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100 years Eternit

The history reflects the development process of modern architecture and economy over the last century in Switzerland.


In 1901 the Austrian Ludwig Hatschek patented his fiber cement invention and named it "Eternit" based upon the latin term ''aeternitas" everlasting.


Ludwig Hatschek granted licenses for this patent but only one per country. The licensees were obligated to use the name "Eternit" in their companies and products. Thus within a few years, numerous separate companies existed worldwide that used the trademark "Eternit" in their company names and products.


Alois Steinmann purchased such a license in 1902 and established in 1903 the Schweizerische Eternit-Werke AG. Its location in Niederurnen had been chosen with diligence, the decline in the textile printing industry providing industrial facilities and skilled man power.


Expectations in the new product were ample. In 1904 two production lines rolled out a total of 1 Mio m2. After a short lapse of time the product range with roofing slates, honey comb slates and facade cladding conquered the markets. In 1911 the production was running at full capacity. Products were exported to Africa, Asia and South America. HRH the King of Siam had his palaces covered with these products.


1910 the first flower pots were assembled.


1913 the preservation chamber of the canton Graubünden launched a campaign against Eternit allegedly spoiling the landscape. This campaign increased Eternit's popularity and sales rose considerably in Graubünden.

1914  The company was active in developing own housing schemes using Eternit products. Thanks to prefabrication a house was built within 3-4 days. The low price enabled manual workers to become home owners. 


This evolution lead to intensive controversies with architects. They worried losing about business. But out of numerous arguments grew new solutions. After that the company looked for a close cooperation with architects, letting them promote Eternit as a building material for modern housing.


1915 moulded flower pots were successfully launched. 


The scarceness of asbestos material during the years of war after 1916 forced the company to look for alternative activities, so as to avoid the dismissal of production staff. Thus a saw mill and a production plant for refractory bricks were built up, as well as an exploitation plant for lignite on Ricken mountain. Further education and training was organised for employees and management. The workshop and construction department were kept busy establishing new production facilities in Great Britain, France and Australia for third parties..


After the war, production was restarted and sales rose to a new all time high in 1919.  In those days the old age and disabled insurance schemes were established.

In 1920 a total of 155 roofer foremen were trained, free of charge. As a result, complaints regarding poorly executed works declined by 90%!


Ernst Schmidheiny took the chair at the board of directors. 


The big fire of Sent in 1921 made it clear, that only Eternit roofs could withstand the heat of firestorms.


The economical crisis of the mid twenties did not spare Eternit. In 1923 Schweizerische Eternitwerke AG became the holding company Amiantus AG, and the factory in Niederurnen was transfered to a new daughtercompany of Amiantus: Eternit AG, Niederurnen. New products such as prefabricated car sheds were then developed.


In 1928  the tube production sector was developed, mainly for high pressure water lines, sleeves and liner applications.  


The large ondulated sheets were launched in 1933, in the same year when the 24 year old Max Schmidheiny became CEO on the board of directors a member of Eternit AG.


1939 - Swiss national exhibition. For Eternit AG a banner year. Eternit AG products had been specified on 50 out of the 130 exposition halls, mainly ondulated sheets for facade cladding. Eternit AG had its own pavillion at the national exhibition.


During World War II, asbestos was considered to be strategic raw material. Hence Eternit AG was forced, to swap manufacturing to moulded items. In these harsh times the factory site was refurbished and some old buildings were replaced. Thanks to these measures, practically all staff member could remain on the pay roll. 


On September 9th 1945 the supply of asbestos fibers to Niederurnen was resumed and the production continued. In the same year, the commission of workers was founded, improving thus the contact between the increasing number of staff and the management.


The increase in prosperity called 1948 for production plants with a higher output capacity, and the new panel factory was built.


After elaborate researching, roof slates could be successfully colored in brown and black shades - the architects were delighted.


In the fifties an increased number of industrial designers began to deal with the application of Etenit and designed complete home furniture lines. Willy Guhl, the first Swiss industrial designer, created flower pots, the elephant ear, the sand box, and especially the strand chair, the ingenious loop to become the classical piece of furniture. 


The new branch factory in Payerne 1957 helped to lower transportation costs for the increased sales volumes in the western part of Switzerland. 


1963 first application of color coated large size panels called "Pelichrom".


At the national exhibition "Expo 64"  Eternit AG again showed a prominent presence.


1967 Max Schmidheiny assumed responsibility for Eternit AG.


1973 the number of staff reached 1000. 


In 1975, Stefan Schmidheiny, aged 28 years, became a member of the board of directors, with responsibility for Eternit AG's operations - at almost the same age his father has assumed such responsibilities.



1976 production of pressed ondulated panels started as a world novelty. This meant a massive improvement of quality. 


For the 75 year anniversary of the business in 1978, Stefan Schmidheiny became president of the board of directors of Eternit AG and announced breaking news: Eternit AG would renounce the production of asbestos containing goods.


Within only 4 years new fibre mixtures were developed in the laboratories in such a good quality, that they were fit to be used for manufacturing. In 1984 already half of the production was asbestos free. 


In 1986 the former Eternit AG was transformed into Eternit Holding AG. Simultaneously a new company named Eternit AG was established, comprising the factories in Niederurnen and Payerne, and the participations in Phonex AG, Wettswil and Montana Stahl AG, Würenlingen.


1987 - first time that the Eternit Award was granted. From that time on the award was set out every 2 years for all students of Swiss architecture universities and the prize attracted great attention. One year after being established, Eternit AG was transformed into Eternova Holding AG, which transferred the factories Niederurnen and Payerne to a newly established Eternit AG.


1989  Thomas Schmidheiny took over from his brother Stefan all shares of Eternit AG and the presidency at the board of directors. Eternit AG with the two factories Niederurnen and Payerne was integrated into a building material group of companies, that was later named Cemroc. With this, Eternit AG is no longer a part of the former Swiss Eternit Group of Stephan Schmidheiny.


1990 Anders Holte became the CEO of Eternit AG.


1993 sustainable manufacturing had been implemented. Material and energy flows have been integrated in ecological and produced goods are recycleable. 


1994  the asbestos era comes to an end. The last tube containing asbestos leaves manufacturing. 


1996 Eternit AG becomes one of the companies of the Holderbank Group.


Sales had been continuously dropping since the seventies, so that production of tubes was stopped in 1997.  A new daughter company of Eternit AG named Etertub AG is founded, to distribute fiber cement and plastic tubing from Germany. 


1998 Ondulated panels are now also manufactured in the new daughter company ESAL in Slovenia. 


1999  establisment of new guiding principles that are still in force today. New industrial evolution and growth concepts are developed.


Swissbau 2000 - national building material trade show. The Eternit AG stand made of prefabricated modules designed by Stefan Cadosch received great attention by the public.


2001 The new color chart for facades had been developed mutually between architects and color specialists.


2002  National building trade show - SWISSPEARL Carat panels are used to create a three dimensional waffled facade cladding.


2003  The 100 year anniversary was celebrated with special events for clients, by an open house day and special fringe benefits for employees.  The institute for historical architecture of the federal university of Zürich issued a publication named "Eternit Switzerland - Architecture and corporate culture since 1903". 


The business and name of Etertub AG, founded in 1997, is bought out by its management and becomes an independent company. The Original Etertub changes its name to Estertub AG and remains a subsidiary of Eternit AG.

In November 2003 BA Holding AG takes over all shares of Eternit AG and Bernhard Alpstäg becomes president of the board.


2005. Eternit AG transfers the factories in Niederurnen and Payerne to its subsidiary Estertub AG, which changes its name to Eternit (Schweiz) AG. The former Eternit AG established in 1987 is renamed FibreCem Holding AG.


2006 Eternit (Schweiz) AG establishes the foundation Eternit-Werke Schweiz. This foundation mainly provides financial support to actual and former employees and their relatives who have been affected by illnesses related to historical use of asbestos in manufacturing at the plants.


printEternit (Schweiz) AG ¦ CH 8867 Niederurnen ¦ Tel + 41 55 617 11 11 ¦ info(at)eternit.ch