Seven generations – one company / Chapter 5.
The fifth generation
Throughout the year, in this section we are going to present you with an overview of the previous seven generations of the Wüsthof family who have worked for the company. This time, we are going to take a look at the fifth generation.
In 1914, as a result of the early retirement of Eduard for health reasons and the unexpected death of Robert Wüsthof Sr., the company was facing upheaval. Having been so successful until this point, the company had now lost its managers. But it was not without a leader. After all, Robert had left behind five sons, all of whom were prepared to continue on the path that had been so successfully trodden by previous generations.
First of all, however, the First World War made its demands. Whilst Robert, at 27 the eldest of the five sons, took over the management of the company, his four younger brothers, Artur, Bruno, Hugo Eduard and Erich fought on various fronts.
As soon as the war came to an end in 1918, the five brothers began to rebuild customer relationships, which had been abruptly interrupted by the war.
They each found their own area of expertise, with Robert responsible for overall management.
To begin with, the old entrepreneurial spirit reigned amongst the brothers. The factory underwent significant expansion. New departments were set up to manufacture wooden handles and Alpaca cutlery and chrome-plating facilities were introduced.
Then came the revolutionary changeover to stainless steel in the 1930s. But there is no denying the fact that the involvement of five brothers in the company management led to unresolved disputes and stalemates. Whilst successful sales trips were made to many different countries, the momentum for technical innovations began to wane.
The brightest star among the brothers was Hugo Eduard, a linguistic genius, who spoke five languages and established a significant market in Italy. In 1928/29, he spent nearly a year travelling around the world, just as Jules Verne described in his famous novel.
The Second World War was just around the corner. Instead of knives and shears, the company had to produce steel toe caps, forgings for the Wehrmacht and parts for the armaments industry. In November 1944, the city of Solingen was almost completely destroyed during attacks by the British Air Force.
Only two bombs fell on the Dreizackwerk, causing just partial damage. This meant that the Wüsthofs were in a position to start producing knives again soon after the end of the war. Post-war business was very successful, since most of the competition – the other knife factories – had been destroyed during the war.
What started out as an advantage, however, turned out in later years to be a disadvantage. The factories that had been destroyed were rebuilt with the help of the Marshall Plan and production was soon more efficient than at the old Dreizackwerk.
In the next chapter of the WÜSTHOF story, you will find out about the problems the sixth generation faced.