The following article was written by Judith Munziger, a member of the American International Women’s Club for over 25 years. Her husband is a direct decedent of Josef Munziger, the father of the Swiss Franc. The following history is taken from their family papers.
The birth of the Swiss Franc–a long and difficult labour–was largely due to the efforts of Josef Munzinger, a direct ancestor of my husband.
Josef was born in Olten in the Canton of Soleure (Solothurn ) in 1791 and swiftly became very involved in politics. When Switzerland became federated and the first Federal Council was created in 1848 Josef was elected a member and became the first Minister of Finance and the third President of Switzerland.
As Minister of Finance he was convinced that the Swiss Federation should have a unified currency, the principle of which was enshrined in the new Federal Constitution. At this time, the cantons were even more autonomous than they are now, and each canton had its own currency – thaler, ducat, doublon, batz, kreutzer, blutzger, to cite but a few. These multiple currencies caused complex problems for trade and commerce, both within and outside Switzerland. Josef had a long and arduous struggle to convince the powers-that-be in each canton that a unified currency was a Good Idea, but eventually he won the battle……but not the war!
Having had the idea of a unified currency accepted, the next difficult step was to decide WHAT the currency should be. So Josef went into battle again! He favoured basing it on a metric system, such as Napoleon’s French franc, but others preferred to base it on the South-German florin, non-metric and similar in style to the pounds, shillings and pence which were, until recently, the British currency. (As a young British schoolgirl learning arithmetic, I found calculations using this system very complicated.)
After lengthy and laborious discussions, Josef won the war! In this, his main ally was the Director of the Basel Bank, Johann Speiser, who Josef invited to Bern as an expert witness. This was a wily move, because Josef knew that Mr. Speiser was an ardent defender of the French franc! So, finally it was agreed that the new currency would be metric and in 1852 the Swiss Franc was born. I think most people will agree that the baby was healthy and continues to be so.
It is believed that the immense effort that Josef put into these endless negotiations, lasting several years, provoked his death in February 1855, at the age of 64. He died in office, while still a member of the Federal Council. He remains an honoured citizen in Olten and Munzinger Platz can be found in the centre of the town.
However, outside his home town, Josef is now a shadowy figure of history and his endeavours are little-known. But Reader, reflect on this. Without his dogged persistence, we might all be struggling to come to grips with the non-metric “Swiss Florin,” the equivalent of pounds, shillings and pence. What is £12.19.6d multiplied by three? As I said above, it’s complicated! So let us give thanks to an unsung hero of Switzerland.
We are a group of international women living in Geneva, Switzerland. If you would like to join the AIWC, please visit our website at http://www.aiwcgeneva.org/