Back - List of Pavilions

Swiss Exhibition - Expo Paris 1867

Swiss Exhibition at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1867

What more interesting spectacle than that of a nation which, because of its climate, the conformation of its soil, and its natural boundaries, has been parked, as it were, in the work of a shepherd and a hunter, and which, by its constant efforts, its energy, and its will, has overcome all the obstacles which nature has placed in its way, and has been able to make of its principal towns centres of industry, commerce, and progress! To what must be attributed this persistence which has made a poor, barren, sparsely inhabited country the rival of powerful nations, and enables it to fight with advantage, on the international markets, with competitors whom everything protects, the favour of the climate, the resources of a rich and numerous population, the ease of communications and transport? To what? if not to that fertile source of energy, of work, of initiative, of progress, which is called independence? Free of himself, relying only on his own strength, but having no other masters than his conscience and the law, man boldly advances along this path of useful work which, while not neglecting the individual interest, always has the general interest as its goal. And, indeed, in a State where freedom reigns, is there not a continual exchange of services between all the inhabitants? Are not the citizens among themselves what the members of a united family are? Is this not, finally, the grandiose application of Rousseau's beautiful theory, the Social Contract?

But such a people must, on pain of failing in its mission, in its character, devote all its strength, all its efforts, all its energy to the establishment of those strong foundations which are indispensable to the nations of Europe today, and which consist in asking only of themselves their means of existence. Agriculture and industry, these two sources of a nation's wealth, have become essential conditions of political existence. Any people which cannot live by itself, which does not find in the unceasing production of its industry and agriculture the resources of its material life, is soon destined to disappear. This theory may be seen as a condemnation of Poland, but it must also be seen as the motives which direct the truly patriotic Spaniards, and advise them to transform their country, to regenerate it by throwing it into the channels opened by the French Revolution. In order to conquer its independence abroad, a nation must, above all, secure its material well-being, just as a citizen secures, above all, the bread of his family. Things of art and luxury come next, when the first concerns leave the mind more free.

This is what Switzerland has understood. So don't look for those brilliant exhibitions of goldsmiths, jewellers and objets d'art at the Palais du Champ de Mars, which are the glory of some powerful nations. But go through its galleries, and everywhere you will find the mark of that practical, utilitarian spirit which has made the fortune of England.

The Swiss exhibition, somewhat squeezed into the interior of the Palace between the Spanish and Austrian galleries, occupies a suitable place in the Park. On leaving the Rue d'Autriche, one first encounters an elegant wooden kiosk, raised by a few steps and surrounded by a gallery forming a balcony. This pavilion, which is recommended by its delicate carvings dear to the builders of chalets, serves as a warehouse for a chocolate manufacturer. Here, I shall already point out a manifestation of this practical spirit of which I spoke above. The manufacturer is not so much concerned with giving his products that high level of superiority which the houses of Devinck, Marquis, etc., charge at the rate of 6 or 8 francs a pound, as with delivering a healthy, pleasant and good quality food for a very modest price. Leaving this pavilion, we leave on the left the exhibition of fine arts of which we spoke recently, and we arrive at the annex which contains, among other interesting objects, this famous thunderbolt which our engraving represents. The town of Diessenhofen (Thurgau), rightly claims the honour of having seen it born. Tourists who have visited Heidelberg may have forgotten the Palatinate Library, the Botanical Gardens, the churches of St. Peter and the Holy Spirit, but they remember the splendid ruined castle in the vicinity for having admired in its cellars a thunderbolt that contained no less than 140,000 litres. The one that Mr. C. Frey exhibits at the Champ de Mars is of more modest proportions. It contains only 50,000 litres. But, as it is, with its iron frame, its vast sides, its imposing aspect, this temple of Bacchus still excites the admiration of gourmands; a friend of mine dreamt the death of Clarence in it. Some visitors wonder what purpose this gigantic vessel can serve. And when it would only be to show to what extent industry knows how to soften oak, iron, all these rebellious materials of which human patience has known how to triumph? Mr Frey has decorated his thunderbolt with elegant sculptures and two coats of arms reproducing the national coat of arms. But these ornaments do not make me forget an inscription that I find very eloquent in its brevity. "Price: 3500 francs" 3500 francs! I am surprised to find myself doubting. Could it be that what I thought was oak was only cardboard?

The annex still contains the products of various industries which could not find a place in the Palais. I would like to mention in passing a beautiful coupé which would be an honoured addition to Binder's exhibition, various travel goods, trunks, bags, etc., remarkable for their convenience, small size and low price; a tray full of extremely fine and elegant glassware, exhibited by the Société des anciennes verreries de Monthey (Valais). In another room, there are steam engines, perfected motors for navigation, and furnaces of a new system built by the Sulzer brothers in Wintherthur. I will stop in front of a wagon whose exterior is very simple, but whose interior is very convenient. It is divided into several compartments, some first class, others second class. All these compartments communicate with each other by means of an aisle which runs lengthwise through the wagon. This aisle leads to a sufficiently wide staircase on each side. These arrangements are both simple and inexpensive, and I am surprised that our companies have not yet adopted them. They remove the dangers of isolation, and the inconvenience of the steps of our cars. I do not want to forget the ploughs of a very good model and whose shape and lightness indicate well the nature of the ground they are intended to plough. The corriere occupies a special room. Patent leather has little space there, but all the samples on display are commendable for the choice of raw materials and the finish of the work.

Before leaving the annex, I would recommend to cheese lovers an enormous red copper cauldron, made in Vevey, for the preparation of Gruyère cheese.

On our way back to the Palais, we find, in the machine gallery, several looms that our manufacturers and constructors can study with fruitfulness. In the raw materials gallery, the products have been somewhat confused, and it takes some searching to find the various elements of the Swiss exhibition. Thus, I see weapons, chemical products, costumes, tobacco, etc. all in the same section. This arrangement is certainly detrimental to the exhibitors, who are relegated to a rather obscure corner between the large machine gallery and the St. Gallen hall, which communicates with this sort of corridor via two narrow staircases. Tobacco and cigars are exhibited by Messrs Ormond et Cie, H. Taverney et Cie, from Vevey; Vautier, from Grandson, the Société sédunoise, from Sion. Cigars and tobacco from Vevey are very widespread in Germany, and their well-established reputation exempts me from any praise. - Mr. Geigy, from Basle, exhibits in a separate showcase aniline colours and various dye-wood extracts, of great richness, both in hue and lustre. The same can be said of the products exhibited by Mr. Henner, of St. Gallen. I must not forget the very fine dyeing materials exhibited by Mr. G. Dollfus, of Basle, which earned him the cross of the Legion of Honour at a previous exhibition.
The weapons sent by Switzerland are not numerous. In a trophy of rifles and carbines, I notice a rifle with a barrel made of cast steel, weighing no more than two kilograms and carrying 800 metres. But I will not reproach Switzerland for devoting little time to perfecting destructive devices. I prefer to remember that it was in Geneva that the famous international congress was held to make hospitals, ambulances and medical personnel inviolable in time of war. And although a Frenchman, M. Arnault, has some right to claim his share of initiative in this work of humanity, it is no less an eternal honour for Switzerland to have attached its name to this convention which marks a step on the road to universal brotherhood and peace. Here, precisely, in a showcase, are some military uniforms. On the black tunic of the surgeon, we see the red armband with a white cross, which indicates his functions and his character. This combination of the scarf, a symbol of fraternity, and this trophy of arms is not without philosophy. I see in it the true character of a republican nation. Unable, or at least indifferent, to the work of war, it reserves its activity, its strength, its intelligence for those less brilliant but more fruitful works which prepare a future of peace and progress.

Watchmaking occupies an important place in the Swiss exhibition. I cannot look at the exhibits from Geneva, Le Locle and La Chaux-de-Fonds without remembering that this watchmaking industry, which is one of the main sources of this country's wealth, originated here, developed in our workshops under the direction of our masters, before going on to make the glory and fortune of its adopted country. The revocation of the Edict of Nantes broke up the development of French industry, and delayed it for a century. It is sad to think that the ambition of a priest and a woman can have such an influence on the destiny of a great people as to stop it in its tracks, and to break in its hands the instruments of progress and development. Switzerland has offered a very wide hospitality to our exiles. She has long since reaped the just reward. Its hosts have amply repaid its fraternal welcome. Do you want figures? Eighty million watches are manufactured annually in the various Swiss industrial centres, and labour accounts for sixty million of this figure. The wound inflicted on our industry by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes was slow to heal. The efforts of a few intelligent ministers, of a few great industrialists, and later, the radical abolition of master's degrees, the foundation of a few practical and professional schools prepared a new future. The wars of the republic and the empire had delayed a development that was to be activated by thirty-five years of profound peace. To consider only watchmaking, Paris and Besançon were fighting with advantage against the Swiss competition and threatened, in the near future, to make the old reputation of Geneva be forgotten. Men of great talent, the Leroys and the Breguets, were piling up invention after discovery, and endangering the ancient monopoly of this city.

In the face of this danger, Switzerland redoubled its efforts. While more care was taken in the workshops with the mechanical part of the work, 46 watchmakers from Le Locle got together to found a professional school in their town. A collection was made at home which produced 41,341 fr. 24 c. The sum was not considerable, but it was sufficient. Everyone's devotion came to the aid of the founders. On 18 April 1826, the committee inaugurated the school, to which a hospice for the elderly had been added. According to official statistics, since 1831 the school has taught 681 pupils who have followed all the courses, and 319 who have come to perfect their apprenticeship. This is a good estimate of the number of young people entering industry with the precious theoretical and practical knowledge which enables them to create and draw all the parts of a chronometer, a marine watch, etc., and to execute the most delicate parts themselves. Education in Le Locle is truly professional. The natural and exact sciences form only a part of the teaching. On leaving a purely theoretical course, the pupil takes up the file, and the principles of physics or mechanics which have been developed before him, he applies them with the tool in his hand. What a future is reserved for an industry when it is constantly being recruited from an educated, industrious youth, and what more admirable device for war (for that is where it is warlike) could Switzerland have invented than this school at Le Locle, which sends learned foremen to the industrial cantons every year! Doesn't this institution render the same services to Swiss industry as our Ecole Centrale and Ecole Polytechnique do to our civil engineering?

And let it not be thought that teaching is left to the first person who comes along! The courses are entrusted to a committee composed of the main watchmakers of Le Locle. Do you want proof of the care that these industrial teachers take in their lessons? In the middle of the Swiss Exhibition, in a square salon, the School exhibited three movements intended for demonstrations and experiments. These three pieces represented the three types of escapement used in watchmaking, the cylinder, the anchor and the free spring escapement. This work, remarkable for the finesse of its execution, and above all the exact application of the principles, is valued by the experts at seven thousand francs. Mr Biandt, who was responsible for the drawings, did not limit his cooperation to this. He executed some of the pieces himself, and it is to his dedication that we owe the inclusion of these three masterpieces at the 1867 Exhibition. These three pieces would suffice to make the reputation of Mr. Brandt, if the honourable manufacturer had not been considered for a long time as one of the most brilliant representatives of Swiss watchmaking.

I said that the school in Le Locle was joined by a hospice for old people. What do you say about this little people who lavish the treasures of science on the children who represent the future, next to the hospice where they give the necessary care, tranquillity and well-being to the tired workers, who are the past?

I am leaving this interesting Exhibition, in so many respects, to move on to what the Commission calls the furniture. Under this heading, it includes furniture, fabrics, embroidery, what else?

As I said, one should not look for luxury in Switzerland, if by luxury one means the satisfaction of whims, the exaggeration of comfort. However, one must not believe that the furniture is absolutely primitive, and that the cabinetmakers of this country are still using the stepladder of our fathers. Here is the furniture of Mr. Lauritz Sorensen, which is recommended by a great elegance of form and a very correct design. The bed he exhibits is in good taste, the blue silk upholstery, the lace curtains and the footrest make a charming effect. The blue of the ornaments blends well with the shiny black of the ebony. I like the Louis XVI console, decorated with very finely painted medallions and elegant sculptures. Here are also the carved woods. Switzerland and the Black Forest have a monopoly on these elegant works. I quote from memory Messrs Ed. Hefti, in Brienz, K. Michel, in Brienz, Ammann and Muhlemann, in Interlaken, Jager and Comp. in Brienz, Kehrli, in Berne, A. Mauchain, in Geneva. But I stop with admiration in front of the exhibition, - the exhibitions, I should say, - of Messrs Wirth frères, of Brienz. I would need a page of this newspaper just to mention the delightful sculptures I noticed. The Exhibition of Mr. Wirth occupies several places. Apart from a square room, where admirable carved furniture is grouped, they have in the middle of a gallery a vast circular shelf, where inkwells, chests, and boxes of all shapes and uses attract and hold the eye. Their chairs, planters, and dressers offer that finish of execution, that artistic perfection which makes the furniture stand out from that category of shoddy sculpture which is made in the faubourg Saint-Antoine. There is a particular originality and grace in all these works. From the match rack worth a hundred pennies to the bookcase worth six thousand francs, you will find the same patient care, the same imagination, the same delicacy of chisel.

It remains for me to review the fabrics and the Saint-Gall room. - When you enter the room devoted to fabrics, the eye is first of all dazzled by the brilliance of the colours. The walls are draped with brightly coloured fabrics, which at first glance give the room a unique appearance. But the eye quickly becomes familiar with the room and the astonishment is replaced by admiration. Nothing could be more interesting than this exhibition. As always in Switzerland, here again it is not luxury that dominates. These fabrics are not intended for the rich; they are meant to dress the working class that makes this country rich. Cotton and thread replace silk. But look at these colours, this bright red, so vivid. Is it not the ancient purple found by M. Dolltus, of Basle, or M. Geigy, who exhibits a red of aniline without possible equal? What makes this exhibition even more interesting is the price at which these beautiful fabrics are sold. There is always a difference between the prices of our manufacturers and the prices of the Swiss manufacturers, which the most moderate estimates put at 10 0/0. The trade treaty of 1860, made common to Switzerland by the decree of November 28, 1864 and the decrees of 1865, gave a new boost to its industry. What is the reason for this difference? Are the raw materials cheaper for the foreign manufacturer? Is the labour force higher in France? No. The explanation for this price difference lies in the economy of the means of manufacture and in the modest profits that the workshop managers demand from their work. Swiss fabrics enter France and come to make a serious competition to our fabrics. Should we complain about this and regret the system of protection? That is what the future will teach us. At the moment, I am full of admiration for the rapid development of Swiss industry.

The St. Gallen hall, which our engraving represents, is divided into two clear-cut parts: silk and embroidery. Switzerland has not yet managed to compete with Lyon, at least for beautiful silks. But, faithful to its system, it deals mainly with ordinary silks, those that can be maintained at average prices. I can name a few companies: the Société de tissage mécanique d'Alischnau, Stunzi et fils, the sons of Jean Stapfer, C. Schærer, Baumann et Strenli, Baumann aîné, etc., etc.

But what attracts a large female audience is the back of the hall, where admirable embroideries are exhibited. In the middle stands a bed covered with rich furnishings and decorated with exquisitely delicate curtains. This is the exhibition of the Schlœpfer, Schlatter and Kursteiner firm in St. Gallen. The panels of this room are covered with embroideries, each of which has a special mention. First, on the right, in the middle of a tasteful frame, I see the castle of Arenenberg, surmounted by the imperial crown; this panel is by Messrs Hirschfeld and O, of St. Gallen. Next, under the signature of Mr. J. C. Altherr, of Speicher (canton of Appenzel!), comes an embroidery representing a chapel framed with flowers and foliage. On the same side, a window with a balcony and a frame of flowers and foliage, by Messrs Steiger, Schoch and Eberhard, from Herisau (Appenzell). On the other side, the same manufacturers are exhibiting a curtain with sown bouquets, of the greatest finesse. Finally, I would like to mention the panel by Messrs. Rauch and Schœffer, of St. Gallen, a flower sowing, and that of Messrs. Aider and Meyer, of Herisau, a flower vase, with medallions and arabesques.

I have finished the review of the Swiss exhibition, and I retain a strong feeling of admiration for this people who, relegated to the depths of their valleys, with almost no communication with Europe, have succeeded, by dint of perseverance and energy, in overcoming the obstacles that nature has placed in their way, who have managed to create for themselves an independent, easy, comfortable, almost rich life, and who owe only to their efforts the place they have taken for themselves on our markets and at our Exhibitions. What I like about this nation is that it never separates questions of humanity from questions of progress, that it has understood that the political development of a people rests on the well-being and education of the working classes, that, finally, everything in it, political institutions as well as industrial institutions, bear the deep imprint of democratic sentiments. And if, in an article of this kind, the last word were necessary, I would quote this fact which the newspapers have recently brought to us: M. Revilliod, of Geneva, has just offered his town the sum of one hundred thousand francs, intended for the foundation of a museum and a library. Among this democratic people, it is not a square, a park, a theatre that is being built, but a library and a museum.

©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée