1890 – 1956 Emil Georg Bührle – industrialist and art collector
Emil Bührle, ca. 1950

1940–1950: The Second World War and the post-war years

The German occupation of France in the summer of 1940 prevented Oerlikon Bührle & Co from continuing to supply the British and French armies. For political reasons and supported by the new article in the Swiss Constitution governing the origins and distribution of war materiel, the Swiss military authorities prompted Emil Bührle to supply Germany with guns and ammunition. Based on plans sold by Bührle to the British Admiralty before the war, Oerlikon guns were also produced in Britain and the United States at the same time. For large deliveries to the Axis powers, the Oerlikon factory at times employed well over 3,000 staff. On 26 September 1944, the Swiss Federal Council imposed a complete export ban on war materiel, which remained in force for almost a year. Nevertheless, Emil Bührle continued to employ his development department and specialist employees, and invested increasingly in civilian products.

The wartime land use regulations for industrial companies prompted Emil Bührle to acquire agricultural land in the Maggia Delta in Ticino, where he established a model plant. The adjoining Castello del Sole was later converted into a hotel. In 1942, the Old Catholic church erected with Emil Bührle’s help was consecrated in Oerlikon. Bührle also contributed pictures and sculptures to decorate the interior of the church.

At the end of the war, Emil Bührle was confronted not only with a blanket export ban on war materiel, but also with the fact that his company had long been on the Western Allies’ “black list”. However, even before official deletion from the list in 1946, experts from the British Army had Oerlikon Bührle & Co. demonstrate the latest developments. In 1947, Emil Bührle spent time in Chicago, where he conducted negotiations to supply the United States. As of 1949, the Federal Council unilaterally relaxed the export ban on war materiel towards the Western powers in order to position Switzerland in the incipient Cold War between the Eastern and Western blocs. In 1949 Emil Bührle established the Industrie- und Handelsbank Zürich (Industry and Trading Bank Zurich), which was headquartered in the Bleicherhof building owned by him.