Modern history of Switzerland

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This article deals with the history of Switzerland since 1848.

See Early Modern Switzerland for the Early Modern period, Switzerland in the Napoleonic era for the period of 1798–1814, and Restoration and Regeneration (Switzerland) for the period of 1815–1848.

Formation of the Federal State (1848)

Following a 27-day civil war in Switzerland, the Sonderbundskrieg, the Swiss Federal Constitution was passed on 12 September 1848. The constitution was heavily influenced by the US Constitution and the ideas of the French Revolution. The constitution establishes the Swiss Confederation, governed by a comparatively strong federal government, instead the model of a confederation of independent cantons bound by treaties.

Industrialisation and economic growth (1848–1914)

From 1847 to 1914, the Swiss railway network was developed. The Schweizerische Nordbahn (SNB) society opened the first railway line on Swiss soil in 1847, connecting Zürich and Baden. The Gotthard Rail Tunnel was completed in 1881.

The Swiss watchmaking industry has its origins in the 18th century, but boomed during the 19th century, turning the village of La Chaux-de-Fonds into an industrial center. Rapid urban growth also enlarged Zürich, which incorporated its industrial suburb Aussersihl into the municipality in 1891.

Banking emerged as a significant factor in Swiss economy with the foundation of the Union Bank of Switzerland in 1862, the Swiss Bank Corporation in 1872.

The Golden age of alpinism in the 1850s to 1860s lay the foundation to the tourism industry.

World wars (1914–1945)

During World War I and World War II, Switzerland maintained a stance of armed neutrality, and apart from minor skirmishes was not involved militarily. Because of its neutral status, Switzerland was of considerable interest to the warring parties, as a scene for diplomacy, espionage, commerce, and as a safe haven for refugees.

During World War I, Switzerland was situated between the Central Powers to the north and east, and the Entente Powers to the south and west. During World War II, Switzerland was entirely surrounded by the Axis Powers from 1940 to 1944.

1945 to present


See also Politics of Switzerland

From 1959, the Federal Council, elected by the parliament, is composed of members of the four major parties, the liberal Free Democrats, the Catholic Christian Democrats, the left-wing Social Democrats and the right-wing People's Party, essentially creating a system without a sizeable parliamentary opposition (see concordance system), reflecting the powerful position of an opposition in a direct democracy.

Women were granted the right to vote in the first Swiss cantons in 1959, at the federal level in 1971[1] and, after resistance, in the last canton Appenzell Innerrhoden in 1990. After suffrage at the federal level women quickly rose in political significance, with the first woman on the seven member Federal Council executive being Elisabeth Kopp who served from 1984–1989. The first female president was Ruth Dreifuss, elected in 1998 to become president during 1999.

(The Swiss president is elected every year from those among the seven member high council and cannot serve two consecutive terms). The second female president is Micheline Calmy-Rey who held the 2007 Swiss high office. She is from the western area of the French-speaking canton Geneve. She is joined on the seven-member cabinet/high council by two other women, Doris Leuthard, from the canton of Aargau and Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, from the canton of Graubünden.

During the Cold War, Swiss authorities considered the construction of a Swiss nuclear bomb.[2] Leading nuclear physicists at the Federal Institute of Technology Zürich such as Paul Scherrer made this a realistic possibility. In a nationwide referendum held in April 1962, the Swiss people chose to construct a Swiss nuclear bomb.[3] However, financial problems with the defense budget prevented the substantial funds from being allocated, and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968 was seen as a valid alternative. All remaining plans for building nuclear weapons were dropped by 1988.[4]


See also Demographics of Switzerland.

In 1979, parts of the Bernese Jura attained independence while remaining in the Federation, forming the new canton of Jura.

The Demographics of Switzerland has changed in similar ways as in other states in Western Europe. Since 1945, the population of Switzerland has grown from roughly 4.5 to 7.5 million, mostly between 1945 and 1970, with a brief negative growth in the late 1970s, and a population growth hovering around 0.5% per year since the 1990s, mostly due to immigration. With a population composed of a roughly balanced combination of Roman Catholics and Protestants, together amounting to more than 95%, the population without any religious affiliation has grown to more than 10% in the 2000s, while the Muslim population grew from practically nil to some 4% over the past decades. Italians had been the largest group of resident foreigners since the 1920, but with the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, large-scale immigration of refugees has changed this picture, and residents with origins in the former Yugoslavia now constitute the largest group of resident foreigners, with some 200,000 people (roughly 3% of the population).

Notes and references

  1. Country profile: Switzerland UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Retrieved on 2009-11-25
  2. 7.4 States Formerly Possessing or Pursuing Nuclear Weapons Retrieved March 6, 2014
  3. "Historical Outline on the Question of Swiss Nuclear Armament". (English translation of an extract from a Swiss Government report "Historischer Abriss zur Frage einer Schweizer Nuklearbewaffnung," 1996). Retrieved December 8, 2015.
  4. Swiss nuclear bomb International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War October 9, 2010. Retrieved March 6, 2014
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