What it was like to work in a “Kotten” grinding workshop in 1814.
Today we will be taking a little journey back in time to the origins of WÜSTHOF, when the company was a grinding workshop known as a “Kotten” in the “Weinsbergtal” valley.
This is where the family’s ancestor Johann Wilhelm Wüsthof made a living sharpening scissor blades. Standing by his side was his son Johann Abraham.
In 1832 Johann Abraham decided to expand the one-sided grinding business. He wanted to produce the scissors, supplying all the work processes involved and becoming an entrepreneur. So he acquired production facilities up on the mountain side at Höfchen near Widdert, a mile or so away from the Wüsthof Kotten.
This is where the blade blanks were forged in a small forge. The blades were then taken to the old Kotten down below in the valley, where they were sharpened on six to eight grinding stones. We no longer know the exact number as the Kotten was sold in 1871 and was later demolished. However, the foundation stones can still be seen today. The scissor blades (individual halves of the scissors) were then transported back up to Höfchen, where they were assembled and packed.
The transport was mostly supplied by delivery women, who carried large round baskets known as “Liewermangen” on their heads over long distances throughout the Solingen area. The full baskets could weigh up to 25 kilos (55 pounds).
At the Wüsthof Kotten, the grinding was broken down into several stages. Firstly, the oxide coating was removed from the blank. Then the fine grinding took place over several stages – in the Solingen area this was known as “Pließten”.
The Wüsthof Kotten was driven by water power from a damned pond. Working conditions were anything but romantic. The work of the grinder was hard and carried a high risk of accident. This was because the natural sandstones used at the time could break or shatter, injuring or even killing the grinder. Then there was the disease known as grinders’ disease, silicosis. This resulted from the perpetual dust, which got into the lungs and significantly reduced average life expectancy. It was only with the invention of grinding stones made of synthetic materials that these dangers were largely averted.
A tried-and-tested way of dealing with these early uncertainties was alcohol, which was consumed in large quantities. The grinders thought they could extend their short lives in this way.
When Johann Abraham Wüsthof died in 1839, he was 60 years old. That was a ripe old age at the time and in those circumstances. He had set the foundation stone for the company WÜSTHOF, on which future generations were able to continue to build.