Adolf Guyer-Zeller (1839–1899)

Adolf Guyer-Zeller was the son of Johann Rudolf Guyer (1803-76), one of the leading textile entrepreneurs in the Zürcher Oberland, who established the cotton spinning mill at Neuthal in the municipality of Bäretswil in the 1820s. Adolf Guyer-Zeller studied in Geneva in 1857-58 and subsequently embarked on a series of tours abroad, studying textile manufacturing in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, England, Quebec, the United States and Cuba between 1857 and 1863. A highlight of his ‘grand tour; was a meeting with the Italian patriot Guiseppe Garibaldi (1807-82) in England in 1859. He returned to Switzerland in 1863 where he worked in the family cotton business in which he became a partner in 1866, and was sole owner from 1874. He also developed interests in banking and paper-making, and became a member of the cantonal council. From the 1870s he was increasing involved with railways particularly with the Nord-ost Bahn (NOB, north-eastern railway) and in 1894 with the help of a group of supporters dismissed the management and board of the company and became its President. He was known subsequently as the Eisenbahnkönig (railway king). The company’s workers went on strike in 1897 when Adolf’ Guyer-Zeller’s harsh attitude to the strikers was one of factors that in 1902 led to the integration of the NOB’s 853-km network into the Swiss Federal Railways.

Adolf Guyer-Zeller was closely concerned with the project to build a railway (known as the UeBB) from Uerikon on Lake Zurich through Hinwil and Bäretswil (Neuthal) to Bauma which was conceived as part of a strategic route to Eastern Europe and Asia. The Swiss Federal Council issued concessions for its construction on 29 June 1894, but the line was not completed until 1901, two years after Adolf’s death. In its early years it was plagued by a series of landslides, and never fulfilled its promoters’ expectations. It was closed in 1948, but the Hinwil-Bauma section was taken over by the federal railways, which retained passenger services until 1972. That section is now operated as a steam railway by the Zürcher Oberland Dampfbahnverein. The station at Neuthal enables passengers to visit the Museum-Spinnerei (Spinning Factory Museum) in the former Guyer family cotton mill.

Adolf Guyer-Zeller was also one of the principal promoters of the railway ascending the Jungfrau in the Berner Oberland which was authorised by the Federal Government in December 1894. One section was opened in 1898, but the following year when Adolf died, six construction workers were killed in an explosion. The project was running out of money in 1911 when it was decided to build a terminus at Jungfraujoch, rather lower than had originally been anticipated. It opened the following year and remains, at 3454 m above sea level, the highest railway station in Europe.