Escher forever?

Gazing towards the Alps

Just seven years after his death, Alfred Escher is honoured with a memorial in front of Zurich’s main railway station, created by Richard Kissling. (between 1925 and 1930, ETH Library)

2019 marks 200 years since the birth of Alfred Escher. The rail baron was unquestionably an exceptional figure, not least in the construction of the old Gotthard railway. From 1848 until his death in 1882 Escher is a member of Zurich’s cantonal government and the National Council as well as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Kreditanstalt, the commercial bank which funds his rail projects and which he set up for that very purpose. He becomes Chairman of the Gotthard Committee in 1863, and of the Gotthard Railway Company in 1871. But huge cost overruns jeopardise the construction and force him to step down from the Kreditanstalt in 1877 and the Gotthard Railway in 1878. The Gotthard line comes into being largely thanks to Basel’s pursuit of its own political interests, new tunnel construction technology, and a consensus between Italy, Germany and Switzerland. Escher recognised and exploited those circumstances – no less, but also no more.

« Until the great Gotthard Tunnel opens, shareholders will receive a fixed interest rate on their paid-in capital of 6% per year in half-yearly instalments from the construction fund [...]. »

Share prospectus of the Gotthard Railway Company, 19th century

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