An Outline History of the Straw Industry of Canton Freiburg/Fribourg

In the 1769s

Anton Hartmann, a hat maker from the Alsace-Lorraine comes to Freiburg. At this time the making of straw hats rather than the making of straw plait is important.

In the 1800s

The plaiters in Freiburg have good quality wheat straw from which they can make high quality plait. They increase their production of straw plait to supply the hat makers as demand grows.

In 1805

The government of the Freiburg introduces regulations covering straw plait. In the city of Freiburg there are already some small companies making straw hats.


The Napoleonic wars benefit export from the neighbouring country of Switzerland. Straw plaits and even the raw material, straw are exported to France.


The straw dealers of the Aargau discover the Freiburg wheat straw and now workers in Freiburg supplies its products to the dealers and manufacturers.


According to George Hartmann, the first straw plait school is set up for young People.


The historian, Franz Kuenlin states that in the area of Plaffeien many women and children are employed in straw plaiting. Plaffeien is considered to be an important centre of the straw industry.

In the 1850s

Before the Civil War in the USA, production in Freiburg reaches a high point. The Gruyere supplies 50%, the Sense and the Saanebezirk produce approximately 20% within the canton. Straw threads are being produced in more than 100 villages throughout the canton.


The novel Marie la Tresseuse written by Pierre Sciobéret, describes the fate of a young straw plaiter from Gruyere.


Approximately 40% of industry in the canton of Freiburg is connected to the straw industry. By 1880, it was to rise to 45%.


A straw manufacturer from Freiburg is successful with his exhibits at the World Exhibition held in Paris, France. At this time, there are 6-8 straw hat manufacturers and straw hat dealers in the canton. The straw industry is centred in Bulle and Freiburg. The principal companies are Hartmann, Gremion, Thédy Pugin, Ayer, Bourguet, Jordan, Romanens, Girard, Schaerly, Claraz, and Rémy. The Aargau manufacturers, Isler, Weber and Fischer have set up offices in Bulle.


During this decade imports of straw plait from China begin, and are followed within 20 years by imports from Japan. This has a catastrophic effect on the European straw plaiting industry, not only the canton of Freiburg is affected, those of France, Belgium, Italy and England go into decline.

From 1880

Although there is still huge demand, and much straw is still plaited and straw threads produced, the earnings of the workers is reduced from 1 franc to Fr0.35. In the Sensebezirk, they work longer hours, producing more straw threads, but the earnings for a day's production (1000 threads) varies between Fr0.80 and Fr1.20. The government intervenes to encourage and support the workers by arranging exhibitions.


There is a Swiss National Exhibition held in Zurich, and the straw products exhibited bring worldwide acclaim.


There is a World Exhibition and this time there is a Swiss Pavilion where manufacturers exhibit their wares.


Johann Zbinden, a dealer of Sahli/Plaffeien is awarded first prize, the Vermeil Medal, at the Freiburg Industrial Show.


At the International Show in Geneva the manufacturers of Freiburg show their new 'fantasy' net. (Netted work made from straw threads).


In Broc, the chocolate factory Cailler begins production. The introduction of industrial milk processing brings greater potential earnings causing many workers and traders switch to this new industry.


Sidonie Romanens, a straw manufacturer of Marsens/FR, buys from Ottilia Bäriswyl of Plaffeien 170,000 straw threads for Fr0.55 per 1000.


The last straw trader in Bulle closes.


There is a last rescue attempt to support the newly established company Tresses de paille de Fribourg, but it is forced into liquidation.


30 women from the region Plaffeien are employed by Fischer & Co, Dottikon to manufacture the Röhrlihut. The Chevalier hat (canotier) experiences a new popularity and straw makes its last meaningful appearance in hat production.

Sources: Moritz Boschung, Georges Hartmann, Roland Ruffieux

Hubert Boschung, september 1999