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American way of life gets Swiss twist

Even this classic American car has Swiss roots.

Switzerland is launching a high profile campaign in the United States to reach out to the more than one million Americans with Swiss ancestry.

The special events this year include an exhibition on migration and a road show visiting some of the thousands of towns with Swiss names. Football star, Ben Roethlisberger, will be one of the campaign’s special ambassadors.

Swiss Roots was officially launched in Washington on Wednesday, with the unveiling of a website to help Americans trace their Swiss ancestry.

The Swiss ambassador to the United States, Christian Blickenstorfer, said the site, which swissinfo helped to build, would allow Swiss and Americans to strengthen ties to each other.

“It serves also to improve understanding of how Swiss immigrants and their culture influenced the US,” he told an audience of 200 politicians, academics and journalists.

Also present at the launch was the US trade representative, Robert Portman, himself of Swiss ancestry. He said Swiss traits such as valuing the family and a strong work ethic had helped his ancestors “not only to survive but to share their success in the US”.


The Swiss scored a coup convincing Roethlisberger to headline the Swiss Roots campaign, since it comes only a month after the quarterback led the Pittsburgh Steelers to victory in the Super Bowl.

The star quarterback will come to Switzerland in May to search for his “Swiss roots” in the Emmental region, best known in the US as the place where “Swiss cheese” comes from.

The campaign organisers, who include the Swiss consulate in New York and the promotional organisation, Presence Switzerland, will use Roethlisberger to highlight a variety of Swiss-sponsored events in the US this year.

“The vision of ‘Swiss Roots’ is to motivate all Americans who feel an affinity with Switzerland to connect with our country and to network with the Swiss people,” said ambassador, Raymond Loretan, co-chairman of the campaign and Consul General of Switzerland in New York, before the launch.

The events include a temporary exhibition on Ellis Island in New York about Swiss immigrants titled, “small number – big impact”, and the first showing outside of Switzerland of one of the country’s most important historical documents.

Sister republics

More than 700 years old, the founding charter, the “Bundesbrief”, will be on display at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia as part of the “Sister Republics” exhibition, highlighting the historical parallels between the Swiss and American constitutions.

A vintage Swiss postal bus will make stops in a few of the 5,000 American cities with Swiss names.

In Monroe, Wisconsin – the town known as the Swiss Cheese Capital of the US – the bus will lead the “Green County Cheese Days” parade in September.

A integral part of Swiss Roots is its website (see “related sites”), enabling Americans of Swiss descent to find out more about their ancestors, where they came from, and what life was like in the Switzerland they left behind.

A number of different databases in the website’s genealogy section, including Ellis Island passenger lists revised to correct misspellings and mishearings, will make it possible to search for ancestors by name and/or place of origin.

It also includes an illustrated timeline with important events in both Swiss and American history, as well as portraits of Swiss immigrants who made important contributions in all fields of human endeavour.

Chevrolet and Zellweger

Roethlisberger is the latest in a long line of prominent Americans with Swiss ancestry.

They include car engine designer Louis Chevrolet, President Herbert Hoover, the chocolate maker, Milton Hershey, and Johann August Sutter –the legendary adventurer and colonizer of California, as well as film stars Yul Brynner and Renée Zellweger.

There are also portraits of less well-known Swiss-Americans whose lives were equally if not more important.

Albert Gallatin found the settlement of New Geneva and was instrumental in arranging the Louisiana Purchase, the acquisition by the US of more than two million square kilometres of land from France in 1802.

Christoph von Graffenried led a group of Swiss and German religious refugees to North Carolina where they founded New Bern.

Jean-Jacques, or John James, Dufour helped establish winemaking in the US by starting the first commercial vineyard in 1798.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who died two years ago, was responsible for pioneering research into the death process, breaking many taboos.


One of the key aims of the Swiss Roots campaign is to motivate Americans of Swiss origin to discover the homeland of their ancestors and get in touch with Swiss relatives.

It also wants to stimulate a dialogue between Swiss and American citizens, and offer a platform for exchange between the US and Switzerland in various fields such as politics, business, culture, education, science and tourism.

There are one million Americans of Swiss descent.
5,000 US towns and cities have Swiss names.
Swiss Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin will open the Ellis Island exhibition, “small number – big impact”, on July 29.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR