On the Swiss poster patrol

… from a hundred years ago. Two items that popped up on Pinterest a while back after I posted about things Swiss:

(#1) Pilatus Railway poster (unknown artist for Burlingham Travel Pictures, 1918)

(#2) Swiss military “Flag Guard” poster from 1914, the year the Great War began

Mount Pilatus and Frederick Burlingham. As an acrophobe, I’m deeply distressed by the poster in #1. But the railway is a monument of Swiss ingenuity. From Wikipedia:

(#3) The Pilatus Railway today

The Pilatus Railway (German: Pilatusbahn, PB) is a mountain railway in Switzerland and is the steepest rack railway in the world, with a maximum gradient of 48% and an average gradient of 35%. The line runs from Alpnachstad, on Lake Lucerne, to a terminus near the Esel summit of Pilatus at an elevation of 2,073 m (6,801 ft), which makes it the highest railway in the canton of Obwalden … At Alpnachstad, the Pilatus Railway connects with steamers on Lake Lucerne and with trains on the Brünigbahn line of Zentralbahn.

… [The railway’s] design eliminated the possibility of the cogwheels climbing out of the rack, and prevented the car from toppling over, even under severe crosswinds common in the area. … The line was opened using steam traction on 4 June 1889, and was electrified on 15 May 1937…

The government provided no subsidy for the construction of the line. Instead, [the engineer Eduard] Locher established his own company “Locher Systems” to build the railway. The railway was built entirely with private capital and has remained financially viable throughout its life.

Swiss background, from my 11/19 posting “Gesneriana”, with its reference to

a letter to a friend in which [Swiss naturalist and polymath Conrad Ges(s)ner] extolled mountains as one of the greatest wonders of nature. This reference and a later account of his scaling of Mt. Pilatus (1555) provide one of the first records of mountain climbing.

On mountain climbing, from Wikipedia:

Mountaineering is the set of activities that involves ascending mountains. Mountaineering-related activities include traditional outdoor climbing, hiking, skiing, and traversing via ferratas…

While mountaineering began as attempts to reach the highest point of unclimbed big mountains, it has branched into specializations that address different aspects of mountains, depending on whether the route chosen is over rock, snow or ice, or level ground…

Mountaineering is often called alpinism, and mountain climbers are sometimes called alpinists, although use of the term may vary between countries and eras. The word “alpinism” was born in the 19th century to refer to climbing for the purpose of enjoying climbing itself as a sport or recreation, distinct from merely climbing while hunting or as a religious pilgrimage that had been done generally at that time.

The emphasis here is on attaining a summit as a sporting challenge. In a separate theme, traceable back at least to the 16th century (and Gesner), attaining the summit provides the climber with an impressive vista, a breath-taking panorama of the landscape. We take this emotional response to be obvious, but in fact its power is to a considerable degree attributable to the Romantic movement in art and literature. From Wikipedia:

The [Romantic] movement [of the early 19th century] emphasized intense emotion as an authentic source of aesthetic experience, placing new emphasis on such emotions as apprehension, horror and terror, and awe — especially that experienced in confronting the new aesthetic categories of the sublimity and beauty of nature

The power of the vista in this famous painting by Caspar David Friedrich (German, 1774 – 1840; apologies for the non-Swiss digression):

(#4) Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, 1818

By the end of the century, ordinary tourists wanted the impressive vistas without the pain of climbing the mountains, which is why we got railways to the summits of mountain peaks: the Pilatus Railway and its kin. From Frederick Burlingham’s How to Become an Alpinist (ca. 1914, available in a reprint edition from several booksellers):

During the season trains do luxe now run regularly from most of the large urban centres direct to some special point in the Alps. In Switzerland alone over forty funicular lines supplement these express services, and excellent mountain hotels are springing up like mushrooms throughout the country. The ordinary traveller may take advantage of reduced fare excursions and circular tickets to visit consecutively several of the famous alpine centres during his two weeks’ holiday, and often the price of such tickets, which is extremely reasonable, includes hotel accommodation as well.

Burlingham was an American explorer, famous for his descent 1,200 feet down inside the crater of Vesuvius while the volcano was active, and for his cinematography on the Matterhorn, Mont Blanc, and the Jungfrau; the poster in #1 is an ad for his Alpine documentaries (short films made in 1913-18). He also led a 1921 expedition to Borneo, and died in 1924. I have found no information about his origins or early life — he might possibly be related to my friends Ann, Kathryn, and Gillian Burlingham (through their father), though that’s not clear — but as an explorer he flourished in the early decades of the 20th century.

(#5) Burlingham in the jungle

(#6) Burlingham in the Alps

Fahnenwacht / Garde du drapeau / Flag Guard. The poster in #2 (photographer not identified) is a show of proud patriotism, the sturdy Swiss military protecting the flag (and by extension, the nation) on the eve of World War I. From Wikipedia:

The Swiss Armed Forces … operates on land, in the air, and in international waters. Under the country’s militia system, professional soldiers constitute about 5 percent of the military and the rest are conscripts or volunteers aged 19 to 34 (in some cases up to 50). Because of Switzerland’s long history of neutrality, the armed forces do not take part in conflicts in other countries, but it does participate in international peacekeeping missions…

The structure of the Swiss militia system stipulates that the soldiers keep their own personal equipment, including all personally assigned weapons, at home (until 2007 this also included ammunition). Compulsory military service applies to all male Swiss citizens, with women serving voluntarily. Males usually receive initial orders at the age of 18 for military conscription eligibility screening. About two-thirds of young Swiss men are found suitable for service, while alternative service exists for those found unsuitable. Annually, approximately 20,000 persons are trained in basic training for 18 weeks (23 weeks for special forces).

Everybody serves the Confederation, most of them with guns.

… A major manoeuvre commanded in 1912 by Ulrich Wille, a reputed Germanophile, convinced visiting European heads of state, in particular Kaiser Wilhelm II, of the efficacy and determination of Swiss defences. Wille was subsequently put in command of the … complete mobilization in 1914, and Switzerland escaped invasion in the course of World War I. [And then again in World War II.]

Not only are there guns everywhere because of military service, the Swiss are in general gun enthusiasts; shooting clubs are everywhere. But all guns must be registered, and people generally view their guns as for sport, not personal protection. As a result, the country’s rate of gun deaths is only a fraction of the US rate (and suicides and crimes of passion apparently account for most of the deaths). From a Wikipedia page, rates per 100,000 people for most western European countries, all English-speaking countries, some Latin American countries, and a few other major industrialized nations:

11.96 US (2016)
11.52 Uruguay (mixed years)
8.3 South Africa (2010)
7.76 Paraguay (mixed years)
7.64 Mexico (mixed years)
6.93 Argentina (2014)
6.3 Costa Rica (2012)
5.53 Peru (mixed years)
4.68 Nicaragua (mixed years)
3.25 Finland (2013)
3.01 Switzerland (2013)
2.9 Austria (2014)
2.83 France (2012)
2.4 Chile (2011)
2.09 Israel (2011)
2.05 Canada (2011)
1.75 Norway (2012)
1.58 Portugal (mixed years)
1.52 Greece (2011)
1.47 Sweden (2010)
1.31 Italy (2010)
1.28 Denmark (2011)
1.24 Belgium (2013)
1.07 New Zealand (mixed years)
1.04 Australia (2016)
1.01 Germany (2012)
0.8 Ireland (2012)
0.62 Spain (mixed years)
0.58 Netherlands (2011)
0.23 UK (2011)
0.06 Japan (mixed years)

Switzerland’s rate is not much above those for its neighbors Austria and France, and is a bit less than the rate for Finland (where suicides are also a significant factor).

With rates higher than the US, in alphabetical order (with the two highest noted):

Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras (60.0, mixed years), Jamaica, Panama, Swaziland, Venezuela (59.13, mixed years)


2 Responses to “On the Swiss poster patrol”

  1. Pilatus posters – Variably Says:

    […] Artist: Unknown. This is a 1918 (possibly 1919) poster for Burlingham Travel Pictures. Source: Arnold Zwicky blog. […]

  2. Pilatus posters – Hyde Park Now Says:

    […] Artist: Unknown. This is a 1918 (possibly 1919) poster for Burlingham Travel Pictures. Source: Arnold Zwicky blog. […]

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