Guillaume Henri Dufour

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Guillaume Henri Dufour

Guillaume Henri Dufour (born September 15, 1787 in Konstanz , † July 14, 1875 in Les Eaux-Vives , resident in Geneva and Bern ) was a Swiss general , engineer , cartographer , politician and humanist . Dufour was the first general in the history of the Swiss federal army . The planned by him fortifications are as Dufour fortifications ( french Fortifications Dufour known). As a cartographer, he gained particular merit by creating the first detailed topographic map of Switzerland, the " Dufour map ". As a member of the Committee of Five established in Geneva in 1863 , he was one of the founders of the International Committee of the Red Cross and its first president from 1863 to 1864. He also wrote military, scientific, technical and historical writings.

Due to his diverse work, Dufour was extremely popular during his lifetime and was considered one of the most famous and influential people in Switzerland. The highest peak in Switzerland was named after him during his lifetime, the Dufourspitze . Even today, Dufour is regarded as one of the most outstanding personalities in the history of Switzerland.



Dufour's birthplace, Wessenbergstrasse 14 in Constance
Monument to Guillaume Henri Dufour in Geneva

Guillaume Henri Dufour was born on September 15, 1787 in Konstanz, then part of Upper Austria . The parents were Bénédict Dufour, watchmaker and later a member of the Geneva National Assembly, and his wife Pernette Valentin. The first names Guillaume Henri probably come from his maternal grandfather, Guillaume Henri Valentin, who was present at the baptism with his wife. The baptism took place on October 7, 1787 in the Dominican convent on the Dominican island in Constance. Inadvertently, only the first name Henri was noted in the baptismal register instead of Guillaume Henri . The error was not corrected until 1804 by adding the missing name Guillaume and noting the earlier omission.

When Guillaume Henri was two years old, his parents returned to Geneva, which they had left in 1782. He graduated from school in Geneva.

Studies and career in the army

After leaving school, Dufour studied humanities and physics. In 1798 Geneva was annexed by France. Dufour - now a French citizen - studied from 1807 to 1809 at the École polytechnique in Paris and from 1809 to 1810 at the École supérieure d'application du génie in Metz . Because of the British naval blockade, Dufour - without being able to finish his training - was sent to Corfu in December 1810 , where he stayed until 1814. In a skirmish off the coast, he suffered severe burns that left a mark on him for his life. He married and had four daughters with his wife during the course of their marriage.

In 1811 he joined the French army , which he left after several deployments and his promotion to captain in 1817 to return to Geneva, which had become federal in 1815. In the same year he was incorporated into the newly created Swiss Army in this rank , in which he was promoted to colonel in 1827 .

In the 1820s he offered private evening courses in mathematics, geometry, surveying and hydraulics for students from the age of twelve, which after leaving the French army were a welcome source of income and earned him more than the position of cantonal engineer, which he therefore initially had in 1824 refused.

In 1819 he was involved in the founding of the first federal military school in Thun , where he taught until 1831 as chief instructor of the genius and from 1831 to 1834 as a commander in the rank of colonel, including Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, the later French emperor Napoleon III. , with whom he later remained on friendly terms.

From 1831 he was head of the General Staff Department. In this function he was responsible for organizing the defense of Switzerland in the event of war. On October 21, 1847 he was appointed general by the Diet and thus commander of the federal troops and was commissioned to dissolve the Sonderbund . He succeeded in this after a campaign that lasted only four weeks and caused relatively few casualties (according to official figures: 150 dead / 400 injured), which ended with the capitulation of the Sonderbund cantons. Even during these clashes, Dufour strictly observed compliance with humanitarian principles in the fighting. The traditional principle of General Dufour "Il faut sortir de cette lutte non seulement victorieux, mais aussi sans reproche" (you not only have to emerge victorious from this fight, but also without blame) was the guiding principle for his subordinate commanders.

With his cautious approach in the Sonderbund War , Dufour was not only able to prevent the collapse of the Confederation through the intervention of foreign powers, but he also created a basis for reconciliation that enabled the divided cantons to agree on a common federal state as early as 1848.

In the years 1849 ( Büsinger trade ), 1856 ( Neuchâtel trade ) and 1859 ( Savoy trade ), the Federal Assembly once again gave him supreme command of the Swiss armed forces in order to prevent attacks on Switzerland in the course of various disputes. After the adoption of the Federal Constitution of 1848, he was the first general in the history of Switzerland to be appointed by the Federal Assembly .

Worked as an engineer and fortress builder

In Corfu, Dufour had participated in the construction of fortifications. From 1827 to 1850 he was a cantonal engineer in Geneva. He was responsible for renewing the city water pump, which enabled him to achieve a high level of efficiency. The regular measurement of the water levels in Lac Léman served to prepare measures to limit flood damage. From 1845 to 1856 he was responsible for drawing up the cadastre for the canton of Geneva. He had a decisive influence on urban planning in Geneva and the planning of the Swiss railway network.

Sketch of the Passarelle de Saint-Antoine by Charles Stewart Drewry in A Memoir of Suspension Bridges 1832

From 1823 he built three cable suspension bridges in the city of Geneva ( Passerelle de Saint-Antoine , Pont des Bergues, Pont des Pâquis), and in 1827 designed the promenade and part of the lake basin. The Passerelle de Saint-Antoine is considered to be the world's first permanent wire rope suspension bridge.

In 1831 the construction of the blocking point in Saint-Maurice began at the narrowest point of the Rhone Gorge near Saint-Maurice Castle in order to block the passage to the Great St. Bernard and Simplon Pass . Dufour was largely responsible for the concept.

In 1853, the young federal state of Switzerland had a fortification line designed by Dufour, the Fortini della Fame , built south of Bellinzona from Camorino to Sementina and Monte Carasso . Five of the round towers typical of Dufour are still preserved in Camorino.

Activity as a cartographer

Hochfelden on the Dufour map, sheet 3 «Liestal, Schaffhausen», data status 1869
Approval note from the “Directeur de la Carte” GH Dufour for a drawing for the Dufour card

In 1832, Dufour was Colonel Quartermaster of the Military Oversight Authority (until 1847) and "Directeur de la Carte" (until 1865). His tasks now included the management of federal triangulation and national surveying. Under Dufour's leadership, the preparatory work for the creation of an improved topographical map of Switzerland that was to replace the Atlas Suisse began in the same year . An important organizational step was that Dufour set up the Federal Topographical Bureau in Carouge in 1837 , which began work at the beginning of 1838 (the official year of foundation). The Federal Office for Topography later emerged from it.

The Bonnesche projection was used as the basis for the new map series. Dufour used the Repère Pierre du Niton rock in the port of Geneva as a starting point . The 13 km long route between Walperswil BE and Sugiez FR formed the basis or baseline for the map. It was measured in 1791, 1797 and 1834 (under Dufour) using measuring chains and iron bars. The base endpoints of Walperswil and Sugiez were connected to a triangular network, which for the first time covered all of Switzerland and connected the parts of the country north of the Alps with the south.

Between 1845 and 1865 the 25 sheets of the "Dufour map ", which had been painstakingly worked out, were published on a scale of 1: 100,000. The topographical map series, which was outstanding for its time, was the first to depict Switzerland in a geometrically correct manner. The Dufour map was created parallel to the modern federal state of 1848. It symbolically brought the cantons together and for this reason achieved national importance. After Dufour had presented his final report, Hermann Siegfried was his successor in 1865 as head of the Federal Topographical Bureau.

Acting as a federally thinking politician

In 1819 he was elected to the Representative Council for the Liberals in Geneva. From 1848 to 1851 he was a member of the Swiss National Council for the Bernese Seeland , as well as for Geneva from 1854 to 1857. In the Council of States he represented the canton of Geneva from 1863 to 1866 .

Dufour advocated the neutrality of Switzerland in speeches and writings . In a written speech from 1821, he examined scenarios of a violation of neutrality and possible reactions by Switzerland.

The July Revolution of 1830 in France prompted Dufour to warn the Geneva Parliament of the threat of war and possible violations of neutrality. He called for an extraordinary agenda to elect a military commander-in-chief and a federal standard.

In 1860 he fought unsuccessfully against a change in the national defense concept. The border fortifications should not be neglected in favor of a centrally concentrated defense and none of the states should be sacrificed. He believed that the defense had to start where the attack took place.

On the eve of the Franco-Prussian War from 1870 to 1871, he warned that neutrality in the sense of impartiality and staying out of conflicts was essential for Switzerland to survive, and that it must be defended in the event of danger.

Working as a member of the ICRC

Dufour's signature on the Geneva Convention of 1864 (first from above)

Together with Henry Dunant , the doctors Théodore Maunoir and Louis Appia as well as the lawyer Gustave Moynier , he founded the Committee of Five in Geneva on February 9, 1863, from which eight days later the International Committee of Aid Societies for the Care of Wounded and in 1876 the International Committee of the Red Cross was established. Although he assessed Dunant's book A Memory of Solferino very positively, he initially had doubts about the feasibility of Dunant's proposals to establish voluntary aid societies for the care of the wounded. Despite these doubts, his belief in the correctness of this idea led him to take an active part in the founding of the International Committee and in its work. His international fame and his military experience were of great use to the committee in order to win over the foreign governments to the idea of ​​the Red Cross. After the founding of the International Committee, he was elected its first President in 1863 .

During the diplomatic conference at which the first Geneva Convention was passed in August 1864 , Dufour chaired the assembly. It is said that when a British participant said he could not sign the convention without a seal, he used his pocket knife to cut a button from the delegate's tunic and said, “Here, Your Excellency, you have this Her Majesty's Coat of Arms ”. In the same year, at the age of 77, he passed the office of President of the International Committee to Gustave Moynier.

Both the use of a white cross on a red background as the Swiss national coat of arms - introduced by the Tagsatzung in 1840 - as well as the use of the red cross on a white background, i.e. the color reversal of the Swiss flag, as a symbol of the ICRC and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement as well as the trademark of the Geneva Conventions go back to Dufour.


Dufour died on July 14, 1875 in Les Eaux-Vives . He was buried on the Cimetière des Rois in Geneva. About 60,000 people from all over the country traveled to Geneva for his funeral.

Bust of Dufour in the Army Training Center in Lucerne

Fonts (selection)

Detailed list of scriptures: see footnote

  • Observations on the Isle of Corfou . Bibliothèque universelle des sciences, belles-lettres et arts, 1816. Dufour's first published work is one of the earliest modern descriptions of the island of Corfu.
  • Mémorial pour les travaux de guerre . JJ Paschoud, Geneva and Paris, 1820. Dufour's first independent publication. A teaching and manual about the construction of field fortifications, which served as a teaching aid in the military school in Thun. It received international attention, was translated into several languages ​​and established Dufour's importance as a military educator.
    German edition: The manual for practical work in the field for use by officers of all weapons , Berlin 1825.
  • Cours de tactique . Paris 1840. Dufour's internationally most successful and most translated typeface.
    German edition: Textbook of tactics for officers of all weapons , Orell Füssli, Zurich 1842.
    American edition: Strategy and tactics . D. van Nostrand, New York 1864. The textbook was used as a teaching aid at the West Point Military Academy .
Swiss banknote with the portrait of Dufour

Awards and honors

Dufour was awarded four out of five classes of the Legion of Honor: 1814 knight, 1848 commander, 1852 grand officer and 1866 grand cross bearer.

The highest point in Switzerland at 4,634 meters, the Dufourspitze in the Monte Rosa massif on the Italian border, has been named after him since 1863 - during his lifetime.

Dufour Museum Halsegg

Dufour Museum

The first Dufour Museum in Switzerland opened on September 12, 2009. It is located in bunker 2 of the Halsegg artillery plant on the alp of the same name at 1,340  m above sea level. M. above saddle SZ .


Further literature on Dufour: see footnote

  • Thomas Bachmann: Guillaume Henri Dufour in the mirror of his writings. Bibliographical manual (= publication series of the Federal Military Library. No. 14). Federal Military Library and Historical Service, Bern 2004.
  • Pierre Boissier : From Solferino to Tsushima (= History of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Vol. 1). Henry Dunant Institute, Geneva 1985, ISBN 2-88044-012-2 .
  • Edouard Chapuisat: General Dufour 1787–1875. 2nd Edition. Tusculum, Dietikon 1950.
  • Jean-Jacques Langendorf: Guillaume-Henri Dufour: General - Cartographer - Humanist. A picture biography. Schweizer Verlagshaus, Zurich 1987, ISBN 3-7263-6550-8 .
  • Caroline Moorehead : Dunant's dream: War, Switzerland and the history of the Red Cross. HarperCollins, London 1998, ISBN 0-00-255141-1 (hardcover); HarperCollins, London 1999, ISBN 0-00-638883-3 (paperback).
  • Otto Weiss: General Dufour as military leader. A contribution to Swiss history in the 19th century. Francke, Bern 1939.
  • Adolf Metz: The correspondence between General H. Dufour, Geneva and Bonaventur Meyer, Olten . In: Oltner Neujahrsblätter , Vol. 30, 1972, pp. 64-71.

Documentary film

Web links

Commons : Guillaume Henri Dufour  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. To this day it is not clear whether the spelling Guillaume Henri (without hyphen) or Guillaume-Henri (with hyphen) is preferable for the first name . This was already controversial during Dufour's lifetime, he is said to have "regularly" complained about this uncertainty ( Le Baptême de Guillaume Henri Dufour , p. 2). Overall, the arguments in favor of Guillaume Henri as a historically better founded spelling outweigh , for example:
    • In the excerpt from the baptismal register there is Guillaume Henri since the initially forgotten name Guillaume was added.
    • Dufour himself always signed as G. H. Dufour ( example ).
    • G. H. Dufour is written on the Dufour map , the creation of which Dufour had organized and supervised for around three decades (see Dufour map online, title page ).
    • The École polytechnique writes the name of its former student Guillaume Henri Dufour ( online ; in the original document available there even Guillaume, Henri with a comma).
    • The Fondation Maison Dufour , the association Les Salons du Général Dufour , the Swiss Dufour Museum write without a hyphen .
    • Instead of General Guillaume Henri Dufour , only General Henri Dufour is often written.
  2. Honorary Citizen of Bern 1848; List of all citizens of the city of Bern on January 1, 1861 , Bern 1861, p. 24.
  3. See extract from the baptismal register from 1886 ( photograph ): In this certified copy of the original text, only the first name Henri can be read (end of the fourth line).
  4. Le Baptême de Guillaume Henri Dufour (PDF), see picture on page 2. The name Guillaume has been patched into the text. It was also added to the margin, in abbreviated form due to lack of space. Including the note on correction. This is dated with the month Pluviôse of the year 12 according to the French revolutionary calendar , which corresponds to January / February 1804 (see conversion table ).
  5. Acte de baptême de (Guillaume) Henri Dufour Salomon Rizzo named in the title is a historian and archivist.
  6. Prospectus de l'établissement d'une école de mathématiques pures et appliquées . Marc Sestié Fils, Geneva 1820
  7. École de Thun . Revue militaire Suisse 1869
  8. ^ Andrej Abplanalp: Dufour - the humanitarian general post in the blog of the Swiss National Museum
  9. Paul Wyrsch-Ineichen: The Schwyzer troops in the Büsinger trade 1849 , in: Mitteilungen des Historische Verein des Kantons Schwyz, Volume 77, 1985, pp. 97–115.
  10. ^ Hans Senn: Active service. In: Historical Lexicon of Switzerland .
  11. Report on armement et la campagne de 1857 . Revue militaire Suisse 1857
  12. Toast à la Patrie. Revue militaire Suisse 1860
  13. a b History 1809–1899 Federal Office for Topography
  14. ^ David Gugerli , Daniel Speich Chassé : Topographies of the Nation. Politics, Cartographic Order and Landscape in the 19th Century. Chronos, Zurich 2002, ISBN 3-0340-0548-2 .
  15. ^ Final report by General Dufour on the topographic map of Switzerland. (From December 31, 1864.) In: Swiss Federal Gazette , March 11, 1865 ( PDF ).
  16. ^ Opinion relative à la fortification de Genève dans l'intérêt de cette ville et dans celui de la Suisse
  17. The Appeal of the Fatherland to the Swiss people and their representatives . December 1830
  18. De la defense et de la neutralité de la Suisse. Revue militaire Suisse 1861:
  19. Dufour: La défense doit commencer où commence l'attaque quel qu'en puisse être le résultat
  20. Neutralité de la Suisse . Revue militaire Suisse 1870
  21. Le congrès de Genève. Report adressé au Conseil fédéral par MM. Dufour, Moynier et Lehmann, plénipotentiaires de la Suisse . Jules Guillaume Fick, Geneva 1864
  22. Sur le drapeau féderal. Manuscript around 1830: Revue militaire Suisse 1869
  23. Writings by Guillaume Henri Dufour (French bibliography), source: Les Salons du Général Dufour at, menu item Bibliography , second link.
  24. ^ Swiss Dufour Museum
  25. Literature on Dufour (PDF), selection by the Les Salons du Général Dufour association , source: Les Salons du Général Dufour at, menu item Bibliography , third link.