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Certificates and uniforms

Once Swiss Post, always Swiss Post: in the days of the PTT, most postal staff are civil servants and remain loyal to their employer until retirement. An important basis for this is the 1927 Swiss civil service code (Beamtengesetz (BtG)). All work processes are governed by detailed regulations. It is only in 1998 that civil servant status is rescinded.

Parcel carriers pre-sorting and loading their vehicles.

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Since the founding of the Confederation, Swiss Post has been one of Switzerland’s biggest employers. When the Confederation takes over postal services in 1849, it regulates the employment conditions for employees, including their term of office, grounds for dismissal and threats of punishment for potential wrongdoing. 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. In 1910, the barrier of the guarantee is removed.

What does it mean to be employed as a postal worker during the PTT era?

From 1920 to 1928, the PTT is gradually created. A landmark in this process is the 1927 Swiss civil service code (Beamtengesetz (BtG)). Among other things, employment with the postal service means: a secure job, whatever the economic situation. The benefit of almost total protection against dismissal. And the opportunity to progress through predefined career paths. People who choose Swiss Post as their employer usually do so with the intention staying until retirement. Employees see themselves as civil servants serving the state and the Swiss people. Customers are known as “postal users”.

An older mail carrier with back frame and cases, Schanfigg, 1931. Source: Hermann Stauder (photographer) / Museum of Communication
A mail carrier in the mountains, Schanfigg, 1931. Source: Hermann Stauder (photographer) / Museum of Communication

There are various occupational groups who see themselves as strictly separate from each other:

  • Certified civil servants work in the office, serve at the counter and as managers of the company in the regional postal directorate and, to a large extent, in general management. Until 1972, management careers are a male preserve.
  • Uniformed civil servants work in the delivery service, as drivers, in the dispatch and railway mail service.
  • Assistants, so-called “helpers”, work at the counter.
  • In addition, there are also semi-skilled employees and auxiliary staff.
A civil servant and a customer at a parcel counter, circa 1955.
A civil servant at a parcel counter, circa 1955.

The book marking the 150th anniversary of Swiss Post (see sources) includes quotations of tongue-in-cheek job descriptions from 1942, with the Railway Mail Service postal worker described as follows:

If you were to open the top of his skull while he was working, what you would find, over and above the usual knowledge of the job, is an atlas, a number of geographic maps, a timetable with all the details of domestic and international connection times, and a directory of postal service steamers and international air mail connections – in a word, he is the universal encyclopaedia of postal traffic incarnated.
Railway Mail Service postal workers sorting en route in the office of the Railway Mail Service carriage on the Basel-Belfort line, 1926. Source: Museum of Communication
Railway Mail Service postal workers sorting en route on the Basel-Belfort line, 1926. Source: Museum of Communication

Rules governing every detail

Twice-daily delivery of letters and parcels, over-the-counter services, the running of a post office: there are umpteen rules governing every aspect of the work and duties of postal workers down to the last detail, and every process is standardized. The regulations are set out in bound books, including some that can only make you chuckle today. The 1909 instructions on the use of twine, for instance, which aim to save costs by having the civil servants tie “correspondences” into bundles with a bow rather than a knot. Instead of having to cut the twine, it can then be used again.

Former PTT employees recount stories about the regulationsTarget not accessible.


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.

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