10 famous people you probably didn't know were Swiss

Albert Einstein developed his theory of relativity in Bern

Albert Einstein developed his theory of relativity in Bern Image: Oren Jack Turner

Micol Lucchi
Lead, Swiss Public Affairs, World Economic Forum
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When you think about Switzerland, mountains, chocolate, banks and watches probably come to mind. But that’s not all the country has to offer. Swiss National Day is the perfect opportunity to celebrate some of the country’s legendary figures.

1. Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

The theoretical physicist was born in Germany and died in the USA. But from 1895 to 1914, he lived in Switzerland (apart from one year in Prague) and became Swiss. In Bern, he developed his theory of relativity, best known for its formula E = mc2.

2. Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, known as Le Corbusier (1887-1965)

The Swiss-French architect was a pioneer of modern architecture and designed buildings in Europe, Japan, India and the Americas. He was dedicated to providing better living conditions for the residents of crowded cities, and left a strong legacy in urban planning. In 2016, UNESCO listed 17 of his projects in seven countries as a World Heritage site, called "The Architectural Work of Le Corbusier, an Outstanding Contribution to the Modern Movement". It includes the Immeuble Clarté in Geneva, Switzerland.

3. Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)

The Swiss sculptor, painter, draftsman and printmaker was born in the canton of Graubünden, though he spent most of his adult life in Paris. He was particularly influenced by surrealism, and philosophical questions about the human condition played a crucial role in his work. In 1962, he won the Venice Biennale Grand Prize for Sculpture, which afforded him worldwide recognition. Giacometti and his work “L'Homme qui marche I” appear on the current 100 Swiss franc banknote.

4. Anna Göldi (1734-1782)

The Swiss maid, born in the canton of St. Gallen, was the last person to be executed in Europe for witchcraft. In 2007, the Swiss parliament acknowledged her case as a miscarriage of justice.

5. Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961)

The Swiss psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and founder of analytical psychology was born in the canton of Thurgau. As a notable research scientist he drew the attention of Sigmund Freud, the Viennese founder of psychoanalysis. The two men established a lengthy correspondence and solid collaboration. But disagreements over the nature of libido and religion eventually ruptured their professional and personal relationship. Jung created some of the best known psychological concepts, including extraversion and introversion.

6. Louis-Joseph Chevrolet (1878-1941)

The Swiss racing car driver and co-founder of the Chevrolet Motor Car Company was born in the canton of Neuchâtel to a French-Swiss couple. He spent most of his professional life in the US, establishing Chevrolet in Detroit in 1911, followed by the Frontenac Motor Company in 1916.

7. Carla del Ponte (1947)

The lawyer was born in the canton of Ticino. She started her career as state prosecutor in Lugano, taking on tough targets such as the Sicilian mafia. She became Swiss attorney general, then was appointed Chief Prosecutor of two United Nations international criminal law tribunals to address conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda. In 2017, she resigned from the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria over what she considered inaction.

8. Johanna Louise Spyri (1827-1901)

The Swiss author was born in the canton of Zürich. She is best known for her children’s stories - notably Heidi, which she wrote in four weeks. As a child she spent several summers near Chur in Graubünden, which became the setting for her novels.

9. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)

The Swiss (and later French) philosopher was born in the canton of Geneva. Following a charge of blasphemy, he was forced to leave Switzerland, and he secured himself a passport from the French government. His political philosophy influenced the Enlightenment across Europe, as well as aspects of the French Revolution. His writings, particularly "Discourse on Inequality" and "The Social Contract", have left a strong legacy in today’s modern educational, political and social thought.

10. William Tell

The Swiss national hero probably never existed, but he lives on in Friedrich Schiller's play "William Tell" (1804) and Giacomo Rossini’s opera "William Tell" (1829). He was perceived as a symbol of rebellion against tyranny.

What does this list tell us? Many people - even inside the country - may be surprised by some of its names. The Swiss are better at celebrating collective success than individual successes. But Switzerland has been a land of opportunity for many. Its society mirrors its political system and geographic make-up, with neutrality and cultural diversity at its core. Multiculturalism has always played a crucial role. Without emigration, immigration and integration, Switzerland would not be as successful as it has been.

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