The 10 Greatest Swiss Inventions That Changed Our Lives

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

If nobody's answering your calls or emails today, it's because we're all out celebrating the first of August, which is Switzerland's national holiday. If you're coming to look for us, you'll most probably find us grilling some Cervelat sausages over an open fire on a lake or river side and firing up some fireworks at dawn. Now you may know Switzerland (not Sweden!) as that tiny mountanious country squeezed in between France, Germany, Italy and Austria that feeds on chocolate and cheese. Famous for its pristine rivers and lakes, hardly anyone knows what an incredible array of innovations have their origin in Switzerland. Here's our Top 10:

1. The World's Smallest Toolbox

This is an obvious one: The Swiss army knive was first produced in 1891 after Karl Elsener, who later founded the company Victorinox, won the contract to produce the Swiss Army's knife from the previous German manufacturer.


2. Patek Philippe invented the wristwatch in 1868.

Today, most of the world’s luxury watches are produced in Switzerland like Tissot, TAG Heuer, Rolex and Patek Philippe. The prestigious watch brands around Schwanenplatz (Swan Square) in our hometown of Lucerne sell more watches than in any other city from New York to Shanghai.


3. Swiss Chemist Albert Hoffmann took the first LSD trip in 1943 and went on a magical bikeride.

Not that he was an early Deadhead or Acid Jazz pioneer, he invented acid purely on accident, when experimenting in his work as a research chemist in Basel. Read the full story here.


4. From LSD to LCD

Funnily, the technology for Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) on watches and clocks was patented in 1970 by - are you ready? - Hoffman-La Roche (!), the giant pharmaceutical group whose Basel headquarters are now the tallest tower in all of Switzerland.

4. The Electric Guitar Is A Swiss Invention

Ok ok, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration.. However it was Basel-born Swiss-American electrical engineer Adolph Rickenbacker who invented the "Frying Pan", an instrument made of cast aluminium that featured a pickup made of a pair of horseshoe magnets arched over the strings. 


5. Albert Einstein invented the famous equation E=MC2 while he was in Switzerland.

At the time, Albert Einstein was working for the patent office in Switzerland's capital city Bern.


6.  The World Wide Web started on Lake Geneva.

During his time at CERN, Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989. Inspired by CERN’s own shared network, but frustrated that each computer stored information with a different login, Berners-Lee created his own version. The first website in the world was based at CERN, on Berners-Lee’s own computer, hosting information about how the web worked.


7. The Direct Democracy

Though the Ancient Greeks are credited with the concept of democracy, it was the founding of the Swiss Confederation in 1291, that saw the principles of direct democracy put into action at a time when monarchies ruled elsewhere across Europe. 

8. No Pedalboard without Velcro®

On a hunting trip in the Jura mountains, Swiss engineer Georges de Mestral noticed that certain seeds were sticking to his clothes, as well as to his dog. On closer inspection, these ‘burrs’ seemed to have tiny hooks, attaching them tightly to fibres and hair. A lightbulb appeared over his head and fast forward a few decades and we're able to keep all of our pedals neatly in place.


9. Arguably the most imporant humanitarian invention in history

The Red Cross idea was born in 1859, when Henry Dunant, a young Swiss man, came upon the scene of a bloody battle in Solferino, Italy, between the armies of imperial Austria and the Franco-Sardinian alliance. Some 40,000 men lay dead or dying on the battlefield and the wounded were lacking medical attention. Dunant organized local people to bind the soldiers' wounds and to feed and comfort them. On his return, he called for the creation of national relief societies to assist those wounded in war, and pointed the way to the future Geneva Conventions.

10. The Helvetica font

Not many typefaces get their own exhibits in art museums, but New York's Museum Of Modern Art celebrated the font with a 50 Years Of Helvetica exhibit in 2007. The world would be a lot less literate without the invention of the Helvetica by Max Miedinger in 1957. Popular for their crips, san-serif letter that deliver communication in a clean style, the classic Helvetica and its many variations quickly became one of the most popular typefaces ever invented.

Is there a great Swiss invention missing on this list for you? I don't know, you tell me is there? ;)

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