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Switzerland’s Belle Époque


Workers fail to profit from golden era

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(SRF Schweiz Aktuell, swissinfo.ch)

The period before the First World War, known as the Belle Époque, was characterised by optimism, peace, new technology and scientific discoveries. Switzerland – as one of the most developed countries – benefitted from the boom.

People saw planes over their heads for the first time, cars on the streets, gramophones in people’s lounges. They could watch moving pictures in walk-in cinemas and electricity was installed in their homes.

One hundred years ago, Switzerland was among the most highly industrialised countries in Europe in terms of per capita production. With 1% of the continent’s population, it was responsible for 3% of the continent’s exports.

The Swiss economy was based on importing raw materials and exporting manufactured goods. It depended to a large extent on other countries for food and raw materials – with German coal making up a sizeable chunk of its energy supply.

A new upper class of rich industrialists emerged, who ordered their clothes from Paris and London and held elaborate parties. But while Swiss factory owners enjoyed a boom period, their staff suffered long working hours and low wages.