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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

Solingen | Germany

A museum that is still in production? A factory ...

Hendrichs Drop Forge LVR Industrial Museum
Merscheider Str. 289 - 297
42699 Solingen, Germany

Sheffield | United Kingdom

Knives, saws, scythes, files, razor blades, ...

Kelham Island Museum
Alma Street
S3 8RY Sheffield, United Kingdom

Sites

Trattenbach | Austria

Trattenbach, a municipality in Lower Austria's ...

Village Museum Trattenbach – In the valley of the knife manufacturers (Feitelmacher)
Museumsdorf Trattenbach - Im Tal der Feitelmacher
Hammerstraße 2a
4453 Trattenbach, Austria

Gabrovo | Bulgaria

Gabrovo is called ‘The Bulgarian Manchester’ ...

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 ...

Fiskars Museum
Peltorivi 13
10470 Fiskars, Finland

Klingenthal | France

The small town in northern Alsace owes its ...

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 ...

Laguiole Forge
Route de l'Aubrac - BP 9
12210 Laguiole, France

Nogent | France

In the course of the 18th century, the cutlery ...

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 ...

Opinel Museum
Musée Opinel
25 rue Jean Jaurès
73300 St-Jean-de-Maurienne, France

Thiers | France

Since the 14th century, the small town Thiers ...

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 ...

German Museum of Blades
Klostenhof 4
42653 Solingen, Germany

Maniago | Italy

Since the 15th century, bladed arms, tools and ...

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 ...

Premana Ethnographic Museum
Museo Etnografico di Premana
via Roma 18
23834 Premana, Italy

Scarperia | Italy

Cutlery manufacture in the small town of ...

Museum of Cutting Tools
Museo dei Ferri Taglienti
Piazza dei Vicari
Scarperia, Italy

Zlatoust | Russia

The first weapons factory in Zlatoust opened ...

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), ...

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 ...

Toledo Army Museum
Museo del Ejércuti de Toledo
Call Union
45001 Toledo, Spain

Eskilstuna | Sweden

Eskilstuna is a planned industrial town of the ...

Rademacher’s Forges
Rademachersmedjorna
Rademachergatan 50
632 20 Eskilstuna, Sweden

Brunnen (Gemeinde Ingenbohl) | Switzerland

Since the 17th century, cutlery has been ...

Victorinox Museum & Brand Store
Swiss Knife Valley, Visitor Center
Bahnhofstrasse 3
6440 Brunnen, Switzerland

Sheffield | United Kingdom

Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet is one of ...

Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet
Abbeydale Road South
S7 2QW Sheffield, United Kingdom

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