10 Swiss inventions that changed the world

10 Swiss inventions that changed the world

Switzerland has long been known as a hive of innovation: From large businesses to cottage industries, Switzerland has invented or created many ideas and pieces of technology that people still use today. To recognise this achievement, here are 10 Swiss inventions that changed the world:

Top 10 things invented in Switzerland

Although mostly known today for chocolate and cheese, Switzerland has a long tradition of manufacturing and inventing products in all areas. This continues today in the school system, with vocational education schools and universities teaching the next generation about old Swiss inventions and how to make the next big breakthrough.

From the computer mouse to aluminium foil, Swiss inventors have been prolific at making products that improve our lives. To honour this, here are the top 10 things that were invented in Switzerland or by Swiss people:

1. Velcro

Although Velcro is seen as a British product, its inventor, George de Mestral, was actually Swiss. Born in Saint-Saphorin-sur-Morges in Canton Vaud, the man pioneered the “hook and loop" fastener technology that we know today.

The story goes that in 1941, the engineer went hiking in the Swiss mountains and was curious as to why burdock seeds stuck to his woollen socks and to his dog Milka. He found that the minute fibres could form a strong bond on something with hooks and loops. He named his invention "Velcro", a combination of the words velours ("velvet") and croché ("hook").

2. Swiss Army knife

A staple of every tourist shop in the country, the Swiss Army knife was first produced in 1891 in Ibach, Canton Schwyz. The inventor, Karl Elsener, would later go on to found Victorinox, one of the primary manufacturers of the knife.

The name “Swiss Army knife” comes from an American soldier during World War Two, who struggled to pronounce the German word “Offiziersmesser” (officer's knife). Today, the multi-tool is used by both the military and civilians throughout the world and has even made it to space, accompanying NASA astronauts since the 1970s.

3. The Red Cross

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is a common sight among the war-torn areas of the world, handing out vital medical assistance to those in need. The movement was first started by a Swiss man from Geneva, Henry Dunant, after he witnessed the Battle of Solferino in 1859 between Austria, France and Sardinia, a battle that saw 40.000 casualties.

Shocked by the aftermath of the battle, particularly the lack of doctors and medical assistance, he devoted himself to the treatment of the wounded, regardless of nationality. Today, his organisation helps treat people in war-torn areas and helped bring about the Geneva Convention; a codified system of rules on how to treat enemy combatants and prisoners. The headquarters of the Red Cross is still in Geneva.

4. Absinthe

Although typically associated with France, Absinthe was invented in Neuchatel in Switzerland in the late 18th century. The drink is a mixture of green anise, sweet fennel and other herbs, which can create a drink of up to 75 percent proof.

The drink had been banned in most of Europe because of its hallucinogenic properties and a bad reputation as a “bringer of violent crimes and disorder.” In the 1990s, new European laws allowed Absinthe to return, albeit without its psychedelic ingredients. Today, there are hundreds of absinthe manufacturers, many of them Swiss.

Absinthe invented in Switzerland

5. Muesli

Continuing with food, Muesli is a traditional breakfast cereal containing oats, grains, nuts, seeds and fresh or dried fruit. It is a natural staple around the world, served either with milk or yoghurt. Muesli is named after the Swiss-German word mus, meaning "mush."

The original recipe was developed by a Swiss doctor, Maximilian Bircher-Benner, which is where we get the name “Bircher-Muesli.” The dish was designed to be a starter for patients in hospital, as it was rich in nutrients and grains. Bircher-Benner admitted that the dish was first served to him on a hike with his wife in the Swiss Alps. Bircher-Benner is now a national Swiss figure, with several streets named after him.

6. White chocolate

You either love it or you hate it: White chocolate was invented in Switzerland by the company Nestlé in 1936. The bar, called “Galak”, was made by using cocoa butter along with sugar and milk.

White chocolate is not the only Swiss invention in the field, with hazelnut chocolate also finding its origins in Switzerland. Chocolate has become one of the country's major success stories, with Switzerland now one of the top exporters of chocolate in the world.

White chocolate invented Switzerland

7. Aluminium foil

It may not be the most impressive feature of any kitchen, but aluminium foil is still essential for keeping food as fresh as possible. It is also a Swiss invention, with its origins in the area around Schaffhausen and Kreuzlingen in 1910, where tin foil was first replaced by aluminium.

Just a year later, Tobler, the first maker of Toblerone, began to wrap its chocolate bars in aluminium foil. Soon, the idea spread far and wide, becoming the kitchen staple it is today.

8. LSD

The psychedelic drug was first created in 1938 by a university student from Zurich, Albert Hofmann. While working at Sandoz, one of the largest chemical companies in Switzerland at the time, he accidentally discovered a mind-altering substance, lysergic acid diethylamide, better known as LSD.

The city of Basel, where Hofmann discovered LSD, celebrates the moment on April 19 each year. Called “Bicycle Day”, the event marks the moment the doctor first experimented with LSD, on himself.

9. Helvetica font

As its Latin name suggests, one of the most popular fonts ever created has its roots in Switzerland. Developed in 1957 by Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann, the font was one of the first clean “sans-serif” fonts developed for typefaces.

The typeface continues to be used to this day on word processors around the world. The 50th anniversary of the font was even celebrated at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 2007.

10. Direct democracy

Finally, Switzerland was the first place to institute a form of “direct democracy.” This is a system where the majority of national decisions are made directly by the people, a principle that was first put into practice when the Old Swiss Confederacy was formed in 1291.

The Swiss were the first to use direct democracy in political matters. Even during times of war in the 15th century, a company of soldiers had the right to vote on whether to continue the campaign or simply return home. This system has survived to this day, embodied by the several national referendums that Switzerland holds each year.

Swiss direct democracy

Switzerland is a haven for inventors and thinkers

Throughout its history, Switzerland has been home to forward thinkers in several industries. As well as being a favourite destination for expat thinkers from Einstein to Voltaire, the country also provides a solid base from which innovation can prosper.

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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