Swiss americans

by Leo Schelbert


Switzerland lies in the central part of the Alps, a 500-mile-long European mountain range, which stretches westward from France's Riviera into what was northern Yugoslavia. Four main passes (Grimsel, Furka, St. Gotthard, and Oberalp) allow passage from Northern Europe across the Alps to Italy, making Switzerland a country of transit. The country covers 15,941 square miles and borders Germany to the north, France to the west, Italy to the south, and Austria and the Principality of Liechtenstein to the east. The Swiss nation is a confederation of 26 member states called cantons, and the nation's capital is Bern, a city that began about 1160 and was officially founded in 1191. The national flag consists of a square red field with a white equilateral cross at its center.

In 1992 Switzerland counted 6.9 million inhabitants, including one million foreign nationals. The country is ethnically diverse, indicated by its four language groups. Religiously the Swiss people are nearly evenly divided between Catholics and Swiss Reformed, but there are also small groups of other Christian denominations and other faiths.


The Swiss Confederation emerged in the late thirteenth century from an alliance of three regions: the modern-day cantons Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden. The so-called Bundesbrief of 1291 documents their alliance. In it the three regions pledge mutual support to keep internal order and to resist aggression. The Confederation grew by wars of conquest and by alliances arranged with important towns located at the access routes of the passes to Italy, such as Luzern, Zürich, and Bern. By 1513, 13 cantons had united the rural population with the urban elite of artisans and entrepreneurs. Both groups were intent on gaining and preserving independence from the nobility, a unique development in European history. The Confederation's defeat at the battle of Marignano in upper Italy in 1515 ended the nation's expansion. This loss led to the gradual emergence of armed neutrality, a basic feature of Switzerland's political tradition. However, the Reformation split the people into Catholic and Swiss Reformed hostile camps and nearly destroyed the Confederation.


During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries increasingly smaller oligarchies came to power in the Swiss cantons but were overthrown in 1798 in the wake of the French Revolution. In 1848, after five decades of foreign intervention and internal uncertainty, a new constitution was adopted. The previous system of autonomous states became one federal state, though the people remain the actual sovereign. The Swiss are called upon to vote on numerous issues several times a year. This process occurs either by constitutional requirement or more often by initiative and referendum which, given a sufficient number of signatories, force the government to submit issues to the popular vote. The executive branch, called Bundesrat, consists of seven members chosen by Parliament and acts as a unit. The presidency is an honorary position and rotates annually. The legislative power rests with citizens of voting age and with a Parliament, divided into a Council of States ( Ständerat ) and a National Council ( Nationalrat ). In addition, the cantons and over 3,000 communes ( Gemeinden ) have preserved their autonomy and decide numerous issues by popular vote. The Swiss are involved in political decision-making throughout the year on the local, cantonal, and federal level.

Neutrality in foreign affairs and universal military service of men are considered central to the Swiss political tradition, which may have kept the country out of two devastating world wars. Switzerland's economy, however, is fully dependent on the export of quality products and on special expertise in finance as well as the production of machinery, pharmaceuticals, watches, and precision instruments.


The first known Swiss in what is now the territory of the United States was Theobald von Erlach (1541-1565). In 1564 he was a leading member of a French attempt to create a permanent foothold in North America. He perished when some 900 French soldiers were shipwrecked by a hurricane in September 1565, and killed by the Spanish. Some "Switzers" also lived at Jamestown during the regime of Captain Smith. In 1657 the French Swiss Jean Gignilliat received a large land grant from the proprietors of South Carolina. In 1710 some 100 Swiss joined Christoph von Graffenried (1661-1743) who founded New Bern in present-day North Carolina.

Between 1710 and 1750, some 25,000 Swiss are estimated to have settled in British North America, especially in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and South Carolina. Many were members of the Reformed church and were actively recruited by entrepreneurs such as Jean Pierre Purry (1675-1736), the founder of Purrysburg, South Carolina. About 4,000 Swiss Mennonites settled in Pennsylvania, many of whom had first gone to the Palatinate from which the next generation emigrated in search of fertile, affordable land and greater toleration of their creed.

In the late 1750s an influential group of French Swiss officers in the British service assumed leadership roles in the fight against indigenous peoples resisting white incursions into the trans-Appalachian West, the French, and the insurgent colonials. In the middle decades of the eighteenth century a group of Swiss Jesuits labored in the Southwest of the present United States to promote the northward expansion of New Spain.


Between 1798 and 1850, about 100,000 Swiss went abroad (the proportions between temporary and permanent migrations cannot be determined) and some 50,000 foreigners located in Switzerland. Between 1850 and 1914 those leaving the Confederation numbered about 410,000, those entering it from abroad about 409,000. Those leaving were attracted by the newly conquered lands taken from indigenous peoples in Australia, New Zealand, and in the Western Hemisphere by expanding neo-European nations such as Argentina, Brazil, or the United States. The emigrants seem to have been rooted in the lure of faraway lands or in the desire to escape parental control, intolerable marriages, or oppressive village traditions.

Between 1820 and 1930, some 290,000 people went from Switzerland to the United States. About 12,500 arrived between 1820 and 1850; some 76,500 between 1851 and 1880; and some 82,000 in the 1880s. Between 1891 and 1920, about 89,000 arrived and nearly 30,000 in the 1920s. No reliable figures exist for Swiss return migration, but it was numerically substantial. For instance, nearly 7,000 of the more than 8,200 Swiss of military service age who had gone to the United States returned to Switzerland between 1926 and 1930.

"M y mother had to try and keep track of us. She finally took us and tied us all together so that we would stay together. And that's the way we came off the boat."

Gertrude Schneider Smith, 1921, cited in Ellis Island: An Illustrated History of the Immigrant Experience, edited by Ivan Chermayeff et al. (New York: Macmillan, 1991).

In the first half of the nineteenth century large numbers of Swiss settled in the rural Midwest, especially in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin, and after 1848 in California. Some 40 percent of Swiss went to urban areas such as New York, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Chicago, St. Louis, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. In 1920, for instance, New York counted 9,233 Swiss, Chicago 3,452, San Francisco 2,105, and Philadelphia 1,889. As to states, in 1930 California numbered 20,063 Swiss, New York 16,571, New Jersey 8,765, and Wisconsin, Ohio, and Illinois some 7,000 each.

The socio-economic status of newcomers from Switzerland spanned the spectrum from well-to-do to the poor. A sample analysis from 1915 of 5,000 Swiss men in the United States yielded the following distribution: a third belonged to the lower income and status groups; approximately 44 percent were solidly middle class; and about 22 percent were well situated.


In 1804 a special grant of Congress enabled a group of French Swiss winegrowers to settle on the Ohio and establish the town of Vevay, Indiana. This viticulture, which they had hoped to introduce as a permanent feature into the Midwestern economy, became insignificant by mid-century and was replaced by the cultivation of maize and other staples. In 1817 and 1825 Swiss Mennonites founded the agricultural settlements Sonnenberg and Chippewa in Ohio, respectively, and in 1838 Berne, Indiana; the latter remains conscious of its Swiss origin. By the efforts of the Köpfli and Suppiger families the town of Highland emerged in southern Illinois in 1831 and eventually attracted some 1,500 Swiss settlers. In the same decade John August Sutter (1803-1880) established New Helvetia in California, then still under Mexican sovereignty. When gold was discovered on his property in 1848, thousands of goldseekers overran his extensive domain, and the city of Sacramento was platted, and became California's capital in 1854.

In 1825 several Swiss, who had joined Lord Selkirk's Red River colony in Canada in 1821, settled at Gratiot's Grove northeast of Galena, Illinois. In 1845 New Glarus was founded in southern Wisconsin's Green County, today the best known settlement of Swiss origin. Numerous Swiss also settled in the towns of Monroe, Washington, and Mount Pleasant. In 1848 Bernese Swiss established Alma on the Mississippi, which counted some 900 Swiss in 1870. A French Swiss group connected with the Protestant Plymouth Brethren established a community in Knoxville, Tennessee, in the same year.

In the spring of 1856 a group of Swiss and Germans established a Swiss Colonization Society in Cincinnati, Ohio, to create a culturally homogeneous settlement. After an extensive search Tell City was laid out in 1858 on the Ohio River in Perry County, Indiana. In the post-Civil War era Helvetia was founded in West Virginia in 1867 as a result of active recruitment by that state. In the 1880s Peter Staub (1827-1904) initiated the settlement of Grütli in Grundy County, Tennessee. During the same decade 1,000 Swiss who had converted to Mormonism went to Utah and settled mainly at Midway near Salt Lake City and at St. George on Utah's southwestern border. Between 1870 and 1914 several thousand Italian Swiss went to California where they established vineyards and dairy farms.


The Great Depression and World War II diminished Swiss immigration. Between 1931 and 1960 some 23,700 Swiss arrived, and 29,100 between 1961 and 1990. Many of these Swiss did not stay permanently. They were mainly professionals and business people employed in American branches of Swiss firms. The 1980 census counted 235,355 people of single, and 746,188 of multiple Swiss ancestry. In 1990 there was a total of 607,833 persons of Swiss ancestry of whom 35,900 (5.9 percent) were Swiss-born, and of these 57.6 percent were naturalized.

Ida Zahler and her 11 children immigrated to the United States from Switzerland in 1926. They later joined their father in North Canton, Ohio.
Ida Zahler and her 11 children immigrated to the United States from Switzerland in 1926. They later joined their father in North Canton, Ohio.

Acculturation and Assimilation

Although Swiss in the United States are often mistaken for German, French, or Italian, their involvement in American life has been quite extensive. Since the Swiss came from western Europe's oldest democracy and have forged a national unity out of ethnically diverse constituencies, they find American culture compatible with their own. For instance, when John J. Zubly, a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, published the widely distributed pamphlet The Law of Liberty in 1775, he appended "A Short and Concise Account of the Struggles of Swisserland for Liberty" to it. He paralleled the Swiss with American colonials, the Austrian emperor with the British king, and viewed their struggle as the same quest for liberty.


Although Switzerland is a highly industrialized country with a powerful financial and industrial elite involved in global markets, Swiss culture remains identified with an idealized rural tradition. In New Glarus, a major tourist attraction in southern Wisconsin, a William Tell and Heidi festival is held each year. The chalet, a house style of rural origin, remains identified with the Swiss, although it is common only in certain Swiss regions.

Yodeling and the Alphorn, again native only to some rural Swiss regions, continue to serve as emblems of Swiss culture as do the various Trachten —colorful and often beautifully crafted garb for women and men. Trachten originate in distinct regions, but tend to become fused into a blended version, sometimes mixed with Tyrolian or Bavarian motifs. The so-called Swiss barn is also widely found in Pennsylvania and some midwestern states. It is built into an incline with a large entrance to the hayloft on an upper level and the entrances to the stables on the opposite lower level. The dominance of rural motifs in Swiss American culture points to a central feature of Swiss self-interpretation: Switzerland's origins are shaped by the traditions of rural communities. Their emblems symbolize Swiss culture however far removed they might be from modern day Swiss and Swiss American reality.


Predictably, Swiss cuisine varies according to ethnic influences. Another historic division is equally telling, however: that between country and city. Thus, two dishes eaten today by all Swiss are the simple cheese fondue, eaten for centuries by Swiss in rural regions, and veal with a sauce of white wine and cream, formerly enjoyed by city dwellers. Cheese, however, is popular in almost any form. As for other regional cuisine, German areas favor pork, often accompanied by rosti, a dish of diced potatoes mixed with herbs, bacon, or cheese, and fried to a golden brown.


Swiss Americans follow general trends in Western medicine and health care. People in rural areas have remained connected with healing traditions based on telepathic methods and herbs and herbal ointments. In mental health the influence of Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) has been significant. Jung viewed mental problems as soluble in part by a skillful evocation of symbols shared by all in a postulated collective subconscious that transcends cultural boundaries. Numerous Jung Institutes of the United States promote Jungian ideas, which also have influenced American literary scholarship.


Some 73 percent of Swiss speak High German and in everyday life forms of various Low German dialects, Schwyzerdütsch (Swiss-German); 20 percent speak French and several regional dialects (five percent Italian, and one percent Romansh, which is divided into three groups called Rhaeto-Romontsch, Oberhalbsteinisch, and Ladin ). Most Swiss learn as their first language a regional and older form of German, French, or Italian, which remains the principal form of communication. Since the establishment of formal schooling, however, Swiss children learn a new, yet related, language such as High German, standard French or standard Italian. The children of the Romansh region learn German or French. To enter a different linguistic world was, therefore, for most Swiss immigrants not a new experience, and they mastered multiculturalism with relative ease.


Depending on their local origin Swiss greet each other in many forms. Widespread among German Swiss is Grüezi ("groitsee") or Grüezi wohl, derived from [ Ich ] grüsse dich —I greet you; also the French-derived Salü ("saly") and Tschau from the Italian Ciao, used both when first meeting and at its conclusion. In Raetoromontsch people say Bien Dí ("biandee")—Good day; on parting the French Swiss will use the form a revere for the standard French au revoir and the German Swiss uf wiederluäge ("oof weederlooaga")—See you. In German-speaking rural Switzerland the standard form for goodbye is still widespread, Bhüet di Gott —May God protect you.

Family and Community Dynamics

Swiss family life is well-regulated and conservative. Few women hold careers outside the family, and young people tend to be cooperative and well-behaved. The Swiss American family is indistinguishable from other American families, which have changed from a patriarchal to an egalitarian and child-centered outlook. The Swiss American family is predominantly middle class. According to the 1990 census the median income of Swiss American families was over $42,000 and only 3.8 percent had an income below the poverty line. Over 40.3 percent of the 153,812 owner-occupied Swiss American housing units were mortgage-free and 46.5 percent had two wage earners in the family.

Swiss Americans recreate organizations they have known at home for mutual support as well as for enjoyment and social contact. They celebrate August 1 as the Swiss national holiday and commemorate important battles of the fifteenth century Swiss struggle for independence with parades, speeches and conviviality. At such events there is yodeling, singing, flag throwing—an artful throwing and catching of a Swiss flag on a short handle high into the air, and sometimes a reading of the Bundesbrief of 1291. The festivities also include traditional dishes such as röschti (hash browns), and bratwurst, in addition to dancing and the playing of folk music on the accordion, clarinet and fiddle.


Swiss immigrants belong to various religions. The first Swiss to arrive in North America in large numbers were the Swiss Mennonites, a group that derived from the Anabaptist communities of the Radical Reformation of the 1520s. They rejected infant baptism, thus declaring the whole of ecclesiastical Christendom as heathen. They also repudiated the state as symbolized by the sword and the oath. The Swiss Mennonite settlements that emerged in Pennsylvania and Virginia in the first half of the eighteenth century were expert in farming, and formed congregations of some 25 to 30 families. Each religious community was semi-autonomous and guided by a bishop and by preachers and deacons who were not specially schooled. The only full members were adults who had proven their faith by a virtuous life, the demands of the community, and accepted baptism as a symbol of submission to God's will. Rules set by the religious leaders ordered the manner of dress, forms of courtship, the schooling of children, and dealings with the outside world. If a member failed to conform, the person would be banned and avoided even by the next of kin. In the late nineteenth century many Mennonite congregations—influenced by the Dutch Mennonites, American Protestantism, and American secular culture—gave up the older traditions. They moved into towns and took up occupations increasingly removed from farming. Only some conservative Swiss Mennonites and Amish still hold on to the sixteenth-century forms of their creed.

Numerous Swiss immigrants belong to the Swiss Reformed church, as formulated by Huldrych Zwingli (1484-1531). He adapted Christian doctrine to the needs of a rising urban bourgeoisie. Municipal power increased, monastic institutions were secularized, and the rule of the urban elites strengthened. Many members of the Swiss Reformed church settled in colonial Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the Carolinas. Their views and ecclesiastical organization were similar to those of Presbyterians, with whom they easily merged.

Some 50,000 Swiss Catholics arrived in the United States after the 1820s, including about 20,000 Italian Swiss who settled in California between 1887 and 1938. Depending on their language, Swiss Catholics joined either German, French, Italian, or ethnically undefined American parishes. They found, however, a very different parish organization in the United States that curtailed the Swiss practice of lay jurisdiction over secular affairs.

Several Swiss religious orders were actively engaged in establishing the Catholic church in the United States. In 1842 Franz von Sales Brunner (1795-1859) introduced the Order of the Precious Blood into Ohio. In 1852 monks from the ancient Benedictine monastery of Einsiedeln founded St. Meinrad, Indiana, the nucleus of the Swiss Benedictine Congregation of the United States formed in 1881. In 1956 the congregation united some 12 foundations with 645 monks. Benedictine sisters were also deeply involved in promoting Catholic education and charity. Anselma Felber (1843-1883) established a community at Conception, Missouri, which later moved to Clyde. Gertrude Leupi (1825-1904) founded a convent in Maryville, later transferred to Yankton, South Dakota.

Employment and Economic Traditions

In the eighteenth century Swiss immigrants were mainly farmers and artisans. Like other German-speaking newcomers, their methods of farming differed from those of the English. Mennonite and Amish farmers fenced their properties, built stables for their cattle, sometimes even before their houses, and tilled well-manured fields. By the mid-eighteenth century they also had developed the Conestoga wagon, a large, heavily built structure that was suited for the arduous trek across the Alleghenies.

The occupational profile of Swiss immigrants reflected the general trends of Western economies. A statistical analysis for the years 1887 to 1938 counted 42 percent in the industrial work force; 25 percent in agriculture; 6.5 percent in commerce; 4.5 percent in the hotel and restaurant business; and 4.3 percent in the professions. A large percentage of Swiss immigrants also worked as domestics.

Viticulture was introduced into the Midwest by French Swiss farmers and was also extensively practiced by Italian Swiss from Canton Tessin who went to California in large numbers after the 1870s. Bernese Swiss used their expertise in dairy farming, especially in Wisconsin. Nicolas Gerber (1836-1908), for instance, opened a Limburger cheese factory in New Glarus in 1868, as did Jacob Karlen (1840-1920) in nearby Monroe in 1878. Gottlieb Beller (1850-1902) developed a system of storage that allowed cheese production to remain responsive to fluctuating market demand. Leon de Montreux Chevalley (1854-1926) founded butter, cheese, and condensed milk factories in Portland, Oregon. Jacques Huber (1851-1918) introduced silk manufacturing to New Jersey; by 1900 he had established a firm with plants in Union City, Hackensack, and other cities of the mid-Atlantic states. Albert Wittnauer (1856-1908) used his Swiss training in watchmaking to establish a successful business in New York City.

By 1900 world-renowned firms such as Nestlé had established plants in the United States. The Swiss pharmaceutical companies Ciba-Geigy, Hoffmann-La Roche, and Sandoz emerged in the twentieth century as important forces in the United States economy and diversified their productive activities. Aargauische Portlandcement-Fabrik Holderbank Wildegg, a Swiss cement company, incorporated in 1912 with original seat in Glarus, Switzerland, and introduced superior, cost-efficient cement production into North America and dominates today's cement market.

Politics and Government

In the eighteenth century Geneva was an autonomous city-state, but allied with the Swiss Confederation. The writings of two of its citizens influenced the founders of the United States engaged in creating a new governmental structure. Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) expounded the idea that government rested on a social contract.

Theologian Hans Kung signs one of his books during the 1993 Parliament of World Religions in Chicago.
Theologian Hans Kung signs one of his books during the 1993 Parliament of World Religions in Chicago.
Jean Jacques Burlamaqui (1694-1748) stressed in his Principles of Natural and Political Law that a government should guarantee its citizens secure happiness.

The relations between the United States and Switzerland have been generally friendly, but not without tensions. At times outsiders view Swiss neutrality and direct democracy as inefficient; yet Switzerland's neutral stand allows it to represent American interests in nations with which the United States has broken off diplomatic ties.

Individual and Group Contributions

The Swiss have had easy access to all aspects of life in the United States, although most did not come to public attention. The selection given below features a few according to field of endeavor.


William Lescaze (1896-1969), born and educated in Geneva, Switzerland, moved to the United States in 1921 and rose to prominence as a builder of skyscrapers; he also authored several treatises on modern architecture. In bridge-building Othmar Ammann (1879-1965), born in Feuerthalen, Canton Schaffhausen, achieved world renown; after studies in Zurich he went to New York City in 1904 and in 1925 was appointed chief engineer of the Port Authority of New York; he built the George Washington and other suspension bridges noted for innovative engineering and bold and esthetic design.


Mari Sandoz (1896-1966), the daughter of Swiss immigrants, published several works of enduring value, among them the biography of her father, titled Old Jules, and a biography of Crazy Horse, the noted leader of the Sioux; her works reveal not only an unusual understanding of the world of the white settlers, but also of the mental universe of indigenous peoples such as the Sioux and Cheyenne. Jeremias Theus (1719-1774) worked in Charleston, South Carolina, as a successful portrait painter. Peter Rindisbacher (1806-1834) produced valuable paintings documenting his family's move to Canada's Red River colony in 1821 and to Wisconsin in 1826; his works featuring Native Americans are also highly valued for their accuracy. The same holds for the numerous works of Karl Bodmer (1809-1893) who served for 13 months as pictorial chronicler for the Prince zu Neuwied's journey to the Upper Missouri in 1832. Fritz Glarner (1899-1972), like Bodmer a native of Zurich, began working in New York in 1936 where, influenced by Mondrian, he created works in the style of constructivism.


At age 19 Lorenzo Delmonico (1813-1881) from Marengo, Canton Tessin, went to New York and opened the Delmonico Hotel in 1843 which popularized continental European cuisine in American cooking.


Adolf Meyer (1866-1950), born in Niederwenigen, Canton Zurich, was influential in American psychiatry; after studies at European universities he worked in various American psychiatric institutions and insisted on the study of symptoms, on bedside note-taking, the counseling of the families of patients, and their further care after discharge; in 1898 he published a classical work on neurology and after 1910 chaired the department of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School and also directed the Henry Phipps Clinic. Henry E. Sigerist (1891-1957) taught at Johns Hopkins University from 1932 to 1942, directing its Institute of History and Medicine; he had previously been a professor at the University of Leipzig, Germany, and emerged as a leading historian and as an advocate of socialized medicine.


In the American Revolution John André (1751-1780), born in Geneva, Switzerland, and an officer in the British army, was captured as a spy in 1780 and hanged by the revolutionaries; the British honored his bravery by a tomb in Westminster Abbey. At the end of the Civil War another Swiss named Henry Wirz (1823-1865) was also hanged for his alleged crimes as commander of the Confederacy's Andersonville Prison where some 12,000 Union soldiers perished; his responsibility for the terrible conditions at Andersonville remains controversial.


Rudolf Ganz (1877-1972), who immigrated to the United States in 1900, became an influential pianist, the conductor of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra from 1921 to 1927, and president of the Chicago Musical College of Roosevelt University from 1933 to 1954. The composer Ernest Bloch (1880-1957) of Geneva, Switzerland, taught and wrote music at various American institutions of the Midwest and the West Coast; among his works the orchestral poems titled Helvetia, America, and Israel intimate his threefold cultural orientation. In film William Wyler (1902-1981), born in Mulhouse, France, of Swiss parents, became one of Hollywood's most respected directors; his Ben Hur won an Oscar for him as well as for 11 of his actors. The singer, actor, and television producer Yul Brynner, actually Julius Brynner (1915-1985), was of Swiss and Mongolian descent; he starred in various movies, among them The King and I.


In the 1770s John Joachim Zubly (1724-1781) of St. Gallen, Switzerland, emerged as a leading critic of the British; he was an ordained Swiss Reformed minister, a member of the Georgia Provincial Congress, and delegate to the Second Continental Congress; yet he rejected independence and viewed the union between the colonies and Great Britain as sacred and perpetual; on his return to Georgia he was tried and ended his life in obscurity. Albert Gallatin (1761-1849) became successful in the early years of the American republic; he arrived from Geneva in 1780 and eventually moved to western Pennsylvania where he entered politics; he was elected to the state legislature in 1792 but was disbarred by the Federalists; he served instead in the House and emerged as a leader of Jefferson's party; from 1801 to 1813 he served as secretary of the treasury, then as diplomat in France, England, and Russia; after his retirement from politics he became a scholar of Native American languages, co-founded New York University, and was a leading opponent of the War against Mexico in 1847. Another leading Jeffersonian was William Wirt (1772-1834), the son of Swiss immigrants; he was a noted orator and jurist and served as attorney general of the United States from 1817 to 1829. Emanuel Lorenz Philipp (1861-1925) rose to prominence in Wisconsin politics, which he entered in 1903; he served as governor from 1915 to 1921 and promoted cooperation between farmers, workers, and business.


Michael Schlatter (1716-1790) from St. Gallen, Switzerland, went to Pennsylvania in 1746 and there organized numerous parishes of the Swiss Reformed Church. Johann Martin Henni (1805-1881) became in 1875 the first Catholic archbishop of Milwaukee; he was born in Misanenga, Canton Graubünden, went to the United States in 1828, became vicar general of the diocese of Cincinnati and editor of the Wahrheitsfreund, the first Catholic German-language newspaper. Philip Schaff (1819-1893) of Chur, Canton Graubünden, was a major historian of church history at Union Theological Seminary in New York for 25 years; he was a strong advocate of Christian ecumenism, author of numerous scholarly works, and stressed the historical approach to questions of theology.


Ferdinand Hassler (1770-1843) was born in Aarau, Switzerland, and studied in Jena, Göttingen, and Paris, then accepted an appointment as professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at West Point; his 1807 plan for a coastal survey of the United States was began in 1817 and the precision of Hassler's work makes it still valid today. Louis Rodolphe Agassiz (1807-1873) became internationally known as a scientist and explorer; born in Motier, Canton Fribourg, he studied the natural sciences at various European universities and published a major work on fish and proposed the theory of a previous ice age he went to Boston in 1846, undertook scientific expeditions to South America, and was appointed to the chair of zoology and geology at Harvard University; there he began work on his influential ten-volume Contributions to the Natural History of the United States ; his son Alexander Agassiz (1835-1910) also became a noted natural scientist in his own right. A pioneer in the ethnology and archeology of the American Southwest was Adolphe Bandelier (1840-1914); he was born in Bern, Switzerland, went with his family to Highland, Illinois, in 1848, and returned to Switzerland in 1857 to study geology at the University of Bern; on his return he did extended research in Mexico and the American Southwest, later also in Bolivia, and authored numerous studies on Native American cultures of those regions.


Machinist John Heinrich Kruesi (1843-1899), born in Heiden, Canton Appenzell, joined Thomas A. Edison in Newark, New Jersey, in the early 1870s and transformed Edison's ideas into workable instruments; in 1887 he became general manager and chief engineer of the Edison Machine Works in Schenectady. The Swiss Louis Joseph Chevrolet (1878-1941) came to the United States in 1900, became a successful racing car champion, winning the 500-mile Indianapolis race in 1919; in 1911 he co-founded the Chevrolet Motor Car Company in Detroit, but soon left the enterprise; in 1929 he built a workable airplane engine, and later designed a helicopter.



Swiss American.

Published by North American Swiss Alliance; explores shared ethnic and bi-cultural interests of the Swiss American community.

Address: 2590 Lakeside Avenue, N.W., Canton, Ohio 44708.

Telephone: (216) 456-1983.

Swiss American Historical Society Review.

Published three times a year with a circulation of 400, this journal offers scholarly and popular articles of Swiss American interest relating to history, literature, genealogy, and personal experience.

Contact: Leo Schelbert, Editor.

Address: 2523 Asbury Avenue, Evanston, Illinois 60201.

Telephone: (708) 328-3514.

Swiss American Review.

Founded in 1860 under the name Nordamerikanische Schweizerzeitung, this weekly publication provides material in English, German, French, Italian, and Romansh. It has an estimated circulation of 3,000 and features news from Switzerland as well as the Swiss American communities and organizations of the United States.

Contact: Peter Luthy, Editor-in-Chief

Address: P.O. Box 1943, New York, New York 10156-1943.

Telephone: (212) 808-0505.

Fax: (212) 808-0003.



Swiss Review.

Founded in 1973, this quarterly magazine has a circulation of over 300,000. It publishes regional news from Swiss communities for the Swiss abroad, and has editions in German, French, Italian, English, and Spanish.

Contact: Gertrude Jeffries, U.S. Swiss American Editor.

Address: 1430 Cape Cod Way, Concord, California 94521.

Telephone: (510) 370-3571; or (510) 689-2740.


Swiss Radio International.

Broadcasts via Intercontinental Short Wave transmissions daily (UTC—Universal Time): At 3:30 in German, 4:00 in English, 4:30 in French, and 5:00 in Italian; frequencies 6135, 9860, 9885.

Organizations and Associations

American-Swiss Association (ASA).

American and Swiss corporations and individuals interested in maintaining cultural exchange; provides forum for meetings and discussions.

Contact: Anne Yoakam, Executive Director.

Address: 450 Lexington Avenue, Suite 1600, New York, New York 10017-3904.

Telephone: (212) 878-3809.

American-Swiss Foundation.

Involves American and Swiss corporations and individuals interested in maintaining friendship and cultural exchange with Switzerland. Provides a forum for meetings and discussions. Conducts monthly events featuring Swiss and American speakers in New York.

Contact: Eugene Waering, Executive Director.

Address: 232 East 66th Street, New York, New York 10021-6703.

Telephone: (212) 754-0130.

Fax: (212) 754-4512.

North American Swiss Alliance.

Fraternal benefit life insurance society for persons of Swiss birth or ancestry.

Contact: Joan J. Spirko, Secretary-Treasurer.

Address: 7650 Chippewa Road, Room 214, Brecksville, Ohio 44141

Telephone: (440) 526-2257.

Swiss American Historical Society (SAHS).

Founded in 1927 it is today the only national organization. Formerly located in Chicago, it moved to Madison, Wisconsin, in 1940; it became dormant in the 1950s, but was reactivated in 1963 under the leadership of Heinz K. Meier (1929-1989). It publishes the SAHS Review three times a year, holds annual and occasional regional meetings, and supports the SAHS Publication Series with Lang Publishers, New York.

Contact: Prof. Erdmann Schmocker, President.

Address: 6440 North Bosworth Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60626.

Telephone: (773) 262-8336.

Fax: (773) 465-5292.

Museums and Research Centers

Archives of the Archabbey St. Meinrad.

This collection houses 13 volumes of transcripts of materials located at the Benedictine Abbey of Einsiedeln, Switzerland, relating to St. Meinrad's founding in 1854. Despite the fire of 1887 that destroyed valuable sources, letters of the founding generation and extensive correspondence with other monasteries and ecclesiastical institutions are preserved and provide insight into the Benedictine dimension of transplanted Swiss Catholicism.

Address: St. Meinrad College and School of Theology, St. Meinrad, Indiana 47577.

Telephone: (812) 357-6566.

Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies.

Dedicated to preserving and documenting the multicultural heritage of the United States, this organization also houses a collection on the Swiss, including papers of the Swiss American Historical Society.

Contact: Ira Glazer, Director.

Address: 18 S Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19106.

Telephone: (215) 925-8090.

Lovejoy Library.

Located at Southern Illinois University in Ewardsville, this library houses the Highland, Koepfli, and Suppiger Collections. The materials highlight the founding and evolution of the Highland settlement, which began in 1831, as well as the Swiss in Illinois. They are complemented by materials at the Madison County Historical Museum, also at Edwardsville, and by the Illinois Historical Survey Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana.

Mennonite Historical Library.

Located at Bluffton College, this library has an extensive collection of works on Swiss Mennonite history, and of Swiss Mennonite and Amish family histories and genealogies.

Contact: Harvey Hiebert, Librarian.

Address: 280 West College Avenue, Bluffton, Ohio 45817.

Telephone: (419) 358-3272.

New Glarus Historical Village.

This attraction presents artifacts from its early history in several, thematically arranged buildings. An exhibition hall features the town's history and special exhibits of Swiss American interest.

Contact: Bill Hoesly, President.

Address: P.O. Box 745, New Glarus, Wisconsin 53574-0745.

Telephone: (608) 527-2317.

Sources for Additional Study

American Letters: Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Accounts of Swiss Immigrants, edited by Leo Schelbert. Camden, Maine: Picton Press, 1995.

Basler, Konrad. The Dorlikon Emigrants: Swiss Settlers and Cultural Founders in the United States, translated by Laura Villiger. New York: Peter Lang, 1996.

A Frontier Family in Minnesota: Letters of Theodore and Sophie Bost, 1851-1920, edited and translated by H. Ralph Bowen. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1981.

Gratz, Delbert L. Bernese Anabaptists and Their American Descendants. Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1953.

Kleber, Albert. History of St. Meinrad Archabbey 1854-1954. St. Meinrad, Indiana: St. Meinrad Archabbey, 1954.

Schelbert, Leo. "On Becoming an Emigrant: A Structural View of Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Swiss Data," Perspectives in American History, Volume 7. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1973; pp. 440-495.

The United States and Switzerland: Aspects of an Enmeshment; Yearbook of German American Studies 1990, Volume 25, edited by Leo Schelbert. Lawrence: University of Kansas for the Society for German American Studies, 1991.

User Contributions:

Grazia Blaettler Bittner
thank you. I live in Batavia Il. Famioy settled in San Francisco early 20th cent. There for the Fire. From Ticiono and Unterwalden.
Diana Jane Kurth
My husband, Don Kurth, has been told by relatives that the family had been dairy farmers on the border of Switzerland and Germany.
Helvetia, Oregon also has a rich Swiss history and a local festival.
Marcia Rund
Extremely fascinating information, which I will continue to access. My ancesters owned and operated a Swiss chalet and my paternal great-grandmother was Bertha Kahn. I know my great grandfather was a barber with the last name Rund and was from Alsace Lorraine (sp?). My great grandmother was sent to the US around 1870 to get her away from the pursuit of my great grandfather, who followed her and married her to settle in Rochester, NY.
M. T.
If what's under LANGUAGE is ment for Switzerland, and not for the Swiss in the US, it is a bit inaccurate: The Swiss German dialects are High- not Low-German (Low and High is in respect to altitude: Low-German is what's spoken in the Lowlands in the north of Germany, as opposed to what's spoken in the higher regions, of which Switzerland is among the highest.
The GREETINGS in Swiss German seem to be a problem, too. "Grüetsi" or "Grüezi" does not mean "[Ich] grüsse dich" but "Ich grüsse Sie" (form of politeness and plural), and it is only used in those parts of German-Speaking-Switzerland (mainly north and east), where the form of politeness is formed with the third person, "Sie" like in Standard German, whereas in the western parts the form of politeness is formed with the second person plural, "Euch" like in French "Vous" and therefore the greeting is "Grüesech", which means the same "Ich grüsse Sie", or in English "I greet you" if you greet either several people or somebody that you don't know well or/and that you are not on familiar terms with. "Grüess di" for "Ich grüsse dich" is used in the western part, but not (much) in the east.

Does anybody know how many localities called either "Bern" or "Berne" including "New Bern" etc. there are in the US, and where they are? I know of Bern Idaho, Kansas, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, of Berne Indiana and New York, and New Bern North Carolina, but are there more? Thanks for the Article and for an Answer.
My Grandparents on my father’s side immigrated to the US in the early 1900’s. I was wondering what the conditions were for them and other Swiss immigrates, now thanks and your web site I have an idea.

Palm Bay, Florida
I am impressed by the historical success of Switzerland since Calvin. I believe that this nation has set the world-wide all-time record for a "quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity." Anyone want to pray with me that Americans can learn how this was accomplished, so we can follow suit?
Gruezi,short for Gruess Gott,is Zueri-Duetsch.Gruessech (wohl) is Baern-Duetsch.It basically means "Greet you" that's all.There are many different dialects in the German Part of CH (Confederazio Helvetica) or Switzerland,it like changes from Village to Village,from Town to Town,from Canton (State) to Canton.And what MT calls High-German and Low-German has nothing to do with the facts.High-German (Hochdeutsch) is what every German (Swiss and Austrian) Schoolchild learns in School.The Press and Government releases have to be in Hochdeutsch,because most regional Dialects don't have grammatic rules and can't be written.Niederdeutsch or Plattdeutsch is an Alemannic Dialect (as is a way is Swissgerman) closely related to Dutch.A German does not understand Swiss German.Dutch and Swissgerman are like Dialects of German who developped in to Languages over the Centuries.So MT better believe me,because I am Swiss and speak Baernduetsch,Zueriduetsch,Hochdeutsch and Nederlands.
I like to answer Mr.Stephen Fretwell who is impressed with the historical success of Switzerland.The Swiss have been a quite belligerent and an unruly lot through the centuries.They where at war with most of their neighbors most of the time.The last confrontation was with Napoleon's French Army,who got kicked out of the Country by the Bernese and a contingent of Confederate Troops of a hand full of other Cantons in 181?,which resulted in the annexation of the Jura by Berne.Don't forget that in order to build the Country as it is today they had to fight Imperial Austrian,German,French and Italian Armies,and defeat the a fore mentioned...I think the City State of Geneva was the last Canton to join the Confederation in 18??.Geneva was part of the German Empire at that time.After they lost the Campaign of Marignano the Government decided to declare Switzerland Neutral.As it has been ever since.As to peaceable life?...don't know about that.Things have changed considerably in the last couple of years.The trains still run on time though.But everything's naive to think that Swiss reality looks like on one of the postcards you can buy at the Railway Station.Don't forget,Switzerland is in the middle of Europe.And is influenced by the instability and economic fluctuations of its neighbors.I don't know if God has anything to do with this.And Dignity?There's still unresolved World War II issues.Things the Government refuses to disclose.As for example the role of the (German speaking)General Staff under General Henri Guisan(French speaking)had it not been for Guisan it probably would have torn the Country apart.A fact widely ignored.So the lesson the Americans have to learn is not to interfere with other Nation's wars and interior problems,thinking they are superior to those cultures and Peoples.Then they would'nt be disliked so much by these other Peoples.I'm talking about your Government,not of individual American Citizens.And this is not my personal opinion,the disliking part I mean,it's just a reflection of what one hears on TV,and reads in Newspapers.What I wanted to say is:Don't take Switzerland as an example.At least not all of it.The Railway System though is O.K ,.)
Thank you for this information. I've recently learned that my Kappelers of Tuscarawas Co., OH came from Wattenwil, Canton Bern - so it's neat to learn about why they came, some of the culture, and some of the famous people also Swiss!
Good evening

Some years ago, we lived in an old house (Hillcrest, Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa) and I found a very old photo album in the attick. There are pictures of a family and the pictures date back to the late 1800's, to 1905

Unfortunately, I do not know the families last name as they mostly used first names or places as references to the pictures, but I would very much like to find out as much as I can about their history as I believe I found it for a reason.

Arno Buhrer
I am wondering if there is an English translation of Schelbert's "Alles ist ganz anders hier."
It was published in 2009.
My grandfather came to the US in 1893 from a small village near Bern. He established an Embroidery Factory in Baltimore County Maryland specializing in "Swiss Embroidery". There was a small Swiss community around Baltimore and their festivals were held at his farm. He grew grapes and made wine. Thank you for your article.
A Schneiter
My dad immigrated to the US from Faulensee/Spietz in Canton Bern in 1923. My Mother from the city of Berne followed him in 1926. My dad followed two brothers and two sisters who had immigrate to the US in the early 1900's Rosa married Ernest Wuthrich a cheese maker in Bruce Wisconsin. Marie married Fred Lory also a Swiss and lived in Oakland California. My Dad's brothers Albert and Gottlieb moved to Belgrade, Montana where they were cheese makers. My Dad Frederich moved to Belgrade Montana. He was trained as a cheese maker. Beside my self Albert Gottlieb Armin Schneiter I had a brother Fred Ernest and a Sister Rose Marie. They are 11 and 12 years older than I am. My brother Fred became a Mechanical Engineer and was a project leader that worked on the development of air bags for cars. My sister married Ted Newman and lived on a small farm in Stevensville, MT in the Bitterroot valley. I want to school at Montana State University and the University and became an agronomist. I worked my entire career at North Dakota State University. I married my wife Ann in 1966 and we have four daughters. Every 5-6 years we have a reunion of the offspring of the three brothers and sisters that immigrated to the U.S. We also have relatives from my Dad's family attend the reunion.

In our family at least the Swiss culture and traditions are strong. For example I could not speak English very well when I started school, we still have Swiss fondue on holidays etc. I am very proud to be a full blooded Swiss-American. My brother, sister and I have tried hard to install that pride of heritage and culture into our children.

Albert Schneiter
Regina d;Albert Schaerer
Switzerland has 4 official Language and 180 dialects,dialects can change from one town ore Village to the next
Dawn Murtagh
I am looking for information on my great grandmother born in Switzerland 3/1/1871 was told she came from Alsace lorraine but no record of her being listed as an orphan from there. War caused many to move away but then had time to declare their national alegence either French or German enabling them to come back as French if they wanted but many did not due to the get mans having won the war it was now German. So all I have now is her parents were Frank Reithmueller and mother was Anna von Weissenfluth, then Magdelene Reithmueller marries a man with last name Wuerth I believe in the USA but she is widowed young. Two children pass at birth or close to it and Harriett Wuerth is born in Brooklyn. She is largely a mystery at this point since I find no records of her immigration or her parents. If there is any leads or direction you could put me in I would appreciate it very much. Dawn Elfreda Gaertner Murtagh
Martha Karlen
I am very proud of my Swiss heritage - a native of the Swiss community of Monroe, Wisconsin. I was thrilled to see the name of my great grandfather, Jacob Karlen, in the article. He was one of the pioneers in the cheese industry in Monroe.
Kathleen Buchmann VanMaren
Gruezi: Both of my parents came here from Switzerland, Ida Hug Buchmann came here in 1920, she was 18. My Dad, Jost (Yost) Buchmann came around 1918. The story goes that he came in thru Windsor Canada, worked at the Henry Ford Company for a while and then moved to Chicago. My mother had relatives in Chicago who were embroiderers so she went to work for them, she said she did not come in thru Ellis Island. My mother was very active in the Chicago Swiss Societies, often as an officer and she enjoyed singing with the Swiss Ladies Chorus of Chicago. Every 4 years or so her chorus would gather with other swiss choruses from other cities such as Canton, Ohio, Monroe, WI and others to have a singing competition. How I wish I had asked more questions of my parents, when young we tend to think that the only important thing is our life and we think our parents will be around forever. My mother never saw her mother after she left Switzerland at age 18. I marvel at how we can now pick up a cell phone and "call home", how she would have loved to have a video call with her mother back then. It is so important to preserve our personal history for our grandchildren: save those old photographs and mark on the back as much information as possible, make videos of you now for future generations to watch, and talk to them about your life and that of their grand and great grandparents. I do genealogy for my family and if anyone reading this knew either of my parents I would appreciate being contacted. Chao, Kathy VanMaren e mail:
I would be very interested conversing with anyone whose ancestors were involved with the Plymouth Brethren in Switzerland (birthed there in 1824), before emigrating to North America. I serve as an editor of a small Wiki documenting this type of history, called Brethrenpedia and was raised among the so-called "Open Brethren" of this group, although I am equally interested in the early history of the Exclusive Brethren, as well. I learned just recently that John David Babelay penned two-volume limited edition set entitled "They Trusted and Were Delivered" in 1988 about one of these early settlements in Knoxville, TN, and hope to eventually obtain a copy for a reasonable price.

Also of note with regard to Swiss contributions to American religion, my ancestor, Ulrich Engel, emigrated from Basel, Switzerland in 1754 with his family, and his baby boy Yokeli (Jacob) was the only baby to survive the trip. Jacob later served as a cofounder of a group known as the River Brethren (unrelated to the later Plymouth Brethren), better known by their larger counterpart, the Brethren in Christ denomination, based in Lancaster County, PA, with Messiah College, etc.
Loana Buerki
What a great article!

I was Born and raised in Switzerland and i am still living here today. Im currently doing some ancestry-research and heard that the half-brother of my grandma migrated to the US sometime between 1890 and 1980, his Name was Eduard/Edward Moser/Meyer. Interesting to see how he got to the US and what great Swiss community there is.

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