Swiss Post’s history
Overview of the development of the Group
Before 1675: First permanent official postal connections
The first permanent, official postal connections are formed in the 17th century. Berne, for instance, establishes firm connections with Geneva, Vevey, Aarberg, Neuchâtel, Basel and Zurich. Commercial correspondence is transported via the international trade route, which connects southern Germany with the south of France and runs through Switzerland from Lake Constance to Lake Geneva.
1675: The Fischer Post
In 1675, Bernese alderman Beat Fischer discovers that carrying post can be a lucrative private enterprise. He buys from the Bernese government the exclusive right to transport official postal items within the canton (the post concession). In just a few years, by signing contracts with other federal authorities, he transforms the Bernese-based postal service into the largest and most successful postal company in the Federation. He concludes contracts with other countries and develops his private postal service into one of the fastest in Europe. For 150 years, the Bernese state repeatedly leases its post concession to the Fischer family.
1798: French occupation
The invasion of French troops on 5 May 1798 halts the expansion of the Swiss postal system. In the new Helvetic Republic, the postal service is brought into line with the occupiers’ model, with standardized rates and new stamps bearing the insignia of the new state. A number of French-speaking cantons are wholly subsumed into the French postal system. The plan to establish a federal postal service as part of Napoleon’s revolutionary programme is thwarted by the disparate business and legal structures in the different regions.
1803: The cantonal postal services
With the situation in the politically divided Helvetic Republic descending into civil war, in March 1803 the so-called Act of Mediation is passed. This Act restores the old cantonal system. As a result, the postal system also reverts to cantonal control. Only Zurich, Basel and Lucerne operate the postal service as a state-controlled enterprise. The other authorities lease their post concession to these three cantons or to private entrepreneurs, such as the Messrs Fischer in Berne or the House of Thurn and Taxis in Schaffhausen. In the course of the liberal revolutions after 1830, the private postal companies are nationalized and converted into cantonal state-controlled enterprises. Differing operating and pricing structures, time-consuming reciprocal billing procedures and political animosities make postal traffic complicated, expensive and slow.
Swiss postal service is founded on 1 January 1849 as the Federal Mail, with responsibility for passenger transport as well as letter, parcel and money consignments. Nationalization creates a standardized, more secure and affordable postal service, with steadily expanding coverage. Payment transactions are simplified.
1850: First stamps valid throughout Switzerland
The first stamps valid throughout Switzerland are produced. The pricing structures and monetary system are standardized. Initially, franking is voluntary: usually, the recipient pays the postage direct to the postman.
1857: The first railway mail carriages
The first railway lines are opened in Switzerland in the 1850s and 60s. The Federal Mail becomes the first regular customer of this new, fast and efficient mode of transport. From 1857, the first mail carriages for en-route sorting travel on the Swiss Central Railway network; they have a small consignments room, sack compartment and office space.
1869: The postcard is launched
Switzerland becomes the fourth country in the world to introduce the postcard, and it proves a huge success. Available in various preprinted forms, the postcard simplifies and rationalizes business correspondence in particular. Over the coming decades, the postcard is to enjoy phenomenal popularity as tourism flourishes and the new picture postcards are produced.
1870: Army postal service is born
While Swiss Army units are securing the country’s borders during the Franco-Prussian War, they change location so frequently that, after just a few days, the civilian postal service is unable to deliver post to the headquarters and soldiers – partly because of the huge increase in the number of letters and parcels after postage charges are waived. So, on 24 July 1870, the Federal Department of Posts and Railways dispatches an official from the State Postal Directorate to the Headquarters, from where, as the civilian head of the Army Post, he oversees the delivery of post to the troops and their administrative offices.
1874: Universal Postal Union established
The Universal Postal Union (Union postale universelle, UPU) is established in Berne. The first Universal Postal Convention simplifies and coordinates the inter-state mailing of letters and parcels and regulates international cooperation between the postal authorities of the member states – which, at the time, numbered 191. Berne is still the headquarters of this UN organization today.
1903: The beginnings of motorized post and passenger transport
Die Pferdepost stösst an die Grenze ihrer Leistungsfähigkeit: So erteilt die Postverwaltung ab 1903 Automobilgesellschaften die ersten Konzessionen. Zunächst sind diese unrentabel: zu wenige Fahrzeuge, zu viele Pannen. 1905 beauftragt die Post Schweizer Automobilhersteller, einen Post-Omnibus zu bauen. Die 3 ersten offiziellen Postautostrecken werden 1906 im Raum Bern lanciert. Die Oberpostdirektion befindet jedoch noch 1908: «Die hohen Betriebsausgaben, die kostspieligen Reparaturen, Verzinsung und Amortisation erfordern eine Kostenaufwand, der in keinem Verhältnis zum wirtschaftlichen Nutzen dieser Einrichtung steht.» Der eigentliche Durchbruch des neuen Verkehrsmittels erfolgt erst 1918.
1906: Postal cheque service is launched
With demand for cash growing by the day, private and cantonal banks are wantonly printing bank notes while money transports and postal carriers supply the population with cash. As the amount of money in circulation is now almost impossible to monitor, the decision is made to establish a national bank. With its dense network of 4,000 operating units, the postal service is set to take over postal cheque and giro business and enable cashless capital transfers. The postal cheque service proves to be very convenient: rent, bills and wages can easily be debited or credited by transferring funds between accounts. In its very first year, turnover exceeds 450 million francs.
1913: First airmail flights attempted
In the early days, an airmail service simply is not a viable option. On so-called flying days, which are more akin to a public spectacle, a solitary mail sack is transported from Berne to Burgdorf or from Basel to Liestal. Commercial air travel really takes off, however, with the advances made in aircraft technology after the First World War. The postal service becomes the first and most important regular customer of the fledgling airline companies in every country, and Switzerland is no exception. On 9 January 1919, a daily army courier service is set up between Berne and Zurich, using army aircraft, which is also entrusted with civilian letters. With the overwhelming deficits and the time-consuming journeys from the post offices to the airfield and back it soon becomes clear, however, that airmail is not financially viable for distances of less than 400 km. So, over the coming years, the airmail network is expanded first within Europe, and then across continents.
1918: The breakthrough of the Postbus
On the first routes created, numbers are rising so fast that passenger trailers are needed. The Postbus conquers the Alps: very soon after the Simplon pass, in 1919 the Swiss postal company opens the Grimsel, Furka, Bernardino and Oberalp passes, marking a turning point for alpine tourism. By 1920, 100 army vehicles are converted to Postbuses, at no cost. Route by route, the post is transferred to motorized transport until, by around 1930, horse-drawn post is all but redundant – although the last route, in Avers (Canton Graubünden), does not cease operating until 1961.
1920: PTT is founded
Attempts had been made to combine postal, telegraph and telephone services – in terms of both personnel and organizational structures – way back in the early days of the postal service. From 1920 onwards, more and more separate services are amalgamated – due in part to the postal service’s operating results, which have deteriorated as a result of the war. The Swiss postal and telegraph/telephone services now share the same chief administrator. Over the next few years, the units gradually converge until, in 1928, all the units are officially part of the Swiss postal, telegraph and telephone service (PTT).
1939: The postal service turns yellow
Mail coaches had been painted predominantly «Swiss Post yellow» since 1849, but postboxes remained dark green for many years and post office signs were red and white. In 1939, the General Management decrees that the colour «Swiss Post yellow» must be used for postboxes and stamp vending machines. However, this yellow is not standardized for many years, and it isn’t until the start of 2002 that Swiss Post protects the colour yellow as the trademark of its core business in Switzerland. Competitors may no longer use the colour for the same purposes.
1964: Postcodes are introduced
Postcodes are introduced throughout Switzerland on 1 October 1964. The numbering system greatly simplifies the task of manual sorting; from now on, in-depth geographical knowledge is no longer a prerequisite for sorting postal items. The postcode system also lays the foundation for the later introduction of mechanical sorting.
1978: Postomat : automated cash withdrawals
In 1978, the first Postomat is put into operation at the Schanzenpost in Berne – even before the first Bancomat. Many more have been added since and are available for cash withdrawals 24 hours a day. There are currently more than 770 Postomats in operation.
1995: The «PubliCar» dial-a-ride system is launched
In rural areas in particular, a regular timetabled service is often not viable because of financial and operational constraints. PostBus offers a flexible mobility solution to this problem, with the PubliCar dial-a-ride bus. Neither the timetable, the stops nor the routes are fixed; anyone wishing to travel by PubliCar orders their personal Postbus by calling a freephone number. Today, PubliCar serves almost 30 regions.
1996: Swiss Post International is established
Swiss Post International is established as an autonomous business unit of Swiss Post. Its core business is the cross-border mailing of documents and goods. Customers around the world are impressed by the Swiss quality and customer focus of the services offered: in 2009, sales in excess of CHF 1 billion are generated, aided by subsidiaries and sales partners in 11 European countries, 5 major cities in Asia, and in the USA.
1998: Two new companies : Swiss Post an Swisscom
Two new companies are formed from the PTT: Swiss Post, which is still responsible for passenger transport, letters and parcels and financial services, and Swisscom, which is established as a public limited company under special legislation (AG) to be a successful player in a deregulated telecom market. Entrepreneurial and political responsibility are now separate, in order to prevent politicians exerting influence on market mechanisms. Swiss Post is now a public company owned by the Confederation, with a group structure, a CEO and a Board of Directors. The Federal Council sets objectives for Swiss Post. It continues to fulfil the public service mandate to provide a national basic service, while at the same time operating in the free market. The intention is for it to become customer-focused and economically viable.
1998: PostFinance launches e-finance (yellownet)
PostFinance becomes a pioneer in electronic asset management with the launch of e-finance (formerly «yellownet») in autumn 1998. Having been involved solely in payment transactions until 1997, PostFinance is evolving into a modern financial service provider for retail customers and key accounts. It offers attractive products for savings, investments, retirement provision and financing – ranging from savings accounts and credit cards to life insurance and mortgages.
2001: The post office network is restructured
Customer behaviour is changing: fewer letters and parcels are being mailed at post offices, and fewer deposits are being paid in at the counter. Plans are made to cut the number of post offices from 3,500 to 2,500. Executive Management and the Board of Directors believe that the quality of the network is not contingent upon its density, but that a modern and affordable network is a real strategic excellence position.
2002: REMA project / CEC enters info force
REMA project: Swiss Post launches REMA (Reengineering Mailprocessing) – the new concept for letter processing. The aim is to create the logistics and technical structures necessary for greater productivity and new services that will secure jobs. Swiss Post’s plans meet with opposition from the cantons, municipalities and trade unions. In the end, greater consideration is given to socio-political and regional policy aspects in addition to economic criteria. By 2009, 18 different letter centres will be replaced by three new letter centres, six logistics centres for letter processing and two logistics centres for video coding and returns processing. CEC enters into force: After almost two years of intensive negotiations between Swiss Post and the social partners, the Swiss Post collective employment contract (CEC) and the CEC for auxiliary staff are signed and enforced on 1 January 2002. Prior to this, the employment conditions for Swiss Post staff were governed by the Civil Service Act (Beamtengesetz, BtG). The two CECs make Swiss Post more competitive while also allowing for progressive and socially responsible employment conditions.
2003: PostFinance expands its offering / Philately is quick off the mark
PostFinance expands its offering: With mortgages for private customers and the retirement savings account, PostFinance is now positioning itself as an all-round provider in the retail finance sector. By venturing into the lending business, in collaboration with partners it is able to provide all financial services – payments, investments, retirement provision and financing – from a single source and strengthen its market position. Philately is quick off the mark: On 2 March, the Swiss sailing team Alinghi wins the America’s Cup. By 7 March, the special «Alinghi, Switzerland» stamp is already on sale at every post office – and sells out just hours after its release.
2004: Deregulation of the parcel market
The parcels market is deregulated as of 1 January 2004. With three new parcel centres and a competitive offering, Swiss Post is prepared for the opening up of the market. It expands its services with logistics solutions that are fully tailored to the needs of customers and specific sectors.
2005: YMAGO project
To make the post office network more customer-friendly and improve its cost-effectiveness, 36 pilot projects of new models are launched, such as the post office in the village shop, where customers can benefit from longer opening hours. The trial run is well-received by the majority of customers, staff, partners and authorities.
2006: Record results / Establishment of PostBus Ltd
Record results: The Federal Council decides to completely overhaul postal legislation. The monopoly on letters over one hundred grams is abolished. At CHF 837 million, Swiss Post achieves a new record result. Establishment of PostBus Ltd: PostBus celebrates its centenary and, from 1 July, officially starts operating as PostBus Switzerland Ltd. The new structure enables the company, which is still wholly-owned by Swiss Post, to operate more flexibly and enter into cooperative ventures with other transport providers. In this way, it can reduce costs and make the «Poschi», as the Postbus is affectionately known, more competitive.
2007: Roger Federer stamp / Midnight delivery of Harry Potter
Roger Federer stamp: For the first time in the history of Swiss philately, a living person is depicted on a stamp: Roger Federer. Midnight delivery of Harry Potter: Between midnight and 2 a.m. on the night of Saturday, 27 October, Swiss delivers 7,000 copies of the final Harry Potter adventure, «Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows». Swiss Post staff volunteer their time for this special effort, so that eager readers aren’t kept waiting a minute longer than necessary.
2008: Strong and uniform «Swiss Post» core brand / Virtual post office counter
Strong and uniform «Swiss Post» core brand: Swiss Post simplifies its market image and relies on the strong and uniform Swiss Post core brand along with the PostFinance and PostBus flagship brands. In so doing, Swiss Post is ensuring the logical and transparent use of the «Swiss Post» brand name for the benefit of its customers. This is a response to the impending postal legislation and the accelerated process of deregulation. Virtual post office counter: Swiss Post continues to step up its online activities, launching the virtual post office counter on the Swiss Post portal www.swisspost.ch. This allows easier access to Swiss Post’s electronic services and presents the core offering in a clearly structured way in a three-dimensional space.
2009: REMA completed / Swiss Post launches carbon-neutral mailing
REMA completed: Swiss Post marks the official completion of the REMA (Reengineering Mailprocessing) project launched in 2002, with the inauguration of the Härkingen Letter Centre in Canton Solothurn. It has invested over CHF 1 billion in the modernization of its letter processing systems. In addition to three highly-automated letter centres (Zurich-Mülligen, Eclépens and Härkingen) and six logistics centres in Gossau (St Gallen), Cadenazzo (Ticino), Kriens (Lucerne), Basel, Ostermundigen (Berne) and Geneva, two sites for video coding and returns management are created (Chur and Sion). Swiss Post launches carbon-neutral mailing: By 2009, Swiss Post is already investing CHF 135 million in implementing its environmental strategy, and is steadily reducing its environmental impact, electricity and heat requirements. «pro clima» enables customers to mail their letters and parcels carbon-neutrally.
2013: Swiss Post becomes a public limited company
Swiss Post and PostFinance are transformed into public limited companies on 26 June 2013. As public limited company, PostFinance obtains a banking license. The new legal status of the two companies is a consequence of the revised postal legislation adopted by the Swiss Parliament in 2010. The conversion gives Swiss Post the modern structures it needs to carry out its varied tasks. Swiss Post Ltd is still owned entirely by the Confederation, and PostFinance Ltd is owned entirely by Swiss Post Ltd.
2014: Swiss Post upgrades parcel centers
Swiss Post expands its parcel centers in Härkingen, Frauenfeld and Daillens and increases the capacity of its sorting systems. During the first stage of this process, Härkingen parcel center is upgraded in 2014. The system now can sort over 25,000 parcels per hour on peak days. Prior to the upgrade, the limit was 20,000. In total, Swiss Post invests around 60 million francs in upgrading the sorting systems, increasing capacity in the three parcel centers by 25 percent. This measure is part of Swiss Post’s e-commerce strategy. Internet retail is booming, and consumers are ordering items online more and more frequently. In 2014, Swiss Post delivers a record number of almost 112 million parcels.
2015: Swiss Post moves to its new headquarters
In May 2015, Swiss Post moves to its new headquarters in the WankdorfCity district of Berne. The new building fulfils the highest level of sustainability requirements and provides space for around 2,000 employees with its multifunctional working environment. The move allows Swiss Post to bring six of its previous sites under one roof in the new rented space in Wankdorf. The old headquarters, known as the Schönburg, has been sold and will later be converted into a hotel and apartment complex. Under its old name of the PTT, the company originally moved to the striking building, which was designed by architect Theo Hotz and situated next to the Rose Garden, in 1970.
2016: First electronic voting with Swiss Post
Around 5,000 Swiss voters who are registered in the Canton of Fribourg and reside abroad are offered the opportunity to cast their votes online in November 2016. More than a third of Swiss citizens living abroad successfully use Swiss Post’s e-voting system for the first time. It is the only productive end-to-end encrypted e-voting system in Switzerland. With e-voting, Swiss Post now provides secure transport of confidential information in the digital as well as the physical world. As part of this service, data is held exclusively in Swiss Post’s secure data centers in Switzerland and saved in encrypted form.
2016: First test runs of autonomous SmartShuttles in Switzerland
In summer 2016, PostBus begins testing SmartShuttles in the center of Sion. These two autonomous buses run on electricity alone and can transport up to eleven people at a maximum of 20 kilometres per hour. There are always specially trained personnel on board during the ride, but the vehicles run fully automatically and do not have a steering wheel, accelerator or brake pedal. The project is a partnership between Swiss Post, PostBus, the City of Sion, the Canton of Valais and ETH Lausanne. The tests are part of the work carried out by the Mobility Lab Sion-Valais. The aim is to find out whether it is possible to use autonomous shuttles in public spaces and whether they offer added value for customers.