A - Z 2020 Switzerland - Tell & Typography

Photo Credit: Gabriella Meyer Jossen

Welcome back to my A- Z, covering all things Swiss.

Today I'm talking about Wilhelm (William) Tell, sort of a Swiss national hero, and I also want to mention Typography, you'll see why at the end of this post.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

These days we're not quite sure wheter the gentleman on our five Franc coin is in fact Wilhelm Tell. or just a random alpine herdsman, but who really cares, right?

So, Mr Tell is the marksman who shot an apple off his son's head with a crossbow.

Why did he do that?

Before we get into it, here's the proper soundtrack:

The story goes back to the 14th century.

"Governor" Gessler representing the count of Habsburg in central Switzerland requests that everybody greets his hat on a rod in Altdorf (canton of Uri, where Gotthard's north portal is located). 

William Tell refuses reverence to the hat. Gessler forces William Tell to shoot an apple off his sons head with his crossbow. If he misses, both his son and Tell himself will be executed. 

Great shooter that he is, Tell hits the apple, but he has prepared a second arrow to shoot the governor in case he would have hurt the child.

Tell is spared his life but still gets arrested and put in chains. Gessler leaves with a boat on Lake Lucerne heading for his castle at Küssnacht. It would have been quite the journey, have a look: 

They didn't get far, though.

A storm due to warm fallwinds (not unusual in the region) brings the governor's team into distress. They let William Tell, who is more familiar with the lake, control the boat. 

Tell directs the boat towards a small flat rock, takes his crossbow and jumps off while pushing the boat back into the waves. This rock was named Tellsplatte. Tourists like to visit the chapel that was built right there in his honor. 

Photo Credit: Grand Tour of Switzerland

William Tell proceeds on foot and shoots tyrant Gessler in the Hohle Gasse ("Hollow Way") between Immensee and Küssnacht. Another popular destination for people interested in history. 

In Uri's capital Altdorf, it's all about our national hero Tell. A bakery, a pizza place, an IT company, a theater, a beer - many businesses are using his name. Of course there's also an official memorial statue for you to admire:

Photo Credit: Gabriella Meyer Jossen

Before and during the second World War, William Tell became an important symbol of the Swiss will to withstand the Nazis and to defend Switzerland's autonomy against Hitler's ideas of "Großdeutschland" (Great Germany uniting all German speaking regions in one empire).

The usage of Tell's crossbow as a label was also born in these times of crisis. To this day, it represents Swissness, having become an official Trademark that represents quality, reliability, solidity, typical Swiss values, as you will come to learn more in detail the day after tomorrow.

The Trademark may only be used by paying members of the organization. Its use is reserved for products that were completely reaped, produced, or sufficiently treated and processed in Switzerland. The following requirements – higher compared to those of the Swiss Made rules – with respect to the minimum percentage of Swiss origin must be observed: 

  • For food products: 90% of the weight of the raw materials and the essential processing must take place in Switzerland.
  • For industrial products: 70% of the manufacturing costs and the essential manufacturing step must occur in Switzerland.
  • For services: the company headquarters and administration must be located in Switzerland.

Watches have a bit of a special status when it comes to what "Swiss Made" means: 

Swiss law considers a watch to be Swiss made if its movement is Swiss, if the movement has been assembled in the Swiss region, its final inspection occurred in Switzerland, and at least 60% of manufacturing costs are domestic. More about Swiss Watches in a few days. 

Now on to a slightly different topic:

Swiss Typography

Every letter you see in this post originated from a Swiss typographer. Helvetica, which I like to use, as well as Univers, Frrutiger, Avenir and OCR-B are all Swiss inventions. 

Did you know a Swiss company is the main supplier of the color shifting ink that is used in U.S. Dollar bills? In order to prevent counterfeiting, optically variable ink displays different colors at various angles.The offset-machine that is used to print the bills, comes from Austria, by the way. 

Speaking of banknotes, and this is totally off the Swiss topic: did you know the U.S. used to repurpose jeans fabric to manufacture bills? U.S. currency paper is composed of 75% cotton and 25% linen for a distinct look and feel. This has changed in recent years. Why? Today spandex Is added to our pants, which is making the banknote less durable, forcing the supplier to purchase new cotton instead of re-using denim scraps from the clothing industry. 

I hope you enjoyed learning about Wilhelm Tell, our Swiss Made rules, Swiss fonts and the making of money! 

Almost there, another seven posts to go. Tomorrow it's U's turn. I'll talk about Uniformity. See you back!


  1. Great to read again the story of Tell, and beautiful statue. I'm a crossbow competitor ;)

    T is for Taupe

  2. Wow, there was a lot of cool stuff to learn in this post! I had heard of William Tell, but I didn't know any of those stories about him. What a life that man lived!

  3. Glad to finally know William Tell's origin story. He stands for a wonderful value. I can see where he would be a symbol of strength and intelligence. I cry when I think of all of those nice pairs of jeans being turned into money!

  4. Did you ever watch the documentary Helvetica? It was really interesting. Typography is fascinating. Weekends In Maine

  5. Good to read the story once again. I think we had a lesson on that in our English textbook.

  6. I had heard of William Tell and the apple but not beyond that. So this was interesting to read.

  7. I feel very stupid for not knowing that William Tell was Swiss! I grew up listening to and knowing the Overture of course, and the story. But somehow forgot his nationality! (Sad, I assumed he was a Brit - Doh!


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