Industry  -  An Outline History of the

Straw Industry of Switzerland

By the 1600s

The straw industry is well established in the canton Aargau with hats known as Schienhüte being made and traded.


Birth of Jacob (Jacques) Isler in Wohlen (canton Aargau). He was to become the pioneer of the straw industry.

By the late 1700s

Hats known as Spitzhüte or Röhrlihüte are being manufactured in the canton Obwalden.

In 1786

Eight important straw dealers formed the first commercial company, and in time, the Freiamt will become the controlling centre of the straw industry.

In 1806

The first plaiting school is established in the Aargau.

In 1815

Straw plaiting is recorded in the Obwalden and the dealers of the Aargau discover the high quality wheat straw grown in the canton Freiburg. Companies are set up in Bulle. Manufacture and trading with the Aargau begins.

In the first half of the 1800s

Swiss dealers search throughout Europe for new markets, and after 1836, they also export their products to America. The loom is introduced into the straw industry and used to make Borduren (bands of braid with straw as the weft and silk as the warp thread). Hemp thread is imported into Switzerland and used alongside straw. Next, horsehair is introduced, and then braiding machines are introduced from France.

By 1840

There are about 40,000 to 50,000 people employed in the Swiss straw industry. The making of straw threads (Schnürli or Drähtli) has begun in the Freiamt, and the making of beads, straw plate (straw sheets) and other motifs follows this development.


During the years of excellence the Swiss straw workers develop and create the most ornate decorations and ornaments. The knowledge of how to make some of the motifs (Agréments) created during that period is still known.

From the 1850s

The straw industry begins to turn from work carried on in the home, to factory-based work. In 1852, the Wohlen company of M. Bruggisser and Co. opens a branch in Florence, Italy, and the Wohlen company of Jacob Isler and Co. opens a branch in New York, USA.

In 1862

Braiding machines turn cotton thread into various products for the industry and combine them with straw.

In the 1870s

The knowledge of how to make of straw plaits is given to the Chinese. From now on, the price for straw hat plaits decreases worldwide and this is the beginning of the final decline of the straw industry all over Europe. The Swiss industry survived better than most since its industry is more diverse, but the industry in canton Freiburg is badly affected.

20th century

The use of natural straw in the Swiss industry declines as the manufacturers use newly discovered synthetic fibres to make machine-made braids.

In the 1920s

There is for the last time a new demand for natural straw. Gentlemen's boater hats (or canotier) are very popular and the Dottikon (Aargau) company of Fischer & Co. produces the knotted hats (Spitzhüte or Röhrlihüte) to supply the demand. They are marketed as Yeddo hats. Today, the knotted hats are still well known in Switzerland. This is the last time, when straw has particular importance in the Swiss hat industry.

In 1976

The Freiämter Stroh Museum is founded in the town of Wohlen, Aargau.

In 1988

One of the last hat factories, Merz & Co, in Menziken (Aargau) closes. In the Freiamt there are still a few hat materials manufacturers remaining and a few new smaller firms develop in the following years.

In 1993

The Schweizerische Stiftung Strohverarbeitung is founded.

Hubert Boschung, june 1998 (Source: G. Rodel, Fahrwangen)