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Swiss Post in motion – the first Postbus

The first automobile mail route connects Bern with Detligen. The distinctive “toot-to-tooot”, however, is not heard until years later.

The first generation of Postbuses in the yard at the main post office in Bern, 1906. Source: Museum of Communication

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The history of the Postbus is closely linked to the history of the horse coach service, but also to the development of tourism in Switzerland. In 1850, passenger transport is Swiss Post’s most important area of operations. The number of routes served by mail coaches increases steadily in the years that follow. While the railways gradually replace mail routes on important transport connections, passenger routes gain in importance in transalpine traffic. Mail routes create access to remote areas, connect larger villages to the railways and ensure that there are cross-connections between railway lines.

Bumpy start

1906 sees the inauguration of the first scheduled motor vehicle mail route: 14-seat buses are now operating between Bern and Detligen, some 20 kilometres away. Compared to the mail coaches, they offer more seats, travel twice as fast, and run more frequently. However, they are prone to failure and expensive to operate. Moreover, at the beginning of the 20th century, there is a great deal of scepticism towards motor vehicles. The real boom in Postbus operations begins only after the First World War, not least because Swiss Post converts 40 army trucks into Postbuses following the war. After 1920, technical progress can no longer be stopped. Motor vehicles replace the horse coach service on numerous routes. After the Second World War, the Postbus goes from being an occasional sight to an everyday means of transport.

Passenger route poster “Alpine post opens up new travel destinations”, 1945. Quelle: Herbert Berthold Libiszewski (stamp designer) / Museum of Communication
Passenger route poster, 1945. Quelle: Herbert Berthold Libiszewski (stamp designer) / Museum of Communication


Since the 1920s, Postbuses have been negotiating the major Alpine passes. Alpine post becomes a symbol of Switzerland. It is emblematic of the conquest of the Alps, technical progress, reliability, and not least the beauty of the country. Thinking of the Postbus instantly brings the distinctive “toot-to-tooot” of its horn to mind. From 1923 on, the sound of the three-tone horn can be heard on mountainous postal routes. Its purpose is to warn other road users at blind spots on narrow roads. The tone sequence used today, C-sharp–E–A, is based on the overture to Gioachino Rossini’s “William Tell”.

Three-tone horn – original

Transcript: “Toot-to-tooot” describes the three-tone horn that can be heard in the audio file.

Three-tone horn – Gioachino Rossini and the post horn

Transcipt: The “C-sharp - E - A” tone sequence used today is based on the overture to Gioachino Rossini’s “William Tell”.

An autonomous Postbus, the so-called SmartShuttle, on the road in Sion, 2016
Autonomous SmartShuttle on the road in Sion, 2016

In 2003, PostBus carries over 100 million passengers for the first time. New, flexible mobility solutions such as on-demand and “Mobility as a Service” are trialled. PostBus also brings modern vehicles into service, such as the autonomous SmartShuttles and its electrically powered London taxi.

Find out more about the history of PostBus

Found in the PTT Archive: cars banned in Graubünden

Between 1900 and 1925, cars are banned in Graubünden. The talk is of monsters frightening the horses. In 1904, after trials with goods transports, which are limited to a maximum speed of 10 km/h and must maintain a distance of 1 metre, it becomes clear that the horseless vehicles are a great opportunity, especially for travel and postal transport. This spurs the PTT to advocate strongly for exemptions on individual routes.


Kronig, Karl: “Post”, in: Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz (HLS), version dated 20.1.2011. Online: 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.

Karl Kronig, Museum of Communication (ed.): Ab die Post! 150 Jahre schweizerische Post, Bern, 1999.

Article “Drei Töne im Dienst einer starken Marke”: https://www.postauto.ch/sites/default/files/content/posthorn/dreiklanghorn062015.pdf

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