Musique de gare - Station Music Boxes of Switzerland

from 25 February to 12 June 2005

Railway station automaton, Sissach, "Emmenthaler Lied"
Railway station automaton, Sissach, "Emmenthaler Lied"

With the rise of the railway industry in Switzerland during the second half of the 19th century the suggestion was brought forth to equip the waiting rooms in the train stations with coin-operated music boxes. The man who seized the opportunity in 1887 was Auguste Lassueur, owner of a manufacture for music boxes in Sainte-Croix. After conclusion of contract with the Jura-Simplon Railway Company, Lassueur took over installation and maintenance of the devices, not to forget the emptying of the coin boxes. Until 1938 Lassueur equipped a great number of train stations in western Switzerland with such coin-operated automatons.

Lassueur retired in 1938, but his music boxes were taken over by the Swiss Federal Railway and for some time operated in the same manner. In the long run the manual winding up by the public proved too hard on the clockwork motors and necessitated frequent and expert restoration work on these pieces of art. In the second half of the 20th century the music boxes were equipped with electric motors, so the automatons now worked at the push of a button, which made operating them a lot easier. In the train stations of Vevey, Renens, Cossonay, Payerne, Yverdon and many other places in Western Switzerland such music boxes were in use until the late 20th century. Even today a group of automatons can be found well protected and cared for at the Montreux Train Station. A few of these marvellous boxes even found the way to the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Until 1918 one automaton from Auguste Lassueur's workshop stood in Sissach, from where it found its circuitous way to the Museum of Music Automatons in Seewen.

Apart from those exhibited in Montreux today probably all automatons have disappeared from train stations. They were, however, neither stolen nor disposed of as many train passengers assume, but may still be admired in the collection of the SBB Heritage Foundation, at the Museum of Music Automatons in Seewen and many other collections or museums in Switzerland.

From 25 February 2005 on the Museum of Music Automatons in Seewen is presenting a special exhibition titled Musique de gare - Station Music Boxes of Switzerland with over 30 of these automatons which, with the help of our partner, the SBB Heritage Foundation, were gathered from places all over Switzerland. The exhibition shall bear testimony that these witnesses of a romantic era long gone have not vanished into thin air but simply retired to a more dignified home - the museum.