Skip to main content

The Swiss Diaspora in America

Let's play a word association game, watch idiot savant style. I'll offer a word and try to anticipate your response. Bern? I'm guessing Switzerland, or Rolex, comes to mind. Geneva? Maybe you're thinking about the stripes on a movement, or the seal that's a hallmark of quality in watchmaking. Moser? I'm betting you might pull up the Instagram account of H. Moser or recall some of their vanta black dials. Baumgartner? Maybe this won't prompt any particular response, but for aficionados of the Urwerk brand it's almost guaranteed that Felix Baumgartner comes to mind. He's the watchmaker, and co-founder, of the manufacturer.

I'm even more confident that, in response to any of these prompts, almost no watch enthusiast would think of the state of Indiana (located in midwest farmland of the United States).
The Star Press, Feb 3, 1936.
But what about this newspaper clip dated February 3, 1936 from The Star Press out of Muncie, Indiana? It features a photo of the "Berne Singers" who were described as "Swiss singers." They performed at Indiana's Purdue University. They counted among their membership one H. Moser (Harold) and an Elmer Baumgartner. A column printed alongside this picture reports community events in Geneva, Indiana.

What's going on here? This many connections can't be mere coincidence, and they're not. They're actually the product of religious persecution and a diaspora of the Swiss in the United States. It's a part of history I'd been unaware of, despite having majored in History in a midwestern college. I'll explain what I've learned.

During a recent episode of the Indepedent Thinking podcast on Fifth Wrist Radio, co-host Adam (IG @mediumwatch) asked independent watchmaker Roland Murphy if his craft was influenced at all by the Amish community in Pennsylvania Dutch country. Murphy's business is located in that region, so it was a natural question to ask, but he indicated that there hadn't been any particular influence. I didn't think anything more of it. But just a few days later, I coincidentally watched an Amazon Prime documentary entitled: "The Amish and the Reformation." The film begins, as expected, in Pennsylvania Dutch country. Very quickly, though, the narrator is in Switzerland and engaging in a discussion of religious history with a few Swiss clerics.

It is at this moment that I learnt of the connection between Switzerland and the Amish community in the United States.
Jakob Ammann's home in Switzerland (the man pictured is not Ammann).
The Amish are named after Jakob Ammann, who was born on February 12, 1644 in Erlenbach im Simmental (Canton of Bern), Switzerland. Ammann became a traveling preacher of the Anabaptist faith. In contrast to the precepts of some other Protestant religions, Anabaptists believe in baptism of adults rather than infants. Regrettably, Ammmann and his fellow believers faced persecution. As noted by Paul Connor, a Reference Specialist in the U. S. Library of Congress, "From the beginning of the Anabaptist movement in the sixteenth century, the doctrine that only adult believers should be baptized was attacked as heresy. Adult baptism was punishable by death in Bavaria, southern Germany, and Switzerland. In 1637, the Swiss city of Zurich banished Anabaptists. In 1690, children of Anabaptist marriages in Bern were denied their inheritance. In 1720, Bern began branding Anabaptists."

There is a sad irony in the fact that some government organizations in Switzerland engaged in religious persecution in the 17th and 18th centuries. In a series of well-documented posts entitled "Un Histoire Du Temps," the well-known Patek Philippe collectors behind the Instagram account @horology_ancienne explained that watchmaking arrived in Switzerland in large part due to another episode of religious persecution. In 1572, conflict between Catholics and Huguenots (Reformed Protestants) in France reached a tipping point resulting in significant Huguenot emigration from France to Switzerland. Expatriate Huguenots counted highly skilled watchmakers among their membership, watchmakers who would help form the basis for an industry which continues to thrive more than four centuries later.

It is remarkable that religious tolerance of Huguenots in Switzerland somehow morphed into persecution of Anabaptists.
An Amish horse drawn buggy shares the road with a pickup truck in Lancaster County, PA.
Ultimately, the Amish began to leave Europe, much as the Huguenots left France. Many settled in America in the early-to-mid 1700s.

The question I'm now asking is: did the Amish bring clockmaking or watchmaking skills to America and did this spur innovation? It is a question I'm just beginning to resesarch, but there are tentative signs that some transfer of watchmaking skill from Switzerland to America did take place. Documents published online by the Lancaster Historical Society in Pennsylvania (part of "Amish country") document that in the early 1800s "Samuel Staufer, the clockmaker, was a Swiss Mennonite ... [he] was the maker of quite a number of clocks, and seems to have been very proficient in his business and paid minute attention to the finish and appearance of them." Relatedly, the same document notes that "Abraham Leroy, a Swiss, was an expert clock and watchmaker and repairman and was in business as such in Lancaster at a very early period. In 1757 to 1765 he was the man who kept the Court House clock in order, for which he received compensation at the rate of four pounds per year." The timing of Staufer's career seems proximate to the Amish departure from Switzerland.

Let's return to the discussion of Indiana, a documented area of settlement for Swiss Amish. There, we can also find evidence of a 19th century watchmaking tradition. The obituary of Emerson C. “Mose” Moser reads as follows: "He was born August 13, 1921 in Berne, Indiana. He was a Jeweler and Watchmaker for more than 50 years, formerly owning Moser Jewelers in Elwood. He purchased Smith’s Jewelers in Elwood in 1970, and changed the name of the business to Moser Jewelers, which remains today. He was a 1939 graduate of Berne High School, and served in the U.S. Army in Europe during WWII. He attended the Kansas City School of Watchmaking from 1947 to 1948 and was certified as a Jeweler and Watchmaker."

In the case of watchmaking, it appears history repeated itself. Religious persecution, followed by an exodus, brought refugees and watchmaking to Switzerland. The evidence I've presented here is certainly preliminary. It suggests, though, that in the case of the Amish, at least some watchmaking talent relocated to the United States subsequent to religious persescution in Switzerland. Perhaps a more complete picture will emerge with additional research.


  1. Bet365 Casino | Get up to $/€300 Welcome Bonus | JTM Hub
    The Casino is operated 군산 출장안마 by 태백 출장안마 the London-based Playtech Group. The 아산 출장마사지 Playtech Group operates the largest online 광명 출장마사지 casino, Bet365 Casino 밀양 출장마사지 and Bet365 poker


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The History of the Radioactive Rolex with One Complication

My family and I have a tradition when we visit the beach. We search for sea glass. When jagged and sharp shards of broken glass land in the ocean the constant sluicing of sand changes them. Over decades or more the edges soften. Clear glass becomes cloudy. Given enough time the entire shape of the glass can morph, from rectangular to ovoid. Each piece of sea glass is inherently unique due to imperceptibly small forces which slowly accumulate, resulting in major changes. We know this is also true of vintage timepieces. After decades lume changes in hue. Dial faces crack, craze and fade. An object which was often mass produced consequently becomes a “pièce unique.” Watches are engineered to accurately and unchangeably mark the passage of time. We love and value vintage watches for the fact that they are altered by time itself. The story I offer here underwent similar changes. It began as an effort to understand more about an unfinished chapter in the history of Rolex. It b

Vapor Waitlist

This isn't a post I really wanted to write or share. The reason: it involves a brand I admire and respect. Some readers might decide that what I write here casts a negative light on that brand. At the end of the day, when I see information that just doesn't make sense, I feel obliged to comment on it regardless of whether it might ruffle a few feathers. I just feel a responsibility in that regard when it comes to readers and subscribers. It is important to me that the state of the watch market is truthfully known. As a side note: I'm going to soon post another story about the brand in question that highlights a neat achievement on their part, so please stay tuned. Ok, so here we go. Last week, a story in Bloomberg claimed that watch brand Zenith now has wait lists that are similar to those seen at Rolex and Patek Philippe. To set the stage: buyers have recently waited months or years for certain models from Rolex, Patek, and Audemars Piguet (among others). The Bloomber

The Death Dodger and His Radioactive Rolex

One of the most popular Horolonomics posts details the story of a radioactive, strontium-laced Rolex GMT Master. The Navy pilot who owned the watch in question sued Rolex. The watch also traced a surprising path through the hands of the owner's descendants, ending up in the inventory of a watch dealer in Florida. In many ways, my Horolonomics post was "Chapter 2" of the dangerously radioactive GMT Master story. Chapter 1 was authored by Steven Pulvirent, in collaboration with Eric Wind, while Pulvirent was still writing for Hodinkee. With this post, I offer Chapter 3 of the radioactive Rolex saga. This chapter also involves a Navy pilot, one who is much more well known than the Rolex owner in Chapter 2. Along the way, we will learn some interesting facts which shed light on the history of Rolex. Let's begin at the beginning. Moar Archives A few weeks ago I found myself poking around, virtually, in the archives of the Smithsonion National Air and Space Museum.