Chapter 9: Johann Conrad Fischer's diaries

Johann Conrad Fischer: Tagebücher 1773 – 1854. bearb. von Karl Schib. (Schaffhausen : Georg Fischer AG, 1951).

published October 2016

The favorite book of Nina Helg-Kurmann

In chapter nine of the “My favorite book” – series, Nina Helg-Kurmann presents Johann Conrad Fischer’s diaries. Due to her engagement with the company's historical documentation, the student employee of the Georg Fischer Corporate Archives is especially fascinated by this source of European development in the 19th century.

The reader

Nina Helg-Kurmann

... was a student employee in the Corporate Archives of Georg Fischer Ltd. since the beginning of 2014. Alongside, she studies History and English at the University of Zurich.


I would love to play a role in this book:
Joanne K. Rowling: Harry Potter

I would love to read a sequel of this book:
Mary Shelley: Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus

The book on my nightstand right now:
Jo Nesbø: Der Erlöser

The book

Johann Conrad Fischer: Tagebücher 1773 – 1854. bearb. von Karl Schib. (Schaffhausen : Georg Fischer AG, 1951).

"Nulla dies sine linea"

During his extensive travels throughout Europe, Johann Conrad Fischer, the founder of Georg Fischer Ltd, wrote diaries in which he described his visits to factories and recorded his general observations. Fischer, who completed an apprenticeship as a coppersmith, had the opportunity to attend Gymnasium and to learn French, English, mathematics, and physics during the course of his training. Due to this background, he was able to develop his skill as a writer which is evident in his diaries. Moreover, through his education he was familiar with travel literature and travel diaries which were among the most popular literary genres in the 18th and 19th centuries: it was downright characteristic for people with literary aspirations at that time to write such travel literature. Fischer saw himself not just as a coppersmith, but also as a writer and he lived by the Latin proverb Nulla dies sine linea («no day without a line»).

At the Great Exhibition in London 1851

In his seventh and last travel diary written in 1851, Johann Conrad Fischer reported on his visit to the Great Exhibition held in London and to industrial cities in England at the age of 78. The government of Schaffhausen had asked him to make a contribution to the Exhibition. After traveling for six days by coach, steamer, and railway, Fischer arrived at the Exhibition in London's Hyde Park.  

He described in detail the "Glass Palace" (as he called the Crystal Palace where the Exhibition was held), recording its dimensions, construction details, form, and interior. It is particularly interesting how Fischer visualized the building's huge dimensions: he placed a scale drawing of the Crystal Palace onto a map of the Old Town of Schaffhausen to illustrate the impressive size of 1851 x 408 feet (or 564 x 124 meters).

More than just a travel description

What I find particularly intriguing about Fischer's reports is that he goes beyond writing purely about his personal impressions which is quite unusual for travel diaries of the time. Most of his reports are objective and detailed observations of his excursions. Thereby, he not only describes the developments and events that are directly related to his own company, but also includes his reflections on current trends in science, politics, and art that he found particularly interesting. Especially in the prefaces to his diaries, he philosophizes about society and the two-edged nature of technical progress. Johann Conrad Fischer's diaries are thus a very fascinating record of European trends in the first half of the 19th century that is worth reading.