The town of Arbon, north of St Gallen on the shore of the Bodensee (Lake Constance) has a population of only about 13,000, but was the location for three generations of one of Europe’s principal manufacturers of commercial motor vehicles. In 1853 Franz Saurer (1806-82) moved from Veringenstadt 10 km north of Sigmaringen, (now in Baden-Württemburg) to St Gallen where he established a foundry producing domestic pots and pans. In 1863 he moved his works to Arbon and began to make Jacquard looms. He formally established his company, F Saurer und Söhne, in 1869, and the family ran the business over three generations. Hippolyt Saurer (1878-1936) began to make petrol engines in 1896, and produced his first motor cars in the following year. From 1903 he concentrated on commercial vehicles, set up subsidiary companies in Austria in 1906, France in 1910, Germany in 1915 and the United Kingdom in 1927, as well as founding the Saurer Motor Truck Co in the United States in 1911. Saurer was probably the leading European producer of heavy vehicles before the First World War. The company diversified into aero engines in the 1930s, and continued to produce trucks, motor buses, trolley busses and textile machines. It was less prosperous after the Second World War. The last commercial vehicle left the assembly line in 1983, but production of trucks for the Swiss Army continued until 1987.
A display of Saurer products was opened in 1993, but, with the support of an ‘old timers’ club’ of former employees, it was relocated to more suitable premises in 2010. It includes examples of commercial vehicles of many kinds, the oldest dating from 1911, as well as an embroidery machine of 1932, looms for tapes, fire engines and military vehicles. The museum holds documentary records of Sauber vehicles and has links with other industrial and transport museums around the shores of the Bodensee.