- Category : Business-Entrepreneur
- Type : MGP
- Profile : 1/3 - Investigating / Martyr
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : RAX The Sleeping Phoenix 1
Swiss politician, business leader and railways pioneer. Thanks to his numerous political posts and his significant role in the foundation and management of the Swiss Northeastern Railway, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Credit Suisse, Swiss Life and the Gotthard Railway, Escher had an unmatched influence on Switzerland’s political and economic development in the 19th century.
Alfred Escher was born into the Escher vom Glas family, an old and influential Zurich dynasty that had produced many prominent politicians. He spent the first years of his childhood in the house where he was born, the "Neuberg" on Hirschengraben in Zurich. His father had a country house built on the left shore of Lake Zurich in the village of Enge (now part of the city of Zurich). He called it "Belvoir". When the family moved into the house in 1831, Heinrich Escher was able to devote himself fully to his passion for botany and his entomological collection. During this period Alfred Escher was taught at home by various tutors. Escher attended the Zurich Obergymnasium high school from 1835 to 1837. After graduating from high school, Escher decided to study law at the University of Zurich. In 1838/39 he spent two semesters abroad at the Universities of Bonn and Berlin, though these stays were marred by serious illness. During his studies, Escher became involved in the Zofingia student society, which he joined in 1837. He served as president of the society’s Zurich section in 1839/40 and in September 1840 became overall president of the whole society. With a dissertation on Roman law, Escher gained his doctorate "summa cum laude" from the University of Zurich. Having completed his studies, Escher needed to think carefully about his future career, so he went to Paris for several months to contemplate the matter.
Following his return to Zurich in the summer of 1843 Escher devoted himself to a number of academic projects. In February 1844 he gave a trial lecture, whereupon the University governing council appointed him as a lecturer in the Faculty of Political Science. In addition to his academic pursuits, the radical-liberal Escher was politically active: he met regularly with former student friends in the "Academic Wednesday Society" to discuss topical political issues and wrote a number of articles for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. In August 1844 Escher, now 25 years old, was elected to the Zurich’s Cantonal Parliament. He was now able to play an active part in political debates of the time, most notably the expulsion of the Jesuits from the Swiss Confederation, a position on which Escher played a prominent role in the anti-Jesuit camp. In 1845 and 1846 Escher took part in the Federal Council of Cantonal Representatives (Tagsatzung) in Zurich as Third Envoy, which brought him into contact with Switzerland’s leading politicians. In 1847 Escher was appointed as Zurich’s Chief Administrator, and in the summer of 1848 he was elected to the cantonal government. With the introduction of the new Swiss Federal Constitution, it became necessary to put together the first ever national parliament. On 15 October 1848 Escher was elected to the National Council and was appointed its Vice-President on 7 November 1848. Escher was to sit on the National Council without interruption until his death 34 years later. He was elected to serve as National Council President (the highest public office in Switzerland) four times.
Opposition and criticism
Thanks to his many political posts and his position as one of the founders of the Swiss Northeastern Railway (1852/53) and Credit Suisse (1856), Escher commanded an unusual amount of power. He attracted a number of nicknames as a result, including "King Alfred I" or the "Princeps". His political eminence was bound to attract critics. The Democratic Movement called for the people to be given a greater say on political issues. The devotees who surrounded Alfred Escher – known as the "Escher system" – were the avowed enemies of the Democrats. The fight was taken to the "Escher system" by means of pamphlets and public assemblies, and ultimately this resulted in a weakening of Escher’s influence. Another serious problem he faced was the fact that his Northeastern Railway was sliding further and further into financial crisis in the 1870s. The company’s share price plummeted from 658 Swiss francs in 1868 to 70 francs in 1877. This process prompted irate investors to heap criticism on Alfred Escher, even though he had already resigned from his position as chairman of the Northeastern Railway board in 1871. Even the financial difficulties involved in the Gotthard project were blamed on Escher by various parties.
Illness, death and memorial
In addition to personal attacks from political opponents, Escher faced serious health problems. He suffered repeated bouts of ill health throughout his life and on many occasions was obliged to spend long periods in convalescence. His susceptibility to illness was highly incompatible with his phenomenal appetite for work. During the critical phase of the Gotthard Tunnel construction in the mid-1870s Escher nearly worked himself to death. In 1878 he fell so badly ill that he was unable to leave "Belvoir" for several weeks. His life became a constant alternation between illness and recovery: asthma, fever, eye conditions, boils. However, this did not prevent Escher from fulfilling his political and business obligations whenever he could. In late November 1882 he fell badly ill again. Carbuncles developed on his back and he was plagued by a virulent fever. On the morning of 6 December 1882, at age 63, Alfred Escher died on his "Belvoir" estate.
(for details on his business activities, please follow the Wikipedia link)
Escher married 1857 and had two daughters, one of which, Hedwig, died in early childhood. His daughter Lydia, (10 July 1858 - 12 December 1891 by suicide) became on of the richest women of Switzerland in the 19th century, with a tragic life.