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Swiss Post: how it all began

The newly established federal state unifies – and improves – the postal system. The Swiss federal postal service replaces the cantonal postal administrations. From this point on, it is responsible for transporting letters, parcels, people and cash remittances.

Mail coaches and employees in front of the post office in Effretikon at the end of the 19th century . Source: PTT Archive

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In 1848, the Swiss Confederation is established. The founding of the Swiss federal postal service is closely related to this event, as postal services, customs administration and telegraph system are now standardized. The central postal administration replaces the cantonal postal administrations, including Fischer-Post in Bern, which had built up a large postal network in the 17th century. In 1840, the territory of Switzerland had been divided among 17 postal organizations, making postal transport slow and expensive.

This means that 1849 is the year in which the Swiss federal postal service is founded. The Federal Act on the Organization of the Postal Administration divides Swiss Post into eleven postal districts, each with its own senior management. In principle, it has two responsibilities: to transport sealed consignments of all kinds up to a weight of 5 kilograms and to transport people by mail coach.

Schaffhausen-Rafz mail coach, 1897. Source: Louis Alphonse Tronel (photographer) / Museum of Communication
Schaffhausen-Rafz mail coach, 1897. Source: Louis Alphonse Tronel (photographer) / Museum of Communication

1850 sees the introduction of a stamp that is valid throughout Switzerland as a means of payment for letters. Swiss Post’s profits continue to go to the cantons. It is not until the constitutional revision of 1874 that revenues start to flow into the federal treasury.

With its post offices, mail coaches and mail carriers, Swiss Post is initially the only institution to represent the new state nationwide – and it strengthens trust in the central administration.

What exactly does Swiss Post look like around 1850?

  • Messages can only be exchanged using mail carriers who work on foot or mail coaches. Depending on the destination, consignments have to be transferred several times from one mail coach route to another.
  • Passenger transport is Swiss Post’s most significant area of operations.
  • In 1849, there are 1,500 post offices, making up a network that is expanded substantially over time. In 1912, there are more than 4,000 post offices.
  • Swiss Post is one of Switzerland’s largest employers. In 1850, it numbers 2,803 employees. Swiss Post employees are federal civil servants. Anyone looking to become a postmaster must first provide guarantees. Not everyone has the money to do so. In 1883, postal staff therefore set up a mutual guarantee cooperative.
  • Swiss Post transports 15 million consignments, equivalent to around six letter post items per inhabitant.
  • Postal items are delivered relatively quickly in large parts of Switzerland. This is because there are up to six deliveries per day, including Sunday delivery, which is not discontinued until 1924.
  • A standard letter costs 15 centimes. In 1900, this price – measured in terms of purchasing power – is only 20 percent of the price in 1850.


Karl Kronig: “Post”, in: Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz (HLS), version dated 20.01.2011. https://hls-dhs-dss.ch/de/articles/014057/2011-01-20Target not accessible

Walter Knobel, Swiss Post (ed.): Gelb bewegt. Die Schweizerische Post ab 1960, Bern 2011.

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