The trade balance deficit, marked by agricultural and livestock products, is partly filled by the sale of industrial products. Switzerland is one of the most industrialized states in Europe (third after Great Britain and Belgium). If the industry boasts ancient traditions, even the great modern industry has established itself solidly there since the 19th century, and this small state far from the sea has been able to acquire numerous markets in Europe and overseas. Such a flourishing development is surprising in a country devoid of raw materials (both fuels and metals, and textile fibers, etc.), with a relatively small population and therefore without a large internal market. It was a complex of natural factors, but above all human ones, that determined it: the geographical position, so fortunate in regards to communications that it also benefited the development of industries; the exchanges and contacts with the merchants of many European countries who prepared an active and intelligent bourgeoisie in time; it should be added that in the past some raw materials were found on site (wool, linen, hemp).
The industry in the 16th-17th centuries had a great boost from the immigration of Protestant refugees from France, Flanders, Italy, while the continuation of its development benefited from the continuation of peace, when the other countries of Europe dragged themselves between continuous wars. Above all, the abundance of capital, which had already accumulated from ancient times, and which, due to the conditions of agriculture, lacked the possibility of using them in large landed properties, also contributed to favoring the modern development of industries, and were placed in industry.
The need to import raw materials from abroad, and the fact that the cost of transport weighs on this as well as on finished products, have determined the fundamental characteristics of industrial production. Which is dedicated above all to processes for which little raw material is needed, or of little volume compared to the value, and this is processed in such a way as to give products of very high quality and value (watches, embroideries, fine silk, machines); among the raw materials, those from overseas are preferred, which arrive in Europe already burdened with the cost of transport, because their purchase does not create conditions of too inferiority in comparison with other European states (cotton, wool, silk, cocoa, etc.). Given the cost of the hand
Swiss industry has its weak side: it works on the basis of imported raw materials, it is not linked to the natural environment, and not being able to count on an important domestic market, some of its branches produce almost exclusively for export (watchmaking, embroidery , fine silk factories, chemical industry, electrical machines and precision mechanics in general, which can also tolerate high labor costs, correlative to the high standard of living and the high cost of it, in turn connected with currency phenomena). The world war and the post-war crises have shown how dangerous this is: during the war some industries found new outlets, but others lost others; the economic barriers raised by other states and the height of the currency rate also cause serious damage to Swiss industry, especially compared to some neighboring countries (France and Italy). It is true that new markets have been conquered, for example, in the Far East, but we must nevertheless face serious crises, which we are trying to overcome by setting up branches abroad. From the century XIX the industry has turned more and more towards the big industry, with grandiose factories; however in some of its branches it has tenaciously resisted work in small workshops or at home.
The industries are concentrated above all in the Central Plateau and particularly in the north-eastern part and along the sub-Jurassic furrow: here are the industrial centers of Zurich, Winterthur, Baden, surrounded by a series of other minor ones, and those of St. Gallen, Biel, Solothurn. The Jura region also has numerous industrial centers, especially for watchmaking, while another intensely industrial area extends around Basel: this and Zurich constitute the two largest industrial centers of the confederation. A large industrial center is also Geneva. From the plateau the industries penetrate, along the major valleys, towards the heart of the Alpine region, which however has no large industrial center.
In 1929 (industrial census), the industries employed 802,108 employees, to which 120,120 employees in the hotel business can be added. The industrial branches that come first for the number of employees are: machinery and metals (181,637), construction (113,592), clothing and apparel (107,410), textile industries (100,760); followed by the food, wood, watch and jewelery industries. The driving force employed in the industries was 856,960 HP in the same year (322,070 in 1905); of which 209,215 HP employed in the machinery and metal industries, 151,478 in the textile ones.
The mining and quarrying industries have very little importance. The extraction of asphalt in the canton of Neuchatel is remarkable. Iron ore is mined in the Bernese Jura near Delémont and near Sargans, which feeds Switzerland’s only blast furnace in Choindez, while some of the ore is exported raw. The most important product of the subsoil is constituted by rock salt, which is obtained from the mines and salt pans of Bex (Canton of Vaud) and from the salt pans of the Rhine (Rheinfelden, Schweizerhalle, etc.): in 1932-34 the first gave 8177 tons. of salt, the other 73,367 tons. Above all in the Jura, but also in the limestone Alps, there are numerous quarries of limestone used both as building stone (Solothurn marble, Neuchâtel yellow stone) and in cement and lime factories. Slate (which is also exported), gypsum and clay are still mined, which supplies the raw material to numerous pottery and porcelain factories; molasse was used as a building stone; valuable building stones (granite, etc.) from the Canton of Ticino.
If Switzerland lacks fossil fuels, the import of which weighs on its trade balance, on the other hand it possesses a great wealth of water, so that the electricity industry has been able to take intense development from them. From ancient times it has been learned to exploit the energy of the waters of the streams. The power plants multiply both in the Alps, where strong differences in height and natural waterfalls are used (typical is the series of power plants in the Rhone Valley, which use the jump of the confluent suspended valleys), and in the region of the Plateau where the abundant flow; artificial basins are created or natural lakes are used as water reserves. Water energy is becoming increasingly important in factories compared to that produced by steam. The largest hydroelectric power station is that of La Dixence, in Valais (175,000 HP). At the end of 1934 the maximum usable power in existing plants was 1,802,100 kW (only 13,130 kW in 1900, 603,000 in 1915, 1,192,000 in 1925). Electricity, produced almost entirely by hydroelectric power plants, was 5,348,000,000 kW in 1933-34; of which 1140 million were exported, 1228 were used for domestic purposes and crafts, 731 in industrial establishments.
Zurich, Winterthur, Basel, St. Gallen, are the centers of the mechanical industry, which surpasses the oldest textile industry in terms of the number of employees and the size of the plants; the most important branch is made up of the manufacture of machines and was born to respond to the request of the textile factories, which had to resort abroad for their machinery. It is the only large Swiss industry that can count on an important internal market; while allocating a considerable part of its production abroad, it supplies machinery to the textile industries, to electrical workshops (dynamos, turbines, etc.), to the food industries, and also manufactures steam locomotives (Winterthur), tractors, etc.
Typical Swiss industry is that of watchmaking: born in Geneva in the century. XVI and in the Jura of Neuchâtel in the XVII, it then spread to the whole region of the Jura and beyond this up to Basel, Schaffhausen, Solothurn, Bern. It works almost entirely for exports, which have a very wide range and a very high value (109 million francs in 1934; 307 million in 1929). The main center is La Chaux-de-Fonds in the Jura; so great was its development that the companies of the Jura did and even more in the past made numerous workers from the neighboring French lands work for their own account. Watchmaking has long been preserved in the form of home work, but by now it too feels more and more the centralizing impulse of large industry. This industry, which gives Switzerland a world record, it is among those that have suffered most from the post-war crisis, and various measures have been taken to support it. The technical training of the staff is taken care of in special watchmaking schools. Industries derived from watchmaking are goldsmithing (which is associated with the manufacture of luxury watches), and also the manufacture of radio sets and phonographs.
The textile industries of cotton and silk have great importance. The wool mill is of secondary importance (the main center is Friborg), while the ancient industries of linen and hemp have almost disappeared. The cotton mill (spinning and weaving) is mainly developed in the eastern part of the plateau (from Zurich to Winterthur and Frauenfeld), but also in the Aare (Bern) and Emme (Burgdorf) valleys and in the sub-Jurassic furrow (Solothurn, Aarau, Brugg, etc.). The yarns, for which there are about 300,000 spindles, are now sold much less than in the past; The export of textiles is of greater value (63 million francs in 1934, about 100 in 1929), for which around 22,300 mechanical looms work (over 27,000 in 1928). crochet and fine flat stitch embroidery), which developed in the region of St. Gall from the second half of the century. XVIII and reached great prosperity, so much so that St. Gall, the international market and stock exchange of this industry, made workers work for its own account in Austria (Vorarlberg), Germany (Württemberg) and Liechtenstein. After the World War, however, it was hit by a very serious crisis, also due to the loss of foreign markets (United States): the value of the export of embroidery worth over 400 million francs in 1919 had already dropped to 102 in 1928; in 1934 it was only 11.5 million. The home work carried out by workers scattered throughout the valleys of the St. Gallen Prealps lasted for a long time in this branch of industry.
The silk industry, which boasts an ancient tradition, is concentrated above all in the areas of Zurich (weaving of fine fabrics) and Basel (of which the making of ribbons is characteristic); but it too was hit by the crisis: the value of the export, from over 350 million francs in 1928, fell to around 94 in 1934. For some years now, large quantities of rayon have been consumed in the silk factories, luck the making.
Typical industry, which works for export is that of the making of straw braids for hats (Bremgarten, in the Reuss valley). The clothing and apparel industry is for the most part a domestic and artisan industry that provides for internal demand. Exporting industry is that of footwear.
A great development have taken some branches of the chemical and electrochemical industry. Basel boasts an excellent tradition for the manufacture of coloring materials (aniline colors) which was established there to meet the requests of the silk factory; pharmaceutical products, perfumes, etc. are also prepared. The electrochemical industry manufactures various primary products and their derivatives. Aluminum is prepared in Neuhausen, Chippis and Martigny (around 20,700 tons of raw aluminum in 1929, of which a considerable export is made). A large number of employees (113,592 in 1929) work in the construction industry, in which we can recall here the contribution made by Italian workers.
Of the food industries we have already mentioned that of dairy products. The milk flour industry derives from the condensed milk industry. Exporting industry is that of chocolate which boasts products of great fame. For internal consumption, beer, pasta, etc. are produced. The industry for the preparation of legumes, fruit and other food products has developed in some centers (Leutburg, Saxon), indeed some Swiss factories have set up important branches abroad. The tobacco manufacturing industry works for internal consumption.
The wood industry has mechanical sawmills, furniture factories and even châlets ; in some Alpine regions characteristic woodworking is produced. The production of Swiss paper mills is not enough to cover domestic needs. The printing industry should also be remembered.
Switzerland owes another form of activity to the beauty of its landscapes, the invigorating air of its mountains, the beneficial climate of the rivers, and the abundance of mineral waters, which, despite crises and fluctuations, has brought it rich income and fame: that of the tourist and foreign industry, from holiday resorts to sanatoriums and mineral or thermal water baths, from the shores of lakes to the high mountains, where another aspect of this interesting form of exploitation of the landscape has taken great development: mountaineering and winter sports.
The hotel organization (the people employed in the hotel industry in 1934 were 120,120) and that of tourist transport must be considered as truly excellent, which have a network of daring railways and funiculars, ultra-modern car services, and even a fleet of boats on the major lakes.
Among the most famous places are the Engadine stations, Davos in the Landwasser valley, Zermatt and Nikolaital, Lake Lucerne with Lucerne and surroundings, Interlaken, Lake Geneva, Lakes Maggiore and Lugano, Zurich and surroundings, etc.