• Switzerland's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Swiss inventions - some trippy stuff...

31 Oct 2011, 17:00

Published: 31 Oct 2011 17:00 GMT+01:00

From the pioneering army knife to the mind-bending Green Fairy, contributor Robert La Bua examines ten Swiss inventions that have changed the world.

See also: Cars, mice and super-trikes: reinventing Switzerland

Velcro

Swiss engineer George de Mestral was out hunting one day and came home to find seed pods sticking steadfastly to his shoes, clothes, and dog. After a peek through the microscope to see what was going on, he created Velcro, a portmanteau of the words velvet and crochet, mimicking the hook shapes of the seeds' coatings that would cling repeatedly to any surface with an available loop. 

Cellophane

Cellophane is another portmanteau, this one combining cellulose and the French diaphane (as in diaphanous), created in 1908 by Jacques Brandenberger, who witnessed a client spill wine on a tablecloth in a restaurant. Brandenberger set out to find a way to waterproof fabrics such as tablecloths, but when he found that the cellulose-based material he sprayed onto the cloth would easily peel from it in thin sheets, he realised he was on to something much bigger.

Swiss Army Knife

Invented by Karl Elsener and named after his mother Victoria, the Victorinox (Victoria plus inox, a shortened form of the French word for stainless steel, inoxydable) Swiss Officers' Knife has evolved from its creation in the 1890s as a simple knife to include a panoply of features from the basic corkscrew to very contemporary additions like LED lights and MP3 players.

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. Today, the popular initiatives and the referendums they engender are a proud part of Swiss heritage.

Helvetica font

The world would be a lot less literate without the Helvetica font, one of the most popular ever invented. Developed in 1957 by Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann, the classic Helvetica and its many variations are favourites for their crisp, san-serif letters to deliver communication in a clean style.  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.

Absinthe

Though much quaffed by the French, the aniseed-flavoured spirit absinthe originated in the Swiss canton of Neuchâtel. The Green Fairy went on to become all the rage in fashionable watering holes across Europe until it was eventually banned in several countries due to its addictive nature and attendant antisocial behaviour for which the drink was blamed. Absinthe has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in recent years.

LSD

Hippies, artists, and other psychedelic adventurers can thank Albert Hofmann from Taluns for the creation of another mind-altering substance, lysergic acid diethylamide, better known as LSD (or simply, acid) while at work in a laboratory at Sandoz in 1938—though it is Bicycle Day (19 April 1943) that is celebrated annually as the day the good doctor first experimented with LSD on a human patient, that being himself.

Muesli

Not many people have a cereal named after them unless they own the company.  Muesli, known in Switzerland as Birchermüesli, was created by Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner for patients at his sanatorium in Zurich. His original version was meant to have much more fruit and be eaten with orange juice rather than today's grain-heavy boxed mixes served with milk. During the healthy-body craze of the 1970s, muesli became a worldwide sensation.

Story continues below…

Internet time

Leave it to a watchmaker to come up with a new way of telling time in an age when communication spans the globe instantaneously. Dispensing with timezones, Swiss company Swatch divided the day into 1,000 .beats, each .beat equalling 1m24.6s.  Though not quite in the mainstream, you have to admire the logic and ingenuity of yet another Swiss company bringing changes to the world as we know it.

And of course:

Milk chocolate

This one's a given, but why did it come about? Swiss Daniel Peter solved a problem facing chocolate-makers for years by using condensed milk instead of regular milk to sweeten the bitterness of chocolate as it gained popularity in Europe in the late 1800s. Dairy farmers have been thankful ever since.

Your comments about this article

2012-01-15 15:35:35 by Patrick of Atlantis
According to Orson Wells in his role as Harry Lime in the movie The Third Man, the Swiss also invented the cuckoo clock. If that is wrong please disabuse us.
2011-12-27 03:07:16 by xexon
I've always admired the Swiss mind. There's something about being surrounded by mountains that provokes deep thought in human beings. x
2011-11-11 11:46:47 by Flipster
Velcro = velours (french) + croche (french)
2011-11-03 17:58:02 by Englishted
Velcro ? Why if he was Swiss did he combine two English words ?
2011-11-02 22:47:56 by MOI
WOW, the Swiss invented some good stuff.......
Today's headlines
Geneva advises teachers on religion in school
File photo: C Carlstead

The secular canton of Geneva has issued guidelines for teachers on how to deal with religious issues in the classroom.

All you need to know about Switzerland’s strangest sports
Swiss wrestling is the main event at the Eidgenössische. Photo: Ulrich Ackermann/Swiss Tourism

The Local takes a closer look at the unique Swiss sports that are the highlight of the Fédérale, or Eidgenössische, festival this weekend.

Basel woman tied up and robbed in own home
Basel city. File photo: Michelle Kinsey Bruns

The victim was attacked by three burglars in her home in broad daylight.

Swiss sports court upholds Russia ban from Paralympics
Head of Russia's Paralympic Committee Vladimir Lukin. Photo: Yuri Kadobnov/AFP

Russia has lost an appeal against a suspension issued over a vast, state-run doping programme.

Swiss Post trials robot parcel deliveries in Bern
The robots are designed to carry out local deliveries autonomously. Photo: Starship

Robots will be seen on the streets of the Swiss capital next month.

 Mia and Noah are top Swiss baby names – again
File photo: Robert Valencia

Name choices have varied little over the past few years.

Valais battles to save famous apricots from fruit fly
Apricots are a symbol of the Valais. Photo: Valais Tourism

The suzukii fruit fly has destroyed up to 20 percent of this year’s luizet apricots.

US approves Chinese mega deal with Swiss company
The chairmans of ChemChina and Syngenta met in February to discuss the deal. Photo: Michael Buholzer/AFP

ChemChina's takeover of Syngenta would be by far the biggest-ever overseas acquisition by a Chinese firm.

Germany bolsters Swiss border against refugees
Ther Swiss-German border at Kreuzlingen. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

The number of refugees trying to enter Germany through Switzerland has risen significantly in 2016.

Rio 2016
In pictures: final day success takes Swiss to seven medals
Nino Schurter wins Switzerland's third gold of Rio 2016. Photo: Pascal Guyot/AFP

Nino Schurter takes mountain biking gold on the last day of competition.

Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Photo: AFP
Politics
Survey: Swiss optimistic about Brexit effect
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Photo: Neil Heritage/Endeavour Fund
Features
Amputee's Matterhorn trek 'makes it more possible' for others
Photo: EPFL
International
Switzerland tops global innovation table – again
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Photo: Vasily Cotovanu
National
Asylum centre plans shelved after Swiss village protests
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Photo: The Local
Politics
Neuchâtel looks to boost rights for foreigners
Photo: AFP
Sport
In pictures: final day success takes Swiss to seven medals
Photo: AFP
National
Experts debate rail security following Swiss train attack
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
File photo: AFP
Sport
Two basejumpers die in Lauterbrunnen accidents
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Photo: AFP
International
Amnesty fears for child migrants at Italian border
Photo: AXA Winterthur
National
Report: Geneva is Swiss capital of car theft
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
Photo: Dani Pozo/AFP
National
Top tips for watching the meteor shower in Switzerland
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
File photo: Andrew Turner
Technology
Swiss start-up to offer drone service to farmers
Photo: Beat Strasser
National
British quadruple amputee summits Matterhorn
Photo: Judit Klein
National
Switzerland sees rise in child victims of forced marriage
Photo: Michael Schlick/OS Muhr
National
Swiss hiker in Austria rescued after sending SOS to America
Photo: Chris Murphy
Features
14 mistakes foreigners make on moving to Switzerland
Photo: AFP
Lifestyle
Swiss resort unveils huge ‘natural’ fresco on mountain
Photo: C Sonderegger/Swiss Tourism
National
Five great Swiss traditions all expats should try
Photo: AFP
National
Confirmed cases of Zika virus soar in Switzerland
Photo: eGuide Travel
National
Prison for woman who faked Swiss airport bomb threat
Photo: AFP
Technology
Swiss solar plane completes epic round-the-world trip
File photo: Chase Elliott Clark
Lifestyle
Study: a fifth of Swiss spy on neighbours
Photo: Katwarn.de
National
Switzerland mulls alarm text message service
4,697
jobs available