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European Themeroute Production and Manufacturing | Cutlery

Hardly any other industry can trace its origins as far back in history as the European cutlery trade. Once it was widespread and primarily settled in places with hydroelectric power or close to important trade centres or routes. The industrialization of the 19th century entailed a concentration on a ... more

Icon: CutleryProduction of cutlery - not only "Made in Solingen"

Hardly any other industry can trace its origins as far back in history as the European cutlery trade. Once it was widespread and primarily settled in places with hydroelectric power or close to important trade centres or routes. The industrialization of the 19th century entailed a concentration on a small number of industrial zones scattered all over Europe, which – a common feature of that time – resembled each other more than neighbouring industrial centres of a single country. International interrelations like this are one of the reasons why entrepreneurs in the Bergisches Land ("Country of Berg" or "Land of Berg") called their factories ‚Cromford‘, ‚Birmingham‘ or ‚Sheffield‘. Until the mid 19th century, the named region closely followed the English model while being a pioneer itself as to the Prussian-German hinterland.

Industrialization of the cutlery production

Originally, it was mainly small workshops that produced cutlery, which can still be seen in Laguiole or Langres (France). Hydropower driving hammer works, bellows and, eventually, grinding mills shaped the trade to such an extend that steam engines only emerged with delay, for example in Thiers (France). In Solingen, almost all conventional ‚Wasserkotten‘ (water-powered grinding shops) were still in operation around 1900, even though steam grinding plants had long been in use at that time. As elsewhere in Europe, the introduction of drop forging technology strongly stimulated productivity, leaving the grinding sector with its artisanal structures behind. Small businesses, in turn, took advantage of the electric motor, which became widespread in the first decades of the 20th century.

Actually, the number of small workshops literally exploded. Around 1925, Solingen‘s cottage industry employed around 13,000 home workers, most of them based in Kotten (workshops) owned by themselves. But the advent of the electric motor also propelled the mechanization in factories. In the 1920s, Solingen and neighbouring Wuppertal-Kohlfurth laid the foundation for grinding technologies that were to set worldwide standards after the Second World War. Today, the cutlery industry is characterized by a strongly bipolar structure. There are workshops still deeply rooted in artisanal traditions as well as companies – for example in Portugal – with a very high degree of mechanization or even automation.

European interrelations
Solingen, Sheffield (England) and Thiers (France), the three most important European cutlery centers, have a great deal in common. They arose from old, export-focused crafts based on rather small-scale businesses dominated by blacksmiths, metal hardeners, grinders and fitters, some of whom regarded themselves as ‚independent‘ even when their workplace was part of the client's factory premises. In addition, Solingen provided sought-after support to other sites, for instance in Klingenthal in Alsace, which probably would not have developed as it did without the help of expert workforce from Solingen. Other examples are Premana (I), Gembloux (B), Maniago (I) and Thuringia (G), benefitting from close contacts and migration links that partly exist until to this day.

But there are also differences. The traditional hubs of the industry meanwhile host museums devoted to cutlery, whereas new players such as Portugal did not (yet) enter this level of awareness with history. Moreover, the global pattern of the cutlery trade has changed. Machines that Solingen companies scrap as obsolete may still be profitable in Spain and Portugal. This does not necessarily mean that technical standards vary from country to country. Sometimes, even within a single site, the plants‘ machinery differs considerably from one another. In addition, hardly any other industry boasts the same diversity of manufacturing conditions, which is due to the abundance of textile samples that still shapes the industry and enables even smaller and technically outdated companies to produce small batches for niche markets.

Centres of cutlery production
Since the late Middle Ages, Solingen was the undisputed centre for the manufacture of blades, knives and, subsequently, scissors. In addition, there were local hubs in various places, such as Steinbach (Thuringia), where the GDR knive production was located. The nearby Trusetal was another local centre of the cutlery trade, Leegebruch near Berlin produced pocket knives and Aue (Saxony) specialized on flatware for the GDR market. Apart from that, there are relevant companies in Baden-Wuerttemberg (WMF, Giesser, Dick) and Bremen (Robbe & Berking).

France is home to several operating cutlery centers with a history that spans several centuries. Nogent once delivered luxury goods to wealthy customers in Paris, the museum in St.-Jean-de-Maurienne in the French Jura, set up in a former plant of the Opinel family, attracts more than 60,000 visitors every year, and Klingenthal in Alsace has a long tradition as royal armoury. The production scheme of the French "Le Thiers" pocket knife has kept an entire generation of small workshops at work and helped the eponymous city to gain new prestige. In Laguiole, the revitalized sector has boosted a whole, economically neglected region.

Sheffield, the centre of British cutlery production and the trade’s undisputed world champion in the 19th century, now stands for the deindustrialisation of a steel city. Only a few remains of the cutlery industry have been preserved. The Belgian Gembloux was confronted with similar issues. On the contrary, Albacete, focal point of the Spanish cutlery industry, as well as Portugal have experienced a tremendous boom.

The two major sites of the Italian cutlery industry are located on the southern slope of the Alps: Premana east of Lake Como and Maniago north of Venice. Maniago owns a museum that is housed in the imposing building of a socially-owned enterprise built before the First World War. Victorinox, the world’s largest manufacturer of pocket knives, is based in Switzerland, while the Austrian counterpart – Feitel – is not produced any more except for a museum located in the village of Trattenbach.

The Cutlery trade today
The cutlery industry does not seem to be ready to accept its deeply European character. The more capital is involved in applying new technologies, the more congruent are the features of the trade. In addition, technical skills are no longer a secret, which means that Solingen expertise is not essential any more to set up a new production unit.Thus, the industry has developed rapidly in the last 25 years. Former production hubs have vanished or are subject to structural transformation, while new sites are booming. What is more, there is hardly any other ‚old‘ industrial sector that combines industrial museums with highly advanced facilities and handicraft with state-of-the-art production methods.


 

This European theme route was developed in cooperation with the ERIH Anchor Point Hendrichs Drop Forge LVR Industrial Museum in Solingen.

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ERIH Anchor Points

A museum that is still in production? A factory full of the noise of hammering and hissing, with a huge drop hammer beating glowing steel into shape? This is all part of the everyday life at the Hendrichs Drop Forge in Solingen. The machines here have never really stood still, not even in 1986 when ...
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Hendrichs Drop Forge LVR Industrial Museum
Merscheider Str. 289 - 297
42699 Solingen, Germany

Sheffield | United Kingdom
Knives, saws, scythes, files, razor blades, cutlery. No doubt about it, Sheffield is the English equivalent of Solingen. What began with small workshops in the 16th century quickly developed into the brand mark of an up-and-coming industrial city. Later Sheffield was to pioneer modern steel ...
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Kelham Island Museum
Alma Street
S3 8RY Sheffield, United Kingdom

Sites

Trattenbach, a municipality in Lower Austria's industrial district, has a long tradition of manufacturing so-called pocket ‚Feiteln‘ – simple pocket knives with only one blade. In the 16th century there were 16 knife workshops in the Trattenbach valley, all of them operating the trade as extra ...
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Village Museum Trattenbach – In the valley of the knife manufacturers (Feitelmacher)
Museumsdorf Trattenbach - Im Tal der Feitelmacher
Hammerstraße 2a
4453 Trattenbach, Austria

Gabrovo is called ‘The Bulgarian Manchester’ because of the sudden growth of industry there in the nineteenth century. IMI, the Interactive Museum of Industry, tells the story of its wide range of trades – leather production, weaving, pottery, iron forging, carpentry, ropemaking and knife making. It ...
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IMI Interactive Museum of Industry
Интерактивен музей на местната индустрия
ul "Nikolaevska" 3
5300 Gabrovo, Bulgaria

Fiskars | Finland
The ironworks founded in 1649 at Fiskars 78 km west of Helsinki by Peter Thorwöste has had a continuous history since that time and its work is carried on by the Fiskars Corporation. From 1822 it was managed by Johan Julin (d 1853) who developed the whole area encouraging initiatives in agriculture ...
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Fiskars Museum
Peltorivi 13
10470 Fiskars, Finland

Klingenthal | France
The small town in northern Alsace owes its name to the Royal Arsenal founded in 1730 thanks to the initiative of Colbert, Minister of Economics under Louis XIV. 25 craftsmen from Solingen were recruited to work in the weaponry. In 1770, the 600-inhabitants village was home to two hammer mills, a ...
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Manufacture Klingenthal
La Manufacture Royale d'armes blanches d' Alsace
2, Rue de l' École
67530 Klingenthal, France

Laguiole | France
Laguiole is located on the Aubrac plateau in the southwest of the Massif Central and is well-known for the knife that bears the town’s name. A local cutler developed the Laguiole knife in 1829, following the pattern of the Navaja, the traditional Spanish pocket knife. It was very popular with ...
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Laguiole Forge
Route de l'Aubrac - BP 9
12210 Laguiole, France

Nogent | France
In the course of the 18th century, the cutlery trade moved from Langres, the birthplace of the writer and co-editor of the Encyclopédie Denis Diderot, to Nogent (Haut-Marne), about 20 km to the north. The elegant products manufactured at Nogent were sold as luxury articles to the Paris upper class ...
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Nogent Museum of Cutlery
Musée de la coutellerie
Place Charles de Gaulle
52800 Nogent, France

St-Jean-de-Maurienne | France
The story of the Opinel knife begins in 1890 in a small smithy near St.-Jean-de-Maurienne in the French Alps when the grandson of the company founder, Joseph Opinel, assembled the Opinel pocket knife. During the First World War the production moved to a former tannery in Cognin near Chambéry, ...
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Opinel Museum
Musée Opinel
25 rue Jean Jaurès
73300 St-Jean-de-Maurienne, France

Thiers | France
Since the 14th century, the small town Thiers (Puy-de-Dôme), located in the northern Massif Central, is committed to the manufacture of cutlery, the main lifeblood of the trade being the river Durolle with its steep gradient. In 1840, 12 hammer mills and 70 grinding cottages spread along its banks. ...
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Thiers Museum of Cutlery
Musée de la Coutellerie
23 et 58 rue de la Coutellerie
63300 Thiers, France

Solingen | Germany
ME FECIT SOLINGEN –Solingen made me. These three words were engraved into sword blades all over the world. In the Middle Ages Solingen began to make a reputation for itself as a “weapons factory” of European rank. Its most prominent customers were General Wallenstein (during the 30 Years War) and ...
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German Museum of Blades
Klostenhof 4
42653 Solingen, Germany

Since the 15th century, bladed arms, tools and cutlery for the Republic of Venice were produced in Maniago. Meanwhile, most of the once abundant small workshops around the town center have disappeared. Today’s cutlery production has moved to modern factories in newly established industrial zones. On ...
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Museum of the Art of Manufacture and Cutlery
Museo dell'Arte Fabbrile e delle Coltellerie
Via Maestri del Lavoro, 1
33085 Maniago, Italy

Premana | Italy
Premana, located about 20 km east of Lake Como at an altitude of roughly 1,000 metres, is one of the most spectacular sites of the European cutlery industry. The narrow streets are home to countless small workshops, and nearly all families in this 2,500-inhabitants town depend on the cutlery trade. ...
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Premana Ethnographic Museum
Museo Etnografico di Premana
via Roma 18
23834 Premana, Italy

Scarperia | Italy
Cutlery manufacture in the small town of Scarperia north of Florence is almost forgotten. The origins of the local cutlery trade date back to the 14th century, with sales being processed via Florentine traders. Scarperia was in charge of supplying the armies of the Florence city-state with edged ...
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Museum of Cutting Tools
Museo dei Ferri Taglienti
Piazza dei Vicari
Scarperia, Italy

The first weapons factory in Zlatoust opened in 1815 to produce blade weaponry for the Russian army and navy. The city was created after an ironworks was built in 1754. It is still a centre of knife and sword production with about 60 cooperatives and workshops specializing in producing steel blade ...
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Museum of the Zlatoust Arms Factory
Музей Златоустовской оружейной фабрики
International Square 3
456200 Zlatoust, Russia

Albacete | Spain
Apart from Thiers (F) and Solingen (D), Albacete ranks among Europe’s most important cutlery manufacturing centers. The industrial quartes beyond the old city gates and in Madrigueras, a small town to the north, are home to about 70 companies with almost 2,000 employees. Europe's only technical ...
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Municipal Museum of Cutlery
Museo Municipal de la Cuchillería
Plaza de la Catedral s/n
02001 Albacete, Spain

Toledo | Spain
The ancient city of Toledo stands above a dramatic gorge on the River Tagus, which is crossed by one of the world’s most celebrated stone arches, the Alcántara Bridge, constructed by the Romans and many times rebuilt. The city is dominated by the Alcázar fortress which took its present form in the ...
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Toledo Army Museum
Museo del Ejércuti de Toledo
Call Union
45001 Toledo, Spain

Eskilstuna | Sweden
Eskilstuna is a planned industrial town of the mid-17th century, established for King Carl Gustaf in 1658 by Reinhold Rademacher. Twenty wooden smithy buildings, designed by the architect Jean de la Vallée, were laid out on a grid plan. Smiths, including nailers, locksmiths and cutlers, many of them ...
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Rademacher’s Forges
Rademachersmedjorna
Rademachergatan 50
632 20 Eskilstuna, Sweden

Brunnen (Gemeinde Ingenbohl) | Switzerland
Since the 17th century, cutlery has been produced in many places in Switzerland, such as Basel, Bern, Schaffhausen, Zug or Ibach, but also in the western parts of the country like in Delémont Vallorbe or Vevey. In 1890, when the Association of Swiss Master Cutlers was established, there still were ...
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Victorinox Museum & Brand Store
Swiss Knife Valley, Visitor Center
Bahnhofstrasse 3
6440 Brunnen, Switzerland

Sheffield | United Kingdom
Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet is one of Britain’s most atmospheric industrial heritage sites. It was a water-powered works for making steel scythes – essential tools for cutting crops by hand. The site was used for 500 years until it closed in 1930. The present buildings date from between 1714 and ...
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Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet
Abbeydale Road South
S7 2QW Sheffield, United Kingdom

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