swissworld.org - Switzerland's official information portal

swissworld.org - Switzerland's official information portal

Your Gateway to Switzerland

Horace-Bénédict de Saussure

Horace-Bénédict de Saussure heads up Mont Blanc with his team of helpers in 1787 (in new window)

Horace-Bénédict de Saussure heads up Mont Blanc with his team of helpers in 1787. The last guide is carrying a charcoal stove. Contemporary engraving by Chrétien de Méchel© Conservatoire d'art et d'histoire Annecy

Horace-Bénédict de Saussure (1740 - 1799) was a pioneer of rational exploration of the Alps. He has been described as the "inventor of climbing": he offered a reward of 20 thalers to the first person to conquer Mont Blanc, a feat eventually achieved in 1786, 26 years after he first made his offer. Saussure himself also made it to the top the next year. At the summit he tested the boiling point of water, the temperature of the snow and the pulse of his guides.

For a man who had spent so long investigating the mountains, the venture was entirely justified. As he said himself, looking down on the peaks below: "I could see how they fitted together, their relationship to each other, their structure, and a single glance dissipated doubts which years of work had not been able to clarify."

He did not travel light. He not only needed a considerable amount of scientific equipment, food for himself and his guides and a tent, but - according to his list of "items to be taken to Mont Blanc" - his clothes included 2 frock coats, a number of waistcoats, 2 night shirts, 3 pairs of shoes and some slippers and 2 cravats, and he needed not only a bed and blanket, but also a mattress and curtain. Among the books he took to his base camp was Haller's guide to Swiss flora.

Saussure was portrayed on the 20 franc note of the 1976 series.

Links to other websites