The Railway Mail Service, twine and PTT buildings

Swiss Post’s history stretches back more than 170 years. As well as the important milestones, there are small treasures to discover in this story.

Susanna Stalder

Rich Content Section

An office in a Railway Mail Service carriage on the Basel-Belfort line, 1926. Source: Museum of Communication
An office in a Railway Mail Service carriage on the Basel-Belfort line, 1926. Source: Museum of Communication

Swiss Post was founded on 1 January 1849. Today, the company is one of Switzerland’s largest employers and transports millions of parcels and letters every year. A lot has happened in the more than 170 intervening years. For example, did you know...

  • that mail was delivered up to six times a day around 1850?
  • that Switzerland was the second country to introduce the postage stamp? Shortly after, the craze for collecting stamps kicked off – together with trading and counterfeiting.
  • that mail was sorted on the rails in special railway carriages? Working in the Railway Mail Service required a very good knowledge of geography.
  • that the tone sequence “toot-to-tooot”, today used for the Postbus three-tone horn, is based on the overture to Gioachino Rossini’s “William Tell”?
  • that during the construction of the Sihlpost, which opened in Zurich in 1930, the architecture was determined by internal postal operations for the first time? The building was equipped with conveyor systems and rotary tables.
The Sihlpost building in Zurich, 1930. Source: PTT Archive
  • that Swiss Post worked with the Red Cross during the world wars to transport several hundred million consignments postage-free from prisoners of war and internees?
  • that there were specific instructions on the use of twine during the PTT era? Civil servants were required to tie “correspondences” together with a bow instead of a knot so the twine did not have to be cut and could later be reused.
  • that female employees usually had to give up their job when they got married?
Female employees in a Postcheque office, circa 1940. Source: PTT Archive
  • that the PTT used Switzerland’s first commercial computer as early as 1957?
  • that the Postomat was introduced in 1978?

Find out more about the history of Swiss Post. Have fun browsing!

written by

Susanna Stalder

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Copyright: PTT Archive

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French troops cross the Swiss border. Detail from the Borubaki Panorama in Lucerne.