The Murg flows northwards through the southern part of the Canton of Thurgau, flowing into the Thur not far from Üsslingen. In the section north of Wil its water has been used since the mid-19th century not only for mills, but also to generate power – on both sides of the river, channels were dug to divert the water to factories built near its banks. These have in many cases lost their original function, but today they form a fascinating cultural and historical element in the landscape which tells a story of work, investment, success (and failure) and structural change.
On the southern edge of the city of Frauenfeld, from 1917 onwards the last but one industrial channel on the left side, flowing back into the Murg since around 1830, fed a certain factory – a factory whose story began in Baden bei Wien, a spa town near Vienna. Master foundryman Eduard Sigg, from Ossingen in the Canton of Zurich, and his Silesian wife, Albertine Mohr, lived in Baden bei Wien. Their child Ferdinand, the first of four sons, was born on 15 December 1877. The family later moved to Göppingen, a small industrial town on the Neckar east of Stuttgart, where Ferdinand did an apprenticeship as a metal spinner at the Märklin Brothers company. Ferdinand Sigg thus grew up steeped in the world of metalworking; he made it his career, and also went on to make the name Sigg a byword for useful aluminium items, especially in Switzerland.The company Alusuisse was founded in Zurich in 1888 and began operations in Neuhausen am Rheinfall. 20 years later, in 1908, Ferdinand Sigg and Xavier Küng founded a factory in Biel which manufactured recreational articles, kitchenware and electrical appliances from aluminium. The two had met around 1905 at Gröninger AG in Binningen near Basel, a company whose aluminium products – which included equipment for excursions – were sold with the brand names Edelweiss and Herkules. Sigg and Küng attempted to gain a foothold in the relatively young industry, which developed rapidly at the beginning of the 20th century. This took some courage – and Ferdinand Sigg perhaps also needed a little courage when he approached, in Basel, Miss Regina Montorfani from Lugano, to whose name he would quickly become accustomed and whom he would marry in 1908.In 1917 Ferdinand Sigg, whose partner Küng had left the firm shortly before, relocated the company to the former rolling mill in Frauenfeld, which had stood vacant since 1904, having previously been operated since 1877 as a snuff manufactory. Way back in 1920, Sigg launched a product that, in higher production quality and in a cavalcade of designs adapted to keep pace with changing aesthetic tastes, is still sold today: the cylindrical aluminium bottle, plain in appearance and lightweight, which can be used as a hot water bottle or to carry cold tea on a hike in the mountains. The range of aluminium goods, which over the years was expanded to several thousand items, also included canteens for soldiers which were ordered by armies in the Balkans and the Middle East.In the 1950s and ’60s, Sigg-branded everyday items made from aluminium, a lightweight alloy, were an indispensable feature of households throughout Switzerland. Whether it was salad strainers, saucepans or baking utensils, storage canisters or egg slicers, laundry spray containers or chain covers for bicycles: Sigg products found their way into every level of day-to-day life in Switzerland, like those of the toymaker Wisa Gloria – and play money made from aluminium jingled in the toy cash registers of Swiss children. For decades now, though, these items have been found only in second-hand stores or – like the bicycle license plates of different cantons, for example – in the collections of enthusiasts.Sigg’s famous drinking bottle, in the meantime, has even found its way into the Museum of Modern Art in New York. 99 years after the arrival of Sigg in Frauenfeld, the firm was sold to China’s Haers Group in 2016. But as early as 1936, Sigg had ceased to be owned by the company: the firm Aluminiumfabrik Menziken, which was at times both a supplier and a rival, took over Sigg AG, saving the company’s life.The global economic crisis after Black Friday of 25 October 1929, and the stock market crash a month later, had hit the company very hard. Ferdinand Sigg experienced the upheaval of those days, but not the end of his company’s steady decline. On 8 February 1930, his busy entrepreneurial existence was brought to an abrupt end by his death in Nice.
Suspicion surrounding corpse transport
Sigg spent holidays in Nice with his family. At that time, the winter months were peak season for destinations on the French and Italian Riviera. In many places Swiss people ran hotels, Germans ran pharmacies and beer from Czechoslovakia was served in the larger pubs and eateries. Most of the visitors looking for sunshine and warmth came from regions north of the Alps, some from as far away as Russia.
It was precisely at that time, at the beginning of February 1930, that Alexander Pavlovich Kutepov, a general in the Russian Army who had also been a leader of the White Army during the Russian Civil War, was making headlines in Europe. After 1918, as Governor General of Russia’s Black Sea region Kutepov was responsible for repressive actions against the people; he later lived in exile in Paris, and was kidnapped by the Russian secret service in late January 1930.When the body of Ferdinand Sigg was transported to Switzerland soon after his death, in the Piedmontese city of Novara the exotic language being spoken by the family members accompanying the transport aroused the suspicions of the police, who were particularly vigilant in the wake of the Kutepov story. In the middle of the night, they wanted to know who the dead man was, and documents had to be produced to assure them that it was not, by some chance, the Russian general. The Gazzetta Ticinese newspaper of 22 February recounted this story, not without making fun of the Italian police while showing appropriate sympathy for the bereaved relatives.
In the obituary for Ferdinand Sigg, which was published in the Corriere del Ticino newspaper on 10 February 1930, it was noted that it had been Sigg’s personal wish to be buried in the cemetery in Lugano. Two kilometres northwest of Monte Brè, where the Thurgau businessman spent his holidays at the Hotel Kulm every year, he is commemorated by a large tomb at Lugano’s Cimitero monumentale.
Sirens wailing!? A worried glance at the clock. 1:30 p.m. precisely. Aha – siren test! Switzerland’s annual siren test takes place on the first Wednesday in February. But how long have we had sirens in Switzerland anyway, and what’s the history of this hair-raising means of communication?