Where did Richard Nixon grow up

Robert Henry Abplanalp, called Bob Abplanalp, invented the modern spray can and became a multimillionaire. His parents came from Planalp above Brienz. Photo: Getty Images

«Our emigration has never become mass emigration; it has always remained a quality emigration ”, said Federal Councilor Guiseppe Motta in 1931. The then Swiss Foreign Minister and five-time Federal President may have had pioneers, artists, scientists and entrepreneurs in mind with this sentence - the exclusively male form is at this point and in this one Context chosen on purpose! - but there was no place in Motta's image of a Switzerland that only enriched the world for the countless “unqualified” and marginalized people, whose departure many communities promoted and sometimes even operated with massive pressure.

Among these economic refugees, who were hidden by the Swiss government, there were also numerous young women who wanted or had to seek their fortune in the new world. The author of these lines knows what happened in his own family history: three of his great-aunts emigrated at the behest of his great-grandmother in 1904, 1907 and 1908 directly after her French year via Le Havre to New York and then on to California. Only many decades later did the aunts, who had meanwhile become wealthy, visit their former home. In contrast to Dürrenmatt's play of the same name, the visit of these three old ladies went, thank God, without thoughts of revenge or murder.

US President Richard Nixon on the Planalp

Richard Nixon's visit to Planalp in 1980 was also full of joy. The US president, who had fallen out of favor six years earlier because of the Watergate affair and was forced to resign, traveled to the idyllic natural setting above Brienz at the invitation of his best friend: Robert "Bob" Henry Abplanalp wanted to show Nixon his parents' home. And he - accompanied by a dozen bodyguards - seemed visibly enthusiastic about the magnificent view of the mountains and the turquoise Lake Brienz. Richard Nixon's life and work is well known and is part of modern contemporary history. But who was Bob Abplanalp?

The cheerful Richard Nixon (left) in June 1980 on the Planalp. Conclusion: Even a US president does not upset the locals ... Photo: zvg
Hans and Marie Abplanalp moved from Lake Brienz to the Bronx

The answer is short and sweet: He was someone who fulfilled the American Dream of success and fortune, but never forgot his roots and where he came from. Robert Henry was born on April 4, 1922 in the Bronx, New York, to the Swiss immigrants Hans and Marie Abplanalp. They left their home on the Planalp years earlier and, like many of their compatriots, emigrated to the USA. Father Hans Abplanalp, who turned 100, worked in New York as a mechanic for a fleet of bakery trucks. He and his wife Marie did everything they could to ensure that one day their son should have a better life than they, who grew up in poor circumstances. They worked hard to fund their offspring's education. Hans and Marie Abplanalp made it possible for their son, who was interested in technology and who enjoyed tinkering in his father's machine shop in the basement, to attend a highly regarded private school.

Bob Abplanalp is the inventor of the modern spray can

After graduating from school, Bob studied engineering. But before graduating, he left the university and opened his own small mechanics workshop. In 1943 he was drafted into the US armed forces and took part in the fighting on the European theater of war.

After the end of the war, Bob Abplanalp initially worked in his own workshop again, where a fateful incident occurred for his future: In 1949 a customer asked to repair a leaky valve on a spray can. Abplanalp tinkered with it to improve it, and in the course of his experiments invented a valve - later the so-called one-inch valve - which made it possible to spray liquids in a can with the help of an added propellant. The valve could be mass-produced easily and cheaply. The previously far too great weight of the associated spray cans was decisively reduced through the use of the much lighter aluminum, so that now all possible substances in spray cans could be offered cheaply and easy to handle. The triumphant advance of the spray can could begin. A triumph that then stalled with the climate crisis and the ozone hole over 30 years ago: the controversial CFC propellants - which brought hairspray into disrepute in the 1980s, among other things - have now been replaced by other substances.

300 patents on inventions and four billion aerosol cans

Abplanalp had his invention patented and in 1949 founded the company called Precision Valve Corporation, which specialized in the manufacture of spray cans. Just one year later, Abplanalp's company was producing around 15 million aerosol cans for the US market, and soon after that it was one billion aerosol cans per year. It was the beginning of Abplanalp's business empire with branches all over the world. Precision Valve Corporation became the leader in the world market. In 2004 the company manufactured around four billion aerosol cans per year and held over 300 patents in this production area. In 1956 Robert Abplanalp married Josephine Sloboda, who had previously worked for one of his subcontractors. The couple had two children.

Member of Nixon's kitchen cabinet

In later life Abplanalp joined the Republican Party and financially supported numerous campaigns. After Richard Nixon campaigned against John in 1960. F. Kennedy, the two men met personally and soon became close friends. Nixon's law firm represented Abplanalp's company from then on. When Nixon bought a house in Key Biscayne, Florida in 1969, the two of them moved closer together. Abplanalp owned a property right next door. Because of Nixon's numerous stays in Key Biscayne - more than fifty times during his presidency - his domicile there was named "Florida White House". Bob Abplanalp became a member of Nixon's so-called «kitchen cabinet», which also included the evangelist Billy Graham.

«I was just lucky»

Bob Abplanalp provided financial and emotional support to President Nixon during his tumultuous years in and out of office. Immediately after Nixon's resignation in August 1974, Abplanalp flew to California to accompany the disgraced former president in his first days as a private citizen, to give him other ideas and to cheer him up. Abplanalp himself rated his contribution as modest. "My job," he once said, "was to tell a few little jokes." That is why there was always a happy atmosphere around Bob Abplanalp. It was no different 41 years ago when Nixon accompanied his friend to the Planalp. The usually grouchy US President off duty showed the locals to be in a good mood. Richard Nixon and his father were the heroes of his life, Abplanalp once said in an interview and added: "But Nixon was malicious."

Hundreds of times millionaire, inventor and entrepreneur Bob Abplanalp, who in the packaging industry was sometimes compared to Henry Ford, inventor of the mass automobile, died on August 30, 2003 in New York. When asked about his immense success, he said: "I was just lucky."

Series «Descent from the Bernese Oberland»

In the 19th century, there was a fundamental change in the motivation to emigrate in Switzerland. The Bernese emigrants from the USA were hardly persecuted religious, political or social minorities and no adventurers either, but primarily “economic refugees”. The area of ​​what is now the United States became the main destination for Swiss emigrants in general and Bernese emigrants in particular in the 19th and early 20th centuries. According to American statistics, over 250,000 Swiss people immigrated to the USA between 1821 and 1920. There were also numerous people from the Bernese Oberland. The Jungfrau Zeitung traces their traces and those of their descendants in the series “Ancestry Bernese Oberland”.

1st chapter: Robert Henry "Bob" Abplanalp, inventor of the modern spray can and friend and supporter of US President Richard Nixon.