“No one could tell me, but I learned something else about Schaffhausen, a tiny curiosity of history.
The town was bombed by American aircraft in 1944.
(See Oops! Did we do that?)
The Americans insisted that it was a mistake – a bombing force had lost its way and, thinking it was still over Germany (which is, after all, only just the other side of the river), had jettisoned their bombs – but the Swiss were convinced, for Schaffhausen was (and still is) a centre of the Swiss arms industry, and Switzerland, at that time, was still constrained to make weapons for the Germans.
(Some time earlier, a British force had bombed Zürich, with no excuses.
Zürich was another armaments town, and there was no pretense that the raid had any other purpose than to cut down Swiss deliveries to Germany.)
Bernard Levin, To the end of the Rhine
Overlooking the Rhine Falls, above in the town of Neuhausen, are two tall buildings with blue neon letters, SIG, (Schweizerische Industrie Gesellschaft / Societe Industrielle Suisse / Swiss Industry Company), a company that for me is the ideal representative of Swiss history and innovation.
SIG has a long and varied history.
A decisive factor in the decision to base the company in Neuhausen was its location on the Rhine Falls, which the company has used from the very beginning as an important, constantly-renewing source of energy.
1853 saw the founding of the Schweizerische Waggonfabrik (Swiss Wagonworks) as a manufacturer of railway cars.
Heinrich Moser (See Probus Scafusia: Timeless River, Timely Man.) began his castle-like neo-Renaissance villa, Charlottenfels to his own design between 1850 and 1854.
The villa was named in honour of Moser’s first wife, Charlotte Mayu, who, however, died as the result of a horse-drawn coach accident in Baden only after construction started.
Believing rail travel to be far safer and attempting to attract business to the economically depressed Schaffhausen area, Moser with Friedrich Peyer im Hof and Johann Conrad Neher founded SIG on 17 January 1853.
Success came quickly for the new enterprise.
In 1855, the first SIG railway cars received accolades at the World’s Fair in Paris.
Over the next few decades, SIG carried out all stages of carriage construction, from wooden frame types to lightweight, welded, self-supporting steel and aluminium alloy designs.
In the late 1970s, SIG was one of two builders of Toronto’s tram, the CLRV L1.
SIG also manufactured three passenger coaches for the Trans Europ Express train set used by Ontario Northland Railway for their Northlander service.
Another lucrative area of activity were the “spin-offs”.
Even today, it is possible to come across the SIG logo on cable car cabins in Switzerland and many of the private mountain railways in the Alps.
The railway branch of SIG was sold in 1995 to Fiat and in 2000 to Alstom.
Today only components are manufactured in Neuhausen.
From 1860 to 2000, SIG produced firearms and weapons.
I love the official wording of this era:
“This was in part motivated by political events, as Switzerland – surrounded by new, unstable nation states and itself moving towards a more organised federal system – was seeking to strengthen its defensive capabilities.”
Poor babies – just victims of history and politics and surrounded by a hostile world— this is a theme Switzerland plays for world sympathy again and again and again.
Due to Swiss restrictions on the export of military weapons, SIG entered into a relationship with the German company J.P. Sauer und Sohn in order to allow SIG access to the world firearms market.
The first automatic rifle of the world, the Mondragon, was produced here between 1908 and 1910.
The Pistole 49 was developed between 1938 and 1945 and was adopted by the Swiss military in 1949.
This single-action semi-automatic brought SIG much acclaim, due to the precision manufacturing processes employed in its manufacture and its resultant accuracy and reliability.
Pistole 49 was replaced by the Swiss military with SIG’s Pistole 75.
In a 1984 bidding contest to provide more than 300,000 sidearms to the US military, Pistole 75 was narrowly defeated by the Beretta.
SIG also produced and sold battle rifles and machine guns.
In addition to the military and law enforcement sectors, SIG firearms were highly successful in other areas as well.
Following the takeover of the Hämmerli Sportwaffenfabrik (sporting firearms factory) in 1971, the weapons proved their worth as extremely high-tech, precision instruments in numerous World and Olympic Championships.
In the following decades, elite marksmen and markswomen relied on these precision target arms to put them in the top ranks of competitive shooting sports.
With the sale of the arms division in 2000, the weapons manufacturing era of SIG came to an end.
To counter the economic cycles in the railway carriage construction and arms sectors, SIG had entered the market for packaging machinery way back in 1906, focusing on chocolate bars and soup cubes, and later bakery products and butter.
In 1944 the first machines to handle non-food products – washing powders – were developed.
These packing machines were soon in action all over the world.
Over the following decades, further innovations, such as bag forming, filling and sealing machines and vacuum packaging lines for ground coffee consolidated SIG’s reputation.
With the acquisition of PKL Papier und Kunststoffwerke Linnich, SIG entered the packaging sectors for liquid products such as milk, juices, soups and sauces.
In 1993, SIG launched the world’s first recloseable spout, the combiTop.
In 1999, the first single-action flat closure system, combiLift, followed.
In 2000, it is joined by the first screw cap, the combiTwist.
The slender, elegant combiFit carton with its characteristic sloping top in 2001 and the technologically innovative combiSwift screwcap in 2005, make it even easier and more convenient to open and pour drinks and food products.
With the launch of the combiSmart screw cap in 2006, opening and reclosing small carton sizes of under 500 ml is now literally child’s play.
SIG now concentrates only on its cartons business.
From railway cars to guns to cartons, it has been quite the ride.