Chapter 16: Anschläge (Notices) 1931-1934

Anschläge 1931-1934 (GFA 5/69)

published November 2019

The favorite book of Iris Staubesand

Iris Staubesand was Scholar in Residence at the Iron Library in July 2019. As a sociologist and granddaughter of a lathe operator who worked at GF from 1933 to 1971, she was particularly interested in the social responsibility of GF toward its employees and their families in the 1930s and 1940s. Her favorite "book" is a collection of factory notices - internal announcements for GF employees – a hodgepodge of information that brings to life the daily existence of the factory workers, their wives and their children.

The reader

Iris Staubesand

… is passionate about asking questions and seeking answers. The spectrum of her questions is unlimited. She employs both journalistic and scientific tools, which she has acquired from her training in journalism at the University of Fribourg and in Sustainable Development and Sociology at the University of Berne but especially through extensive practical involvement.

As a journalist she writes articles or portrays people on the fringes of society. Her aim is to entertain but also to educate. She has worked for various newspapers and in particular for communication units in public administration, for instance as a PR officer at the Center for Sustainable Development at the University of Berne.

She came to Georg Fischer while doing research on her grandfather, who worked at GF from 1933 to 1971. A trail that opened up a whole new world.

Iris Staubesand works as a freelance journalist, paints, and lives in Berne.

I'd love to play a role in this book...
Lukas Hartmann: Der Konvoi. Zürich, Diogenes Verlag 2013

I'd love to read a sequel to this book...
Leonardo Padura: Das Havanna-Quartett. Zürich, Unionsverlag 2008

This book is on my bedside table right now…
Ferdinand von Schirach: Kaffee und Zigaretten. München, Luchterhand Literaturverlag 2019

The file

Anschläge 1931-1934 (GFA 5/69)

The Georg Fischer Corporate Archive is of course different from the Iron Library because it stores documents and files rather than books. For me, these documents are of a more profound nature because, unlike a book, they are originals that were "right there" back then: in the office where the secretary typed them up on the typewriter, on the boss's desk where they were signed. This paper could have been held 80 years ago by Mr. Bührer or by Miss Bohnenblust. And now it's held by me! That blows my mind. Paper, as the saying goes, is long-suffering, if properly stored, as here.

Nonetheless, I do have a favorite book from the Corporate Archive. A book that exists only in a single copy. It is bound in red, stands somewhat taller and broader than a sheet of A4 paper, and has a fine alphabetical index, though that was never used, because it holds notices displayed on the factory bulletin board between April 1931 and December 1934, and they were glued in chronologically. This was done very carefully, and I would love to know what glue was used because the sheets are still firmly in place.

In the first notice, dated 27 April 1931, management announced that the factory would be closed the whole day the next first of May. Just two sentences. The addressees knew what that was all about! In September 1932, it was announced that, "with provisional effect", all plants would be closed on Saturdays "until spring 1933 as an extraordinary emergency measure in agreement with the Workers' Committee." The specter of the Depression!

There are also notices about a concert to be held "in good weather in the garden, otherwise in the hall" of the Birch Guest House. The seniors group of the Munot Accordion Club played twelve pieces, ranging from Swiss folk music to marches. Tickets cost 80 cents. Swiss-made bicycles from a company in liquidation were for sale; anyone interested could view them at the porter's lodge. The in-house library announced its reopening after the summer holidays and reported that "the selection of reading material" had been expanded through the "acquisition of books from the public library."

In the fall, there was an announcement that "properly prepared fruit" could be delivered in labeled baskets or bags to the rear entrance of plant building III until 8 a.m. the next day; they would then be dried and ready for pick-up by 5 p.m. free of charge. Such economical and socially beneficial use of waste heat from the foundry furnaces would receive a sustainability prize nowadays.
There was a lot going on that fall. You could order potatoes that the company was selling at the lowest price of the day. Or flower bulbs from the gardening club for the next spring. Wives were asked to prepare gifts at home for Christmas gift-giving but were advised they should only register if they could "sew and knit really well."

I was able to verify many of the facts and learn more from my uncle, who was born in 1940. He remembers visiting the library in the Mühlental on Thursday afternoons, especially because of the Winnetou books. The "opening hours for family members" were already in force in 1934, while other times applied for employees and workers. He also remembers accompanying my grandmother to a warehouse in the Mühlental, where she could buy slightly damaged enamel cast iron pans at a discount. The gentleman there had spectacles "as thick as bottle glass". I came across this offer for family members in several of the announcements.

The file GFA 5/69 gave me the chance to immerse myself in the atmosphere that prevailed at the time, especially in the steel plants. The period interests me particularly because my grandfather started working at GF around this time. It was like a tentative sketch probing the question: What was normal at the time? (Work on Saturdays, for example.) What were people's concerns? (Nourishment was a big issue: supplies for the winter, self-sufficiency.) How did GF look after its workers and their families? How did the company affect their everyday lives? (Very much.) This tentative sketch was eventually fleshed out with depth and color from many other documents in the GF Corporate Archives and from excursions and discussions.