Joseph Räber was born in Küssnacht in the Swiss canton of Schwyz in 1872. His first employment was at a savings bank, of which his father (also Joseph) was the manager. Räber went on to study law in Zurich, Strasbourg and Munich. He obtained his doctorate in 1898 and opened a law practice in Küssnacht. The following year he became a criminal judge and was elected to the district council. In 1904, Räber became a member of the canton’s government. He went on to join the Council of State, Switzerland’s upper house, in 1915 and was its president in 1921-1922.
From 1905 Räber also served on Swiss Federal Railways’ Board of Directors, whose members represented national and cantonal governments. He gave up this position in 1928 when he was nominated to succeed Henri Etienne as Director of the ITU Bureau.
Räber had long been interested in modern technologies, including telecommunications. This enthusiasm, alongside his extensive knowledge of law, was invaluable in his work at ITU. He ensured that the Bureau could respond to increasing demands, and was an expert on legal issues and the complexities of the Radio Regulations. Räber also took a particular interest in the Journal Télégraphique (the forerunner of ITU News), which he believed should convey a true picture of important events and advances in the field of telecommunications.
As Director of the ITU Bureau, Räber took part in the International Telegraph Conference of 1928 in Brussels and the European Radiocommunications Conference held in 1933 in Lucerne. In 1932, he attended the International Telegraph and International Radiotelegraph Conferences in Madrid where he witnessed the decision to modernize the name of the International Telegraph Union to the International Telecommunication Union, by which it is still known worldwide today.
Joseph Räber, like his predecessor at ITU, Henri Etienne, died while travelling. In Räber’s case, it was on a train during a journey in the canton of Berne, at the age of sixty-two. It ended a distinguished career as a lawyer and member of government, as well as an active promoter of telecommunications.