Why do so many American towns have Swiss names?

Why do so many American towns have Swiss names?

If you ask a passerby, "what are some top things to do in Zurich?" and hear the reply: “take a walk down Plainville Avenue and stop by the old community centre, before driving away as there isn’t much else to do in a town of 89 people”, you’ll have just found out that the Swiss city isn’t the only place in the world called Zurich - they've just told you all about Zurich, Kansas. Here's why the United States of America has towns with Swiss names like New Bern and New Glarus.

Over 20 places in the US called Geneva

According to the Swiss Embassy in the United States of America, you could create a very long and rather strange road trip by visiting all the towns in the US named after places in Switzerland. For one, there are over 20 places in the US called Geneva, from Washington State and Florida to Alabama, Texas, New York and Iowa.

Some other highlights include Lausanne, Pennsylvania, Interlaken and Locarno in New York, Lake Geneva in Wisconsin, and of course, Switzerland, Florida. According to the embassy, there are hundreds of places in America named after Swiss cities, lakes, mountains and historical sites.

Come visit New Bern and Glarus... in North Carolina and Wisconsin

The two most notable places in the US named after somewhere in Switzerland are New Glarus, Wisconsin and New Bern, North Carolina. New Glarus, founded in 1845, is a small town famous for its Swiss foods like rösti, raclette and fondue - so much so that many American tourists visit the town to sample Swiss delicacies in the heart of "America's Dairy State." 

The largest Swiss city in America is New Bern, a town with a population of 30.000 people which features a building modelled on the Zytgloggenturm in the de-facto capital of Switzerland. It was also where Pepsi was first sold in 1893.

Why do so many towns in the US have Swiss names?

So why are there so many American towns with Swiss names? According to historian Benedikt Meyer, most Swiss-named settlements emerged in the 18th and 19th centuries. The period was a time of great upheaval, war, food shortages and poverty in Europe, and unlike today, Switzerland was seen as an impoverished backwater, isolated from the great powers.

“In the 19th century, more and more people left Switzerland. Hunger and poverty drove them across the ocean to a land full of new hopes: America," Meyer explained. Much like other groups that moved to the new world, Swiss citizens were attracted by the promise of food, jobs, land and prosperity. 

However, while many ended up settling in America, they never forgot their roots, hence why so many of the towns that Swiss immigrants set up bear the names of the places they once called home.

Image: / ThePhotoFab

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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