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Published on 8 January 2024

History of swisstopo

The Federal Office of Topography swisstopo was founded in 1838 by Guillaume Henri Dufour in Carouge (Geneva) and was originally called “Bureau topographique fédéral”. It began publishing the first official set of national maps in 1845. Today, swisstopo is integrated into the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport (DDPS), and performs tasks for both the military and the private sectors. It is the country’s competence centre for official geodata. 

The illustration shows part of the Jura on sheet VII of the Dufour map as well as the French territory. The Swiss territory stands out from the French areas, which are only schematically depicted, partly due to the strongly emphasised relief.

8 January 2024

Pioneering work

Created in 1838, the “Topographic Office” published the sheets of the “Topographic Map of Switzerland” (Dufour Map) between 1845 and 1865. This was pioneering work on the part of the official Swiss Federal Cartography Office and a feat of surveying.

Section of the Siegfried Map sheet number 61 (Lake Constance coast of Thurgau). With its three-colour representation, contour lines, forest areas, lake depths and numerous other details, the section illustrates the high information density of the Siegfried Map compared to the Dufour Map.

8 January 2024


The political, economic and military spheres of the thriving Federal State needed increasingly precise maps in order to keep up-to-date with the spatial factors of the Confederation. The “Swiss Topographical Atlas” (Siegfried Maps) answered this need. Its total of 604 sheets were published between 1870 and 1926 to a scale of 1:25 000/1:50 000.

The picture shows an operator of the Federal Topographical Survey in a parked airplane. He is practising operating the aerial camera in full gear.

8 January 2024

Innovative processes

The Swiss National Maps were published from 1938 onwards, a new map collection. This modernised and standardised the representation of Switzerland in map images. But the processes on which the national maps were based were also changing significantly: photogrammetric surveying methods and negative scribing on glass revolutionised work processes between 1926 and 1958.

A swisstopo cartographer operating the office's first digital mapping system, SciTex. The cartographer works on two screens and several keyboards and control panels. In the center of the picture is a touch panel and the cartographer's electronic pen, which he can use to transfer information to the computer.

8 January 2024


Electronic calculators took over at the Swiss Federal Office of Topography during the last third of the 20th century. However, they did not become an important working tool with any speed: at first, they were only used for geodetic calculations. By the 1990s, computer-aided processes had gained a foothold in all areas of work.

Virtual representation of the old town of Bern, seen from the air

8 January 2024

Third Dimension

Changes and innovation define the recent past and present at swisstopo: the Swiss Federal Office’s fields of activity are expanding, the legal bases are being adapted to the needs of the day and the Topographic Landscape Model (TLM) is profoundly changing the production of geodata.

Federal Office of Topography swisstopo

Infodesk history
Seftigenstrasse 264
3084 Wabern