11 Things You Never Knew Were Swiss

© Khairul Abdullah/Flickr
© Khairul Abdullah/Flickr
Photo of Sean Mowbray
23 October 2017

The Swiss may have a reputation for being straight laced and serious but they definitely have a knack for ingenuity, particularly when it involves altering one’s state of mind. Here are 11 things that are well and truly Swiss, despite what you may think.


Velcro’s illustrious history started off when engineer George de Mestral investigated how seeds were attaching themselves to his dog, around 1941. It took him another 15 or so years to make it into something usable, the Velcro product that’s been saving us all time and effort tackling buttons and zippers for much of our lives. We owe you one George.

The Rex Peeler

Where would we be without the Rex Peeler? Probably somewhere with a lot of jacket potatoes. Swiss designer Alfred Neweczerzal, who grew up in Davos, put the handy device together, saving millions of food lovers a lot of effort in skinning their veg.


The hallucination inducing drink as we know it first came into being during the 18th century in the canton of Neuchâtel in the French speaking part of Switzerland. A French doctor, one Pierre Ordinaire, brewed up the first batch. Before long it had become a favourite of 19th century Parisian writers, artists and thinkers (think old-timey hipsters), partly for its mind-bending properties. When the first ‘Green Fairy’ incident occurred isn’t certain.

The Green Fairy was born in Switzerland | © pixel2013/ Pixabay

The Division Sign

The division sign (or the obelus) has been around for a long time, but its first use as a symbol in mathematics is credited to Swiss mathematician Johann Rahn. It first showed up in his book Teutsche Algebra in 1659.


Albert Hofmann is who we have to thank, or condemn, depending on your perspective, for lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). Initially, Hofmann put the newly synthesised drug aside and worked away for five years. But returning to it again later he ‘accidentally’ ingested some. Hofmann thus experienced the world’s very first acid trip, which he described as a “not unpleasant, intoxicated-like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination”.


Pain-relieving and highly addictive, laudanum was first concocted by a Swiss-German scientist called Paracelsus in the 16th-century. Despite having a name that wouldn’t be out of place on a Marvel bad guy, Paracelsus devoted his time to helping people and came up with the first semblance of laudanum, which changed substantially over the years until it became the regulated, prescription drug we know today.


Like any good wine drinker, Jacques Brandenberger knew the damage a good red could do to a table cloth. So, around 1900 he started trying to develop a wine (and other liquid) repellent cover for cloth. While doing so he peeled off a thin, pliable layer which he perfected before patenting it as cellophane in 1912. Just think of all those school packed lunches that wouldn’t have been without Jacques.

Aluminium Foil

The world’s first aluminium plant started its life in Emmishofen in the canton of Thurgau in 1910. It didn’t take the Swiss long to put it to good use by wrapping their chocolate bars in it. They then used it for stock cubes and other foodstuffs.

Just one of the many uses of aluminium foil | © SplitShire/ Pixabay

Electric Toothbrush

The world of dentistry would still be stuck in the stone ages if it weren’t for Philippe Guy Woog and his Broxodent, as the first electric toothbrush was dubbed. The Broxodent came to life in 1954 to help out patients who had trouble brushing their teeth. Nowadays of course they are used by everyone who doesn’t trust the power of their own muscle.

Toilet Duck

Known by all those who like a clean toilet, the Toilet Duck – so called for the shape of its ingenious bottle design – was patented in the 1980s by Swiss native Walter Düring.


Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (mercifully known as DDT) was all the rage back when its bug killing capabilities was discovered by Paul Hermann Müller. The folks at the Nobel Prize were so impressed that they gave him the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1948. Of course, we now know that DDT is a carcinogen and happens to also kill off wildlife, so it’s not so great after all and it’s been banned around the world. Well, the Swiss don’t always get it right.

DDT sprayed over Oregon, USA. It was all the rage as a bug killer for years until it was discovered to be harmful. | © Public domain/ Wikicommons





Cookies Policy

We and our partners use cookies to better understand your needs, improve performance and provide you with personalised content and advertisements. To allow us to provide a better and more tailored experience please click "OK"