic Republic (1798) Switzerland's Federal Constitution (1848) History of Switzerland's Flag Switzerland's Political System The Long Way to Women's Right to Vote  Industrialisation
Industrialisation in Switzerland Johanna Spyri: Heidi, the girl from the alps - A bestseller about times of change  World War II
World War II: General Timeline Switzerland's Role in World War II Spiritual Defense against Nazism Switzerland's Economic Dependence and Rationing Jewish Refugees Looted Assets Switzerland's Neutrality Switzerland's National Public Radio Station Beromünster  Country & People
Basic information about Switzerland - country profile Switzerland's Population and Languages Important Swiss monuments: pictures and meaning  Links
Links: History Swiss Museums Links: Switzerland

History of Switzerland

Switzerland's Industrialisation

Switzerland was one of the first industrialized countries. The industralization of Switzerland began, as in Great Britain, with the production of textiles and expanded soon to the construction of machines, to food products and to chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

The Textile Industry

Eastern Switzerland was an important center of textile production already towards the end of the middle ages. In St. Gallen the division of the work with work to residence (peasants) and finissage and marketing (profit) in city had been introduced already in the 15th century.

In Great Britain, the first machines were constructed in 1764. The production of machines in Switzerland began in 1801 in St. Gallen with the third generation of the machines, imported from Great Britain. In Switzerland, hydraulic power was used instead of steam-engines because in the mountains and hills there is relatively easy access to water-power while Switzerland has no significant deposits of coal. As early as 1814 the machines had replaced textile production by hand completely.

Machine Engineering

The Continental Blockade during the wars of Napoleon made importation and servicing of textile machines from Great Britain impossible. Therefore various textile factories in eastern Switzerland began constructing machines themselves: 1805 Escher, Wyss & Co. (Zurich), 1810 Johann Jacob Rieter & Co. (Winterthur). The factory of Diesel engines (for ships) Sulzer and the factory of locomotives in Winterthur (SLM) were spin-offs of a foundry (1834).

The factory of automobiles and of trucks Saurer in Arbon (Thurgau) began with textile machines. The first Saurer cars rolled out in 1896, but Saurer turned soon towards the manufacture of trucks (1903). Saurer stopped producing trucks in 1980.

  post-bus by Saurer
 (around 1960)

The watchmaking industry

Watchmaking in Switzerland was introduced in the middle of the 16th century by the Huguenots (french refugees persecuted because of their protestant faith). Watchmaking was concentrated at Geneva and expanded from there to the Jura hills near Neuchâtel (outwork). Around 1785 some 20,000 persons worked in the watchmaking industry of Geneva and produced 85,000 watches per year, another 50,000 watches were produced in the region of Neuchâtel. Musical boxes and mechanical toys driven by clock-works were produced as well.

The industry of food products


Chocolate was produced in Switzerland (Ticino and Lake Geneva regions) as early as 1803 by hand-crafted methods. In 1819 François-Louis Cailler founded his chocolate factory at Vevey (Vaud, Lake Geneva). Advertising by Philippe Suchard (factory at Serrières, Neuchâtel 1826) made Swiss Chocolate known to the world. Daniel Peter (from Vevey) invented milk chocolate in 1875 and Rodolphe Lindt a new method to make chocolate melt on the tongue (instead of it's former "sandy taste") in 1879.
Swiss Chocolate (www.swissworld.org)

Early Fast Food (Soups)

"Fast food" is not an invention of the end of the 20th century: industrialization created a market for products that could be prepared and eaten quickly, sometimes even during work at the factories. Soup in cubes or in bags brought success to Maggi (Kemptthal, close to Winterthur) and Knorr (Thayingen SH). Henri Nestlé invented a nutrition for babies based on milk, sweeteners and flour in 1866. His factory at Vevey became by the merger with l'Anglo Swiss Condensed Milk Co. (Cham ZG) in 1905 a big multinational company.

The chemical industry

The first chemical factory in Switzerland was founded by Daniel Frey at Aarau in 1804. The big time of the chemical industry - always one of the important sectors of the swiss economy - began only 50 years later, however. In 1859 Alexandre Clavel, Louis Durand and Etienne Marnas came from France to Basel to produce synthetic colors. As early as 1884 their company was known as "Chemische Industrie in Basel (CIBA)". Johann Rudolf Geigy-Merian extracted in 1858 of auxiliary substances to produce colours. Johann Gerber-Keller and Armand Gerber from Mulhouse (Alsace) came to Basel in 1864 to produce dye Azalein, because they had not succeeded in securing patent rights in France. In 1886 two employees of CIBA, chemist Alfred Kern and manager Edouard Sandoz founded the Kern and Sandoz company. These are the roots of Ciba-Geigy and Sandoz that merged in the 1990's to Novartis. As early as 1885 also synthetic medicines (pharmaceuticals) were produced. Fritz Hoffmann-La Roche founded his company in 1896 and specialized from the beginning in pharmaceutics.

Legislation of Work

Soon it became clear that capitalism without regulation will inevitably produced huge problems for the society. So it was necessary to enact laws of work:

  • 1815 Zurich: first factory act: ban of work of children less than 10 years old in the factories with penalties for the employer. It was necessary to verify the age of the child by a certificate of the church (baptism records). The maximum duration of work was limited to 12 hours a day, starting not before 5 a.m. in summer, 6 a.m. in winter.
  • 1815 Thurgau: act on the restriction of work of the children.
  • 1837 Zurich: new act of work.
  • 1842 Aargau: the parliament decided not to limit the hours of work of children.
  • 1846 Glarus (highly industrialised!): Legislation of the hours of work (15 hours for adults, 14 hours for children of less than 14 years).
  • 1864 Glarus: reduction of the length of the work to 12 hours, ban of night work (8 p.m. to 5 a.m.) and work of children under 12 years, vacation of convalescence of 6 weeks after the birth of a child.
  • 1877 federal legislation on work: maximum of 11 hours a day, restrictions of night work and work on Sundays, measures to prevent occupational diseases and accidents, ban of children's work (under 14 years).

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