The magazine was founded in 1875 by Jean Nötzli of Zurich as an “illustrated humorous political weekly.” The magazine was modeled on the British magazine Punch. It continued being a satirical magazine until the takeover and relaunch of the magazine by Markus Somm, though has been a monthly since late 1996. When Punch ceased publication in 2002, Nebelspalter became the oldest continually published humor magazine in the world.

The Nebelspalter — the title translates as “Fog-cleaver” — had its heyday in the 1930s, before and during the Second World War, when it denounced the acts of violence and ideology of the Nazis and of their followers in Switzerland, the Frontists. In 1933 Nebelspalter was banned in Germany. Meanwhile, its circulation in Switzerland increased rapidly.

The Nebelspalter had developed into a “spearhead of intellectual defense” against National Socialism, and it took a similar stand against communism in the Cold War until the 1960s.

The Nebelspalter could not keep up with the rapid development of the Swiss media landscape in the last third of the 20th Century. Cartoons, columns, and other satirical forms migrated more and more into the daily press and the audiovisual media. As it became more conventional the magazine steadily lost subscribers and readers.

In 1998, the Thurgau publisher Thomas Engeli took over the ailing paper at the last minute. He managed to stop the loss of subscribers and readers and launch a new approach. Meanwhile, the magazine again had 200 regular text and image contributors. For its 130th anniversary in 2005, Nebelspalter ventured a gentle relaunch, apparently with some success.

According to the Wikipedia