Dufour, Guillaume-Henri

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Dufour, Guillaume-Henri

(b. Constance, Switzerland, 15 September 1787; d. Les Contamines [near Geneva], Switzerland, 14 July 1875)


Dufour’s family came from Geneva, where he studied military engineering. He also studied at the École Polytechnique in Paris and the École de Génie at Metz. When Geneva was incorporated into the French territory, he served as a sublieutenant in the army of his new country. In 1813, he was in Napoleon’s army defending Corfu and had become a captain by the time of the fall of the Empire. In 1817 he returned to Switzerland and was appointed ingénieur cantonal. His work on fortification at Grenoble and his construction works in Geneva—which greatly improved the city—made him wellknown. In 1818, he became the chief instructor of the military school that he had helped to establish at Thun.

When Geneva was reintegrated into Switzerland, Dufour joined the Swiss army. He was made a colonel in 1827. In 1831 he became chief of staff, and in 1833 he commanded a division that restored order in Basel. He began his pioneering work in triangulation the same year in order to prepare topographical maps of the Confederation. The maps were later published (1842–1864). He was elected a general of the Swiss army in 1847, during the Sonderbund War, again in 1849 to preserve Swiss neutrality, in 1856 during the conflict with Prussia over Neuchâtel, and finally—for the fourth time—in 1859, when the French threatened to annex Savoy. He was a conservative member of the federal assembly, and in 1864 presided over the Geneva international congress which drew up the rules for treatment of the wounded in wartime and resulted in the creation of the Red Cross.

A bronze equestrian statue of Dufour stands in the Place Neuve in Geneva.


I. Original Works. Dufour’s works include Cours de tactique (Paris, 1840); De la fortification permanente (Geneva, 1822); Mémoire sur l’artillerie des anciens et sur celle du moyen âge (Paris, 1840); and Mémorial pour les travaux de guerre (Geneva, 1820).

II. Secondary Literature. See also E. Chapuisat, Le Général Dufour, 2nd ed. (Lausanne, 1942); and T. Stark, La famille du général Dufour et les Polonais (Geneva, 1955).

Asit K. Biswas