WMF (Wurttembergische Metallwaren Fabrik)

The renowned German metalware Company

The firm was producing metal ware in different styles:

* Classical
* Art Nouveau (Jugendstil)
* Art Deco
* Celtic / Viking revival
* Bauhaus
* Hotel ware

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The Celtic / Viking revival style was introduced to compare against the English Arts & Crafts movement.

During the First World War, Hugo Debach, who would later become director-general of WMF, took the initiative in having experiments conducted in chemical and thermal tinting of metals. Shortly before 1927 he founded the Neue Kunstgewerbliche Abteilung (NKA: New Division for the Applied Arts) at WMF for upgrading metals. The brilliant colors and the boundless possibilities for design arising from this new technique met with resounding success at the time

1853 – The Founding of the Company

In 1853, Daniel Straub, a miller from Geislingen, joined forces with the Schweizer Brothers to form the “Metallwarenfabrik Straub & Schweizer” in Geislingen. This was the second company to be founded by Straub – previously in 1850, from the nucleus of a small repair workshop, which he had set up to work on the construction of Geislingen’s famous railway incline, he had founded the Maschinenfabrik Geislingen. This company was involved mainly in manufacturing mill turbines and traded throughout Europe.

1862 – The First Award

As early as 1862, the young company distinguished itself by winning a gold medal at the World Exhibition in London. In 1866, following the departure of the brothers Louis and Friedrich Schweizer, the company was renamed “Straub & Sohn” (Straub & Son). The company showroom, built in 1868 in Berlin, gradually evolved to become the company’s first retail outlet. Three years later, the company was already employing 60 workers. By 1880, the number of employees had grown to approximately 200 and the company was already producing 960 different items.

1880 – Foundation of WMF

1880 saw the merger between Straub & Sohn and “Ritter & Co.”, Esslingen, to form a public limited company under the name of W?rttembergische Metallwarenfabrik. At the time of the merger, Ritter & Co.’s Esslingen factory was already using the electroplating method of silver plating and had the more modern production facilities at its disposal. Straub’s company, on the other hand, was the more profitable of the two.

1883 – Glassworks

Further development occurred with the construction of the glassworks in 1883 on the Geislingen factory site to enable the company to produce its own glass inserts for tea glasses, vases etc.

1887 – Social Benefits with a Tradition

WMF’s Welfare Association was founded in 1887 and provided a programme of social benefits for the workers which far exceeded usual levels at that time. These benefits included a company health insurance scheme (which nowadays has approximately 17,000 insured members), a hardship fund, company housing, distribution of subsidized food products, a company bathhouse and a savings bank. In addition, the Welfare Association was responsible in 1890 for launching one of Germany’s first house journals “Die Feierstunde” (The Leisure Hour), which is still published today under the title “WMF Spiegel” (WMF Mirror).

1890 – Early Diversification

WMF diversified its interests from its earliest days. An example of this is the takeover of the Galvanoplastischen Kunstanstalt (Galvanoplasty Art Institute) in Munich, the production facilities of which were moved to Geislingen in 1894 and remained there until 1950. Their range included burial memorials, ornamental statues for the home and decorative objects for buildings, replicas of works of art, especially from the Renaissance period, and copies of ancient archaeological finds. The most famous piece is the reproduction of the portal to the Baptistery in Florence. The “Gate of Paradise” by Lorenzo Ghiberti, as it is known, is nowadays on display at WMF’s Headquarters in Geislingen.

1892 – The Patented Silver plating Process

1892 saw the development of a special technique for silver plating cutlery, whereby the silver is distributed in a way that, at the points of the cutlery most exposed to wear and tear, the coating is twice as thick as elsewhere. This process was patented and is still in use today. Known nowadays as “Perfect Hard Silver plating” the technique remains exclusive to WMF.

1900 – WMF becomes an International Company

Under Carl H?gele the company gained international standing. At the turn of the century the factory in Geislingen employed 3,000 workers. By 1910, this number had already grown to 4,000, making WMF the largest company in W?rttemberg at this time. Sales catalogues were printed in twelve languages. Subsidiary companies in London, Warsaw and Vienna opened up export markets.

1905 Art Nouveau

Under the direction of Albert Mayer the WMF studio was influenced by the art nouveau style. The product range was modernized and considerably extended. In 1905 WMF acquired a majority holding of the Cologne Company Orivit AG, which manufactured products from “Orivit”, a tin alloy.

1920 Cutlery Becomes Increasingly Important

In the years following the First World War, cutlery increased its share within the range, reaching 60% of the total turnover. In 1920 Silit Cookware of Siemens- Martin (open hearth) steel was launched

1925 Decorative Art Production

As of 1925, products created by the Contemporary Decorative Products Department (NKA) made their debut on the market. This department was set up under the direction of Hugo Debach in order to establish the name of WMF amongst consumers interested in art and design. This department was responsible for producing the special “Ikora” finish, which has earned an important place in the annals of art history. The “Ikora” brand name referred to a specific method of treating the surface of the metal, by which layers of coating were applied in a partly chemical and partly heat induced process. A host of newly developed hand-finishing techniques enhanced the possibilities for adding decorative flourishes to the products. Despite being mass produced, every item looked as if it had been individually crafted.

1927 Cromargan

A decisive factor in the company’s history was the securing of exclusive rights to use the special V2A steel, developed by Krupp, for the production of WMF table and kitchenware items. This material was registered under the name of Cromargan, which is nowadays synonymous with 18/10 stainless steel. WMF launched its first Cromargan® cookware range at the Leipzig Trade Fair in 1927, followed a few years later by the introduction of the first Cromargan cutlery.

1930 Company Owned Retail Network Extended

As a result of the breakdown of the export markets, brought about by the world recession, a new sales strategy was developed with a strong dependence on the domestic market. In this context the number of company owned retail outlets increased from 24 to more than 130 by the end of the thirties. Hence the basis of today’s 150 WMF retail outlets was laid. Alongside this were rationalization measures such as the closure of subsidiary works. Following the closure of the manufacturing site in G?ppingen, production of commercial coffee machines moved to Geislingen in 1932.

1935 Ceramic Workshop

The Contemporary Decorative Products Department (NKA) was expanded with the presence of a ceramic workshop. The ceramic department, which employed 100 workers up to the beginning of the war, further strengthened WMF’s reputation as a creative design company, without primarily focusing on turnover.

1945 – A New Start

At the end of the war the company had lost its foreign assets, associated factories and retail outlets. The years following 1945 saw the start of a concerted effort to reconstruct in terms of personnel, organizational structures and technology in the remaining factory sites. The network of retail shops was rebuilt. Very soon, subsidiaries sprang up in the USA, Holland, Canada, Switzerland, Austria and Italy.

1950 – Cromargan Conquers the Market

By 1950, WMF staff numbers had again swelled to 3,000. Silverplated tableware and cutlery accounted for two thirds of WMF’s turnover, with shops specialising in clocks and watches, gold and silverware representing the company’s main customers. A shift in emphasis occurred at the end of the 1950s and was marked by an increase in the importance of Cromargan cutlery and hollowware. This period saw the creation of classic products, such as designed by Wilhelm Wagenfeld, which still feature in or have been reintroduced into the WMF collection. It also saw an increase in the volume of trade in household and kitchenware items between WMF and specialist retail shops. A number of stemware collections completed the WMF catalogue, followed by the development of an extensive range of products for the hotel and catering industry.

1960 – Further Expansion

By 1960, the Geislingen factory alone employed around 5,800 workers. A shortage of space and manpower at this site led to the setting up of additional branch factories, like the factory in Hayingen and Riedlingen.

2003 – 150 years of WMF

WMF celebrates its 150th birthday. WMF has grown from the small plaque factory, Straub & Schweizer, into an international organization with 5,500 employees. Even in times of economic difficulty WMF has maintained its position with flexibility, and far-sighted business decisions, which have not been without risk. As a modern design conscious business the organization is well equipped for the future.


Between 1900 and 1907 many art nouveau designs went into production, some by well-known designers like Albin M?ller and Peter Behrens. Albert Mayer, the artistic director, was the person who was responsible for these changes. The international success and the resulting economic profit gave room for experimenting with new techniques and for developing a different line of decorative products for a new group of clients without the need for instant profitability. Hugo Debach (director since 1904) established the “Neue kunstgewerbliche Abteilung” (NKA) in 1925. As a result of this some new technical innovations in the field of glass and metal were made followed by further innovations in 1935 when a ceramic studio was added to the NKA. It was also Hugo Debach who brought Karl Wiedmann and ceramics expert Gerda Conitz to the WMF. During these years there were also quite some well-known designer like Prof. Fritz August Breuhaus de Groot, Prof. Richard Riemerschmid and Prof. Paul Haustein working as freelance designers for the WMF. In the 1950s also Prof. Wilhelm Wagenfeld designed for the firm.

 Click here to view our WMF items.