Who invented it?
Ricola, Rivella, Ovomaltine, Toblerone and Maggi stock cubes – all Swiss inventions. No country in the world holds as many patents per capita of population as Switzerland. This huge capacity for innovation has helped us to become the richest country in the world. Countless world-famous products come from Switzerland.
We would like to introduce you to some Swiss inventions in more detail. Some of them will be familiar to you; with others, you will perhaps be surprised that they come from a laboratory or inventor’s workshop in Switzerland.
In 1902, the Swiss doctor Ernest Guglielminetti had the roads in Monaco coated in tar to combat dust and thus invented the forerunner to what we know today as asphalt. Dr Goudron (French for tar), as he was also called, is also regarded as the inventor of breathing apparatus for pilots, firefighters and mountaineers.
2. Pocket knives
A classic among Swiss inventions is the Swiss Army knife with a blade, can opener, small slotted screwdriver and awl – complete with grip plates made from blackened oak. They were produced from 1891 by Schwyz native Karl Elsener – his operation later became the company Victorinox. The knife originally helped soldiers with eating and with dismantling their weapons. It has been reworked multiple times since its introduction. Today, the grip plates are made from plastic and in addition, the pocket knife has a wood saw, as well as a cross-headed screwdriver. The Swiss pocket knife achieved global success when it was taken back to America as a souvenir by American soldiers after World War II.
Who doesn’t know the Riri zip? We use it to do up trousers, jackets, pockets, bed linen and much more. In 1925, Martin Winterhalter from eastern Switzerland developed an American inventor’s basic idea further and filed a patent for the invention.
4. Reversible key
Every time we lock our front doors at home, it is highly likely that we do so using a Swiss invention: the Kaba reversible key. Thanks to the invention in 1934 of the key that can be used from both sides, the company Kaba became a global company and remains to this day a part of the dormakaba group.
The car drivers among us benefit from another discovery made by a Swiss person. In 1905, the Winterthur engineer Alfred Büchi invented the turbocharger, which is present in almost every modern car engine. It increases the efficiency of combustion engines.
6. Automatic coffee machine
In the 1970s, Zurich engineer Arthur Schmed had the idea of developing fully automatic coffee machines for private households. After searching for a long time for a company to finance the further development of his prototype, he struck lucky with the long-standing company Solis. People say that the marketing people at Solis threw their hands in the air in horror at the supposed miracle machine: it looked like a nuclear power station and would be unsellable. Schmed tinkered with it a little more and in 1985, the Solis Espresso fully automatic coffee machine then appeared on the market as the first in the world.
In the 1970s, Eric Favre from the Vaud region began tinkering with a coffee machine that would enable him to enjoy coffee at home that was just as good as in his favourite espresso bar in Rome. In 1986, Nespresso brought a capsule system onto the market and flopped. Later, George Clooney helped the coffee invention from the Alps become a global success with his question “What else?”. Nespresso capsules are the undefeated leader in the coffee capsule business in private homes and as pads in companies.
Switzerland is right at the front in the field of medicine too. One of the most spectacular and also most well-known substances from the drug scene is the hallucinogen LSD, which was discovered by the chemist Albert Hofmann and tested in an experiment on himself. LSD never came onto the market as a medicine. It was banned in the USA in the 1960s – and also in Europe soon afterwards. However, with the emergence of the techno scene, the substance received renewed impetus as a non-addictive party drug. But it never became legal.
9. Artery clamp
Besides pharmacological substances, important products in medical technology were also invented and developed in Switzerland. Thus, in addition to other surgical instruments, Theodor Kocher, himself a surgeon, constructed the artery clamp at the end of the 19th century. The clamp prevents patients bleeding to death during operations when blood vessels are severed. The so-called Kocher clamp is also used in the implementation of another Swiss invention – the artificial hip joint.
10. Computer mouse
Thanks to Professor Niklaus Wirth at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, the company Logitech brought the first PC mouse onto the market in 1981. Later, the company produced the three-button ball mouse, the LogiMouse C7, the first commercially successful computer mouse. Logitech produces mice for most of the large manufacturers and hence is one of the biggest suppliers of mice globally. Incidentally, Wirth also developed the programming language Pascal at the end of the 1960s.