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The History of British Tourism to Switzerland
and its Impact on Swiss Infrastructure
with emphasis on the 19th Century

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Aum, Jiwon
Term Paper, AP European History Class, November 2008

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
II. Before the 19th Century
II.1 Beginning
II.2 Until the 19th Century
II.2.1 Nobility (Grand Tour)
II.2.2 Refugees
III. 19th Century
III.1 Early 19th Century
III.2 Mid-19th Century
III.2.1 the Golden Age of Alpinism
III.2.2 the Alpine Club
III.3 Late 19th Century : the Silver Age of Alpinism
III.4 Nobility
IV. 20th Century
IV.1 Winter Sports
IV.1.1 Skiing
IV.1.1.1 Type
IV.1.1.2 Alpine Ski Club
IV.2 Mass Tourism
IV.2.1 Transportation
IV.2.1.1 Railway
IV.2.1.2 Alpine Tunnels
IV.2.1.3 Aerial Tramway
IV.2.2 Resorts
V. Conclusion

I. Introduction
            Switzerland is famous for its magnificent landscape, great mountain peaks and its challenges, and great weather. It has long been among the top choices for travelers for several centuries.
            Meanwhile, British people were the top developers of most of the leisure activities, such as sports. Among the leisure activities which British people developed was touring around the European continent, so called the 'Grand Tour'
            The goal of this paper is to focus on British influence on Switzerland tourism, since 19th century, when British effect was especially significant.

II. Before the 19th century

II.1 Beginning
            The first foreigner who visited Switzerland is known as Adam of Usk (1352 - 1430), from Wales. (1) He was a priest, on his way to Rome, in 1402. However considering the definition of 'tour', he cannot be considered as a tourist. The true tourist, whose purpose of visiting Switzerland was leisure, is Sir Edward Unton (? - 1583), in 1563.

II.2 Until the 19th Century

II.2.1 Nobility (Grand Tour)
            Ever since Sir Edward Unton's visit to Switzerland, it had been an essential spot to visit as part of noble men's Grand Tour. However it is true that most foreigners, not only British, visited Switzerland as part of their trip to other cities such as Rome or Paris. Very limited access of regions-popular cities, such as Zürich, was literally the only place the tourists would visit-was also one of the aspects that show Switzerland was not a popular choice to go, but simply part of one's journey.

II.2.2 Refugees
            During the Reformation, those who fled from their homeland for their freedom of religion traveled to other nations, and Switzerland was a popular choice. It is ironic, in sense that Switzerland was one of the nations that led the wave of Reformation, under guidance of Zwingli. As the result of the British reformation, a number of Catholics left Britain. Many people, including British Catholic bishops, fled to Switzerland. (2)

III The 19th Century

III.1 The Early 19th Century
            The first British mountaineer to ascent the Alps was Colonel Mark Beaufoy, (1764-1827) who ascended the Mont Blanc in 1787; his was only the fourth ascent. However it was not significant, which made the ascent not much known.
            The first major of the early 19th century was the ascent to the Jungfrau and Finsteraarhorn, by the brothers of Meyer family of Aarau in 1811. (3) British mountaineers did not participate in Alps climbing much until the mid-19th century.

III.2 The Mid-19th Century

III.2.1 The Golden Age of Alpinism (1854-1865)
            The Golden Age of Alpinism is the period between Alfred Will's (1828-1912) ascent of Wetterhorn in 1854 and Edward Whymper's (1840-1911) ascent of Matterhorn in 1865. Both climbers were English. (4) Many major Alpine peaks met their first ascents during the period. Although Alfred Will's ascent was not the first one, people commemorate the latter ascent, which marked the start of the Golden Age of Alpinism. The Golden Age of Alpinism was dominated by British Alpine climbers accompanied by Swiss and French guides. The era ended with Whymper's ascent of the Matterhorn, which caused death of 4 people; 3 well-known British Alpinists and 1 French Alpine guide. There had been 64 successful assaults on Mont Blanc during the period 1852 to 1857, and only 4 of them were not British.

III.2.2 The Alpine Club
            The Alpine Club is the world's first mountaineering club, founded in 1857, London. The first suggestion was made by Edward Shirley Kennedy (1817-1898) during his ascent of the Finsteraarhorn. The aim of the club was the formation of national mountaineering club. Few months later, in a hotel in London, twenty leading British Alpinists gathered and formed the Alpine Club. John Ball (1818-1889) was elected as the first president of the club. E.S. Kennedy was made vice-president. (5)
            For many years, it remained as a London-based gentleman's club, and there was no clear qualification to join the club. However the members were extremely active; Alpinists kept on with their ascents, members published guide books and so on. The club organized Britain-based meeting from time to time, but main focus of their activities were oversea mountaineering.

III.3 The Late 19th Century : The Silver Age of Alpinism (1865-1882)
            The Silver Age of Alpinism began after the Edward Whymper's ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865 and ended with William Woodman Graham (1859-1932)? ascent of the Dent du Geant in 1882. While the Golden Age of Alpinism (1854-1865) was characterized by the first ascents of many of the Alps' most dominant mountains, the subsequent silver age may be seen as consisting of the first ascents of those few worthwhile peaks left unclimbed, although these peaks were - and remained - largely unknown to the wider public
            Many mountaineers from different nations joined the group of leading ascendants of Alps. Although British mountaineers did not dominate the era, still a lot of famous mountaineers in the Silver Age of Alpinism were British, such as Clinton Thomas Dent (1850-1912). His first ascents in the Alps include the Lenzspitze of the Pennie Alps (1870).
            There is a record that Queen Victoria of the Great Britain had spent her holiday in 1868, in Lucerne, Switzerland. This later derived more British attention on Switzerland.

III.4 Nobility
            Nearly every British Alpine pioneer was highly-educated or wealthy bourgeoisie, which represents high-class in Britain. Some mountaineers like C.T. Dent was an Eton student. The first president of the Alpine Club, John Ball was a politician before he completely dedicated himself in mountain climbing. Such aspect is also recognizable in the fact that the Alpine Club used to be a gentleman's club for a long time. It can be derived that Alps mountaineering had been a hobby for the high classes.

IV. 20th Century

IV.1 Winter Sports

IV.1.1 Skiing
            In 1894, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle teamed up with local skiers, Branger brothers, to travel around in ski in Davos. (6) It was the first time an Englishman participated in Alpine skiing. Alpine ski differs from Nordic ski in sense where skiing is performed. Nordic ski refers to Scandinavian, where skiing developed in relatively flat land, while Alpine skiing was developed in steep hill and valleys.

IV.1.1.1 Type
            British people enjoyed speed. They had two methods of competing; one was going through various obstacles while not slowing down, the other was simply competing their speed. The first type of skiing was later called slalom, and the latter was called the Alpine skiing. Both were developed by Sir Arnold Lunn (1888-1974).
            Alpine is also known as the "Downhill". The first official competition was organized in collaboration with the Austrian skiing pioneer? Johannes Schneider (1890-1955). It was the Arlberg Kandahar Challenge Cup (1924) in honor of Lord Roberts of?Kandahar.
            The different type of skiing, slalom was first introduced in 1922 British National Ski Championship. Both Alpine skiing and Slalom skiing were introduced and accepted into the 1936 Winter Olympics, held in German city of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. German athletes won both the menĄŻs and womenĄŻs singles in Alpine skiing game.

IV.1.1.2 Alpine Ski Club
            In 1902, British missionary, Sir Henry Simpson Lunn (1859-1939, father of ski pioneer, Arnold Lunn) organized the first co-operative educational tours, mainly focusing on winter sports. This started a trend for British visitors to combine religious and health treatment using winter sports, such as skiing. In 1905, Sr. H.S. Lunn formed the Public Schools Alpine Sports Club and in1908, he founded the Alpine Ski Club, another gentlemanĄŻs club which also still active today.

IV.2 Mass Tourism
            Tourism in Switzerland began after the first ascents on major peaks. However the touring had been exclusively for the riches until the 20th century. It became more popular, and commonerĄŻs visit to Switzerland began in the early 1900s. Switzerland's mass tourism shares its history with the development of transportation and resorts.

IV.2.1 Transportation
            Crossing the Alps was a key issue for many European nations. Alpine mountains divided the European continent in half. Especially for Switzerland, placing in the middle of the continent, it was deeply related into development of transportation.

IV.2.1.1 Railway
            Development of Switzerland mountain train lines began from mid-1800s, and many of them began working in the late-1800s. Major railways were complete by early 1900s. Being an important role of Switzerland tourism industry, they were managed well. Electrification was complete in every railway by mid 1900s. Such vehicles were used to deliver thousands of tourists every year ever since.

IV.2.1.2 Tunnels
            Railways that went through the Alps were installed over the mountains. It was very inefficient and expensive. Soon there were attempts to build paths that penetrated the mountain itself. The first tunnel constructed in the Alps was the Gotthard Rail Tunnel. It was built in 1881 and it connects Göschenen?with?Airolo. It was under construction for 10 years, but it killed more than 200 workers during the construction period. The most widely used Alpine tunnel, the Mont Blanc Tunnel, begun in1957 and completed in 1965. The tunnel connects France and Italy under the Mont Blanc. The penetrating tunnels made traffic very efficient and fast.

IV.2.1.3 Aerial Tram Way
            WorldĄŻs first tram was adopted in the United Kingdom. In 1927, first Aerial tram cars were installed in Mont Blanc, which were used to deliver skiers up to the slope. The worldĄŻ's first revolving aerial tram car was installed in Titlis, Switzerland in 1989. (7)

IV.2.2 Resorts
            The role of mountain resorts began growing after the World War II, in Switzerland and in Austria.

V Conclusion
            Switzerland has had numerous visitors in its history. However Switzerland came to take major role in the world of tourism in 19th century. Especially, British bourgeoisie significantly visited Switzerland for its Alpine mountains. This could be interpreted that industrial revolution gave birth to many Nouveau-riches, who had to spend time, which as a result, was Alpine mountaineering. Switzerland stood up among many touring site in Europe in the 19th century, in many ways.
            On the other hand, as the time goes, Switzerland lost its position as the leading site of tourism. However it does not mean that its popularity also died but rather, due to development of winter sports and transportation, trip to Switzerland became more public than that of 19th century. British role and effect of Switzerland tourism decreased as well, as the Himalayan mountains were assaulted and trip to Alpine regions became more general. However it cannot be denied that Britons in a major way contributed to the development of Swiss tourism.


1.      Timeline : British and American Visitors in Switzerland
2.      Timeline : British and American Visitors in Switzerland
3.      Article : Exploring of the High Alps, from Wikipedia
4.      Article : Golden Age of Alpinism, from Wikipedia
5.      The Alpine Club Official Website
6.      Article : Davos, from Wikipedia
7.      Naver Encyclopedia


Note : websites quoted below were visited in December 2008.
1.      British History Online,
2.      Ski International,
3.      Article : Wikipedia - Tourism of Switzerland
4.      Article : Wikipedia - Switzerland
5.      Article : Wikipedia - Tourism
6.      Article : Wikipedia - the Alpine Club
7.      Article : Davos, from Wikipedia;
8.      Article : Golden Age of Alpinism, from Wikipedia;
9.      Article : Silver Age of Alpinism, from Wikipedia;
10.      Alpine Club -
11.      Historical Dictionary of Switzerland (2002). Published electronically and in print simultaneously in three national languages of Switzerland.
12.      Edward Whymper, The Alps (1865) Translated by Kim (1988)
13.      Timeline : British and American Visitors in Switzerland,

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