The chapter consists of two main parts, with the first one covering the period of 1815–1921, and the second the period of 1906–1990. The tables of the first part primarily report the results of two retrospective estimates which were developed some time ago at the Research Institute for Swiss Social and Economic History of the University of Zurich (“Forschungsstelle für schweizerische Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte der Universität Zürich”). In addition, we also present data compiled earlier by Erich Gruner and Jörg Siegenthaler at the University of Berne.

Salary series 1815–1890

Within the framework of the National Fund project “Contributions to the Quantitative Description of the Economic Development of Switzerland in the 19th Century” (“Beiträge zur quantitativen Beschreibung wirtschaftlicher Entwicklung in der Schweiz im 19. Jahrhundert”), Michael Bernegger and Heiner Ritzmann attempted to reconstruct, based on private company recordings, the progression of the salary curve for the second sector and some of its major branches for the years 1851–1890. Since the source material permitted the formation of series going back to the early 19th century in certain cases, we can show the final index of industrial salaries even for the 1820s, 30s, and 40s. However, for those early periods, the index should not be viewed as more than a rather rough estimate.
The same holds true for the two final series containing absolute values which were only included in table G.1. for completeness’sake. It must be emphasized that they are merely statistical artifacts and cannot be used to draw any conclusions on the absolute level of nominal and real branch salaries. The computation of those would require a level of knowledge of the branch’s internal occupational structure much more precise than we had time to acquire. For example, we would have to know how many carders, knotters, and laborers were employed in the cotton industry in the middle and end of the 19th century. In addition, a troublesome transformation of many series would be inevitable. Daily and weekly salaries would have to be converted into hourly rates, and we’d have to arrive at salary rate levels based on salary sum series and employment data. Since this path was not an option, Bernegger and Ritzmann were forced to limit themselves to the development of branch indices. They used the simplest method when doing so, weighting individual company series at a 1:1 ratio. The recordings of the following firms were considered:

  • Cotton mill: Jenny, Ennenda GL (1858–1914); Gattikon, Thalwil ZH (1821–1856); Hürlimann, Rapperswil SG (1835–1880); Lorze, Baar ZG (1857 to 1914); Zangger, Uster ZH (1824–1839 and 1872–1883); Blumer, Schwanden GL (1853 to 1864 and 1869–1898).
  • Cotton weaving mill: Jenny, Ennenda GL (1862 to 1899); Oberholzer, Wald ZH (1850–1856); Weber Aarburg AG (1887–1914); Spoerry, Wald ZH (1853 to 1900); Spälthy, Netstal GL (1866–1893); Trümpler, Uster ZH (1868–1876); various weaving mills in the canton of St. Gall (1867–1880, informations of Hermann Wartmann: Industrie und Handel des Kantons St. Gallen 1875–1921).
  • Cotton press: Blumer, Schwanden GL (1853 to 1864 and 1869–1898); Jenny, Schwanden GL (1863–1899).
  • Silk weaving mill: Schwarzenbach, Thalwil ZH (1852–1911). Silk band weaving mill: Württemberghof BS (1845 to 1913); Bachofen BS (1862–1873).
  • Foil spinning mill: Alioth BS (1852–1873).
  • Dye works and Finishing: Clavel BS (1874–1900).
  • Wool spinnery and wool weaving mill: Hefti, Hätzingen GL (1837–1873).
  • Linen weaving mill: Schmid & Co., Burgdorf BE (1879–1887).
  • Chemistry: Schnorf, Uetikon ZH (1823–1890).
  • Metal and machine industry: Rieter, Winterthur ZH (1851–1901).
  • Construction industry: Stadtbauamt Zürich (building authorities of Zurich) (1813–1860); Jakob Staub, Zurich (1860–1887).
  • Railroads: Nordostbahn, Zentralbahn and Vereinigte Schweizerbahnen (1853–1900).

Ritzmann weighted the estimated branch indices according to the schema printed below, which contains data from official publications as well as retrospective estimates (see chapter F.: Commentary to the table section and table F.1.) and used them to build an overall industrial salary index which, however, is representative for the German speaking part of Switzerland only. The major flaw of this aggregate series of indices is that it ignores the conditions in the embroidery and watchmaking industry. A reconstruction of the salary curves in those two trades failed because in both cases production conditions were far too complex to even consider drawing conclusions on branchwide salary progression based on the few recorded salary series.

Still, we feel that the overall index we built reflects the actual progression of industrial pay for the period 1821/40–1890 somewhat better than the estimates of Schwarzmann, J. Siegenthaler, and Gruner which were consulted for comparison purposes. The partially drastic deviations between their estimates and ours, but also between Gruner’s estimates and those of J. Siegenthaler, can be attributed to the use of different sources, different weighting of branch series, and also different methods of arriving at a deflation factor for the cost of living, i. e. the consumer price index. Unfortunately, this is not the place for a detailed review and critique of the methods used. 

Salary series 1890–1921

Economy historians participating in the national fund project “Real salaries of Swiss industrial workers from 1890 to 1921” (“Reallöhne schweizerischer Industriearbeiter von 1890 bis 1921”) were charged to estimate hourly salaries paid to employees in the second sector and in the transportation field. It was the authors’goal to present actual pay levels, which meant they had to determine piecework wages as well as the regularly paid cost of living increases, which played a substantial role in all branches except construction after 1917. Not included are extraordinary salary supplements and bonuses given to part of the workers, and tips which represented a substantial part of the income of drivers and carriers. Participants in this project were confronted with very uneven sources, both at the regional and the branch specific levels. When processing the primary data material, it seemed prudent to concentrate on homogenous series of maximum range. These criteria were fulfilled best by the accident statistics recorded by canton governments, some of which also carried the salaries of accident victims. Such recordings are available for the cantons of Zurich (1890–1918), Berne (1899, 1906 to 1918), and Solothurn (1897–1902). Salary compilations from individual employer associations and trade unions as well as salary logs of companies were used to fill gaps and provide missing data. The research area was confined to the major cities, Zurich, Berne, and Basle, the midsize cities, Winterthur and Biel/Bienne, as well as the Zurich upland “Oberland” and the northern part of the canton of Berne, i. e. two industrialized rural regions. The regionally aggregated data therefore represented the general salary progression in the industrial communities – communities generally with a population above 2500 – of the nine cantons Zurich, Berne (without Jura and “Oberland”), Lucerne, Zoug, Solothurn, Basle Country, Basle City, Argovia, and Schaffhausen. Thus, this project again neglected to include two of the nation’s most important trade industries, embroidering and watchmaking, in the construction of an overall salary index.

Due to the heterogeneity of the source material it was impossible to use the same methodology for the development of all local branch pay indices. For the City of Zurich, it was possible to develop salary series for a total of 22 professions: beer brewer, baker; tailor; three construction trades, carpenter; six textile trades, four manufacturing trades; typographers and type setters; railroad workers, drivers, and beer wagoners. In all other cases, the authors relied on much smaller samples when estimating the progression of trade pay series. Most of the time, they had to content themselves with one single set of data covering one or several professions in the beverage, construction, metalworking, transportation, or graphical arts industry. The spectrum of included professions could only be expanded where the working population of a region was concentrated in certain trades (textile, chemical).
As much as possible, it was attempted to determine an absolute average hourly wage for each region, profession, and year. Since the salary information provided in sources pertained to uneven periods of time, a general conversion into hourly wages was inevitable. This required the determination of the average annual working hours for each profession and each year. These numbers are printed in chapter F. (“Employment”).

Using the 1910 employment statistic’s weighting factor, the trade salary series were then compiled into weighted branch salary series. Finally, the interregional branch salary series were used to compute a national index of workers salaries, again applying weighting according to the 1910 employment statistics. At the branch level, the quality of the estimate series varies: the two indices documenting salary increases in the metal and manufacturing industry and in the construction and lumber industry seem the most reliable, whereas, on the other hand, the index orienting on the salary development in the chemical industry is marred by the fact that it is based on the data of one single firm.
It is noticeable that in years where the retrospective estimate overlaps contemporary salary statistics, the estimated values almost always significantly exceed those presented by the Swiss Workers Compensation (Swiss Accident Insurance Company SUVA/CNA). The authors of the study “Real salaries of the Swiss industrial workers from 1890 to 1921” (“Reallöhne schweizerischer Industriearbeiter von 1890 bis 1921”) suspect that cost of living increases were not included in the accident salary statistics. This thesis is supported by the fact that the two series deviate only minimally in the construction field which did not pay cost of living increases.

Index of industrial salaries for the period of 1821–1890: weighting of individual branches (working population)


Salary series 1906–1990

The second half of the table section contains almost exclusively official figures, namely the salary statistics of the Swiss Workers Compensation (SUVA/CNA) and the so called General Wages and Salary Survey of the Federal Office for Industry, Trade, and Labor (BIGA/ OFIAMT), which is performed on real salaries each October. The data on salaries of accident victims covers the period of 1918–1983, while the BIGA/OFIAMT General Wages and Salary Survey does not commence until 1939 and 1943, respectively, but extends closer to the present. Both statistics are not only divided by branch, but also differentiate between different categories of salary recipients. However, we decided to limit the presentation of branch specific salary development by category of salary recipients to only one statistic, the BIGA/OFIAMT General Wages and Salary Survey. With regard to the accident statistics, it seemed more appropriate to include figures presented in the magazine “The Economy” (“Die Volkswirtschaft” / “La Vie économique”) on the evolution of salaries in the cantons and several large cities to this publication.

The accidence insurance law of January 1, 1984 made insurance coverage mandatory for all employees for the first time. This change made it possible for the BIGA/OFIAMT to develop an improved salary statistic which was more representative than the old statistic. However, since this statistical series currently only covers a few years, and since the evolution of branch salaries between 1984 and 1990 can also be followed in the General Wages and Salary Survey, we chose not to reprint it. The figures were published in the Statistical Yearbook of Switzerland and in the magazine “The Economy” but it should be mentioned that the branch subdivisions in the Statistical Yearbook for the years 1968–1986 are only partially identical with those in “The Economy”. Our tables are based on the substantially more detailed data of the latter source.

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The current chapter contains 27 table(s) between 1815 and 2005