St. Gallen Embroidery - History - The Big Crisis and The Recovery

The Big Crisis and The Recovery

The decline of the embroidery industry began in 1914 with the outbreak of the First World War. The demand for luxury products–and embroidery counted among these–collapsed suddenly, and also the free trade zones were disrupted. Partially neutral countries were still customers, but they could only compensate in the short term.

To preserve wages somewhat from the free-fall, maximum working hours and minimum wages were now also fixed. In fact, these measures were rather counter-productive–only workers who demanded less than the minimum wage got a job. The year 1917, still in the middle of WWI, temporarily brought a surprising turn: the Entente forbade the export of cotton products to Germany, but not the export of embroidery. Therefore, every cloth to be sold to Germany was embroidered in some way, as embroidery could be sold. A year later, the sale of embroidery to Germany was forbidden, too, and this meant the end of the brief upturn. The last little flurry of exports came in 1919 after the end of the war, when the reconstruction of the war-stricken countries brought another short rise. With the start of the economic crisis, the heyday for the St. Gallen embroidery was finally ended. One sign of the extent of the crisis, is that from 1910 to 1930, the population of St. Gallen was reduced by emigration (as a result of unemployment) from 75,482 to 64,079.

Although embroidery exports rose again after the war, the time of the biggest economic crisis for the city began no later than the 1920s. Between 1920 and 1937, the number of embroidery machines was reduced from about 13,000 to less than 2,000. In 1929 the federal government subsidized a reduction of machines–compared with 1905, the number of people employed in industry declined by 65%. The absolute low point was reached in 1935 with an embroidery export of 640 tonnes (compared to 5,899 tons in 1913). In 1937, however, exports rose again for the first time to over 20 million Swiss francs, and the majority of the 97 newly opened facilities in the area were in the textile industry.

Read more about this topic:  St. Gallen Embroidery, History

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