Swiss emigration history

Schelbert, Leo: Swiss emigration history. /Historical Dictionary of Switzerland/. The Scarecrow Press, Inc., Lanham 2007; S. 99-102. Publised by kind permission of the author.

People in regions of present-day Switzerland have been on the move ever since humans have settled there. Once the nation had formed by 1515, its citizens looked for occupational and settlement opportunities abroad. The lines between temporary and permanent or work-related and land-seeking moves have remained fluid, but they may be divided in broad outline into military, occupational, missionary, and settlement migrations.

Between 1500 and 1850, some 850,000 to 1 million Swiss served in armies abroad. Until the American and French revolutions, soldiering was a profession for hire in Western culture, and troops often included fighting men from every corner of Europe. Well-to-do people invested their money in establishing companies or regiments, the services of which were then sold to the highest bidder, be it the French or Prussian king or the Dutch East India Company. Young men of the elite gained valuable experience as officers away from home and later might return to occupy positions ofeconomic or political leadership. Commoners would be recruited for agreed-upon wages in the service of a given owner of the troops. Over three and a half centuries, some 660 Swiss-owned units, partly staffed by Swiss men, served in armies of France, Holland, Great Britain, the Papacy, or other nations on all continents. Such service intensified after leading European nations fought wars not only to attain European hegemony but also to subjugate peoples in Africa, Asia, the Western Hemisphere, and Australia in order to create exploitable colonies. In North America, Australia, and New Zealand, the invaders from Europe and their descendants waged wars of attrition for some 300 years in order to replace the indigenous peoples with the progeny of Europeans.

Closely connected with this global warfare, in which Swiss men served various powers, were the activities of Swiss merchants, tradesmen, and missionaries. In Europe, migrations of artisans were partially formalized in that, after his apprenticeship, a craftsman was expected to seek employment abroad for a period of time. In various European cities, furthermore, certain occupations were monopolized by Swiss specialists, for instance, in Vienna and The Hague, chimney sweeps, or in Venice, confectioners. In such localities, they would replenish their ranks with young people from their home region. Groups of builders from the valleys of the Ticino that included architects, masons, bricklayers and carpenters traveled from the 16th to the 18th centuries all over Europe, from Spain to Russia, to build churches and palaces.

In regions overseas, numerous Swiss worked as Christian missionaries in the service not only of their respective denominations but also of the colonial powers. JesuitsCapuchinsBenedictines, and women and men from other Catholic orders evangelized in the Western Hemisphere in New Spain/Mexico, East and West Africa, India, China, and Japan. In 1815 the Basel Mission was founded as a non-denominational Protestant institute that sent German and Swiss missionaries to the colonies, while others tried to convert Armenians and Tatars. In French-speaking Switzerland, the Mission Suisse Romande, formed in 1883 out of several earlier missionary groups, also sent missionaries overseas; in that year, it had some 90 people over-seas, compared to the Basel Mission's 73 and the Paris Mission's 86. In 1929, the total number of Swiss Protestant missionaries evangelizing abroad was about 350. A Catholic Swiss missionary institution was founded in 1921; by 1960, it had about 150 missionaries working in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), the province of Iwateken in Japan, and Colombia.

Like the military, commercial, and religious moves abroad, Swiss settlement migrations were also embedded in European overseas activities, but only a few villages in Europe were established by the invitation of local rulers. In 1683, about 200 families moved to the Mark Brandenburg, in 1709 about 750 families to East Prussia, and in the late 1760s about 300 families to the Sierra Morena in Spain. Between 1650 and 1917, an estimated 45,000 Swiss went to Russian urban centers such as St. Petersburg and Moscow or to the Volga region and the Crimea as farmers, tradesmen, and cheese makers; between 1917 and 1921, about 6,000 people of Swiss descent returned from Russia to their homeland. In Egypt, Swiss merchants, bankers, and technicians were active in Alexandria, Cairo, and Port Said, and by 1865 some 300 Swiss people lived in French North Africa, that number growing between 1887 and 1938 to 7,000. About 1,200 Swiss were active in South Africa and about 1,000 in other African regions. The Western Hemisphere, especially North America, attracted perhaps nearly half a million Swiss settlers between 1700 and 1914. In 1871, Canada counted 3,000 Swiss, and in 1991, 76,310 per-sons of at least partial (23,610 of exclusive) Swiss descent. During the 18th century, around 20,000 Swiss settled in regions that are now part of the United States and between 1820 and 1914 possibly another 400,000. In 1818, about 2,000 Swiss emigrated to establish Nova Friburgo in Brazil. Between 1850 and 1928, some 40,000 had gone to Argentina and 3,000 to Chile. By 1891, about 2,500 Swiss are estimated to have settled in Australia and by 1916 about 700 in New Zealand.

Since 1950, a vigorous exchange migration of Swiss has occurred as part of globalization, especially of major firms. At the end of 2005, more than 634,216 Swiss citizens were registered with Swiss consulates abroad. Of them, 383,548 (60.5 percent) were residing in countries of the European Union (EU) and 163,122 in the Western Hemisphere, 71,773 of those in the United States. Those abroad have become a significant part of the Swiss polity, not only in helping to safeguard Swiss interests in foreign nations but also as voters on issues and in elections conducted at home.

Leo Schelbert

Leo Schelbert, geboren 1929, war zuerst Gymnasiallehrer, dann studierte er in New York amerikanische Geschichte mit Schwerpunkt Einwanderung. 1966 Promotion an der Colombia Universität. Er lehrte von 1963 bis 1969 an der Rutgers Universität in Newark, New Jersey, und nach zwei Forschungsjahren in der Schweiz von 1971 bis 2003 an der Universität von Illinois in Chicago. Er ist Autor und Herausgeber verschiedener Bücher und zahlreicher Artikel und lebt mit seiner Familie in Evanston, Illinois.