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History of Weck

HOME PRESERVING IS A GRACIOUS RESPONSE TO THE ABUNDANCE OF A PARTICULAR PLACE. PRESERVERS ARE OFTEN MOVED TO THEIR WORK BY WHERE THEY ARE: A NEW HOUSE WITH WHAT TURNS OUT TO BE A LEMON TREE, A NEIGHBOR WITH EXTRA APPLES TOO TART TO EAT OUT OF HAND, OR THE FORTUNE OF A FAVORITE HIKE WITH A HIDDEN HUCKLEBERRY PATCH. SIMILARLY, JOHANN CARL WECK, FOUNDER OF THE J. WECK COMPANY, MANUFACTURER OF THE ICONIC WECK JARS, WAS ALSO INSPIRED BY PLACE.

It is Nicolas Appert who won the prize for "the art of preserving to any vegetable or animal substance its original freshness", as stated in the act of concession. Appert was asked to transcribe his knowledge in a cookbook, which appeared already in 1822 in the Mörschner and Jasper editions, Vienna, in the German version under the title of "The art of the preservation of all vegetable or animal substances from meat, poultry, game, fish to vegetable toppings and cakes through medicinal plants, fruit, meat jellies and fruit juices, besides beer, coffee, tea, etc. without losing one gram of freshness and flavour”. In full honours, Nicolas Appert died in Paris in 1841 at the age of 91.
The name of Johann Weck appears for the first time after the discovery of the process and its certification. Johann Weck, born in 1841 in Schneidheim in the Taunus, had moved in 1895 to Öflingen near Säckingen in the Baden Land at the Swiss border, after having bought from Director Hussener the "Rempel patent". Johann Weck was a notorious vegetarian and defender of life without alcohol. With his products, he wanted to wipe out the scourge of alcohol which then struck the population.
This merchant, Georg van Eyck, born in 1869 in Emmerich, had since his youth entered the family business trade of porcelain and pottery. As a youth he had already the intuition of the merchant who knows the needs of his customers. It is in this way that in the mid-90s, he took the novelty that Johann Weck had offered to porcelain and pottery businesses in Germany: the WECK jar sterilising method. But as Johann Weck had no business sense and knew nothing on advertising, his offers remained desperately unheeded, with the exception of the van Eyck Company in Emmerich. In two years, Georg van Eyck had sold to the housewives of Emmerich, Wesel and surroundings more WECK jars than all the other businesses in Germany put together. He saw far and with his common sense, he had recognised on one hand the importance of this process for a household but on the other hand the possibility to offer to housewives not only jars but also practical demonstrations to convince them to purchase. Later, Georg van Eyck often thanked the women of Emmerich, Wesel and surroundings of having contributed to the worldwide generalisation of the principle of "canning", acknowledging at this time the importance of the WECK process for constituting the foodstuff supplies to housewives.
The WECK Company suffered serious setbacks with the two world wars. When World War I broke out, all commercial contacts with Europe and across the Atlantic were brutally broken and at the end of World War II, the three WECK Company glassware factories which were located in Eastern Germany - the Friedrichshain factory near Cottbus, the Wiesau factory and the Penxig factory near Görlitz, were confiscated without any compensation. After World War II, a new WECK glassware factory was then built in the West, at Bonn-Duisdorf, which in 1950 resumed production of the WECK jars. The new factory in Bonn-Duisdorf, today still owned by the grandchildren of founder Georg van Eyck, has meanwhile developed into a very successful Company thanks to automation. It does not only manufacture the traditional WECK jars but also industrial flasks and bottles for the packaging industry without forgetting the very sought-after WECK glass bricks for their quality of decoration and in the building industry.Contemporary WECK jars consist of a glass lid, glass jar, rubber ring, and two stainless steel clamps. The clamps, which can be removed after water-bath processing, provide the pressure that weights did in Rempel’s version of the jars. The rubber ring, which is heated to help produce a seal, is the only part of the jar that needs to be replaced with repeated use.               

Napoleon at the award of the prize of Nicolas Appert in 1810

Anyhow, Appert had in practice favoured the discovery of Louis Pasteur - French chemist and bacteriologist born in 1822 and died in 1895 who often referred in his scientific works on the experiments of Appert. The difference between Appert and Pasteur is the fact that Pasteur discovered yeast bacteria in the air and tried to make them harmless by leaving them for a few moments at a temperature of 70 °C, while Appert noticed by practice and experience that to achieve a sustainable preservation the foodstuffs had to be sterilised, that is to say boil them at 100 °C. With the discoveries of Guericke and Papin, the experiments of Appert and the scientific reports of Pasteur, all necessary conditions were now gathered - even taken separately, to finally discover the WECK sterilisation process.

The problems and the task to be accomplished had been brought to light; it only remained now to combine all these elements to reach the final discovery.

It is chemist Dr. Rudolf Rempel from Gelsenkirchen that managed to combine all these discoveries and who developed the sterilisation process. The discovery of this man who was born in 1859 and died at the age of 34 in 1893 was patented on 24 April 1892. His wife recounted later in a beautiful letter dated 6 October 1939 addressed to the WECK Company how her husband had found this process that was going to cover the entire world: "50 years ago, my dear husband now deceased, Dr. Rudolf Rempel, then a chemist at the Gelsenkirchen coal distillation Company undertook the first experiments; he used chemistry laboratory powder jars whose edge was polished. He covered the jars with a rubber ring and a tin lid and plunged the jars filled with foodstuff in boiling water by placing a heavy object (stone or weight) on the lid of each jar.

The sterilised milk that he consumed after a few months during one of his visits to the laboratory to make a coffee was remarkably fresh. Then he started the tests at home on Sundays, days of rest, with fruit and vegetables that we would collect directly from our large garden. I had polished the jars on the kitchen sink with abrasive powder, which was not an easy task, and we tried in all possible ways to sterilise various fruit and vegetables having a beautiful appearance. Often the jars did not close but those who remained sealed withstood remarkably well. It was then necessary to produce a device that would keep the lid on jars during cooking. A device, in which we screwed the jars for cooking, was quickly abandoned because of the many failures. We then produced a device where the jars were under spring pressure. But the attempts were far from convincing. I prepared as many as 80 to 100 canned fruits and vegetables for our own use and it was only after many Sundays that I managed to give to my canned goods a beautiful appearance.

One day, we hosted a consulting engineer, Dr. Otto Sack from Leipzig. He made a speech about the new law governing patents and the protection of registered models before the Technical Committee. My husband was the chairman of this committee. When Dr. Sack saw our multi-coloured jars, he was very excited and told my husband, "You have made a great discovery. To date, there is no sterilisation process that has been proven besides tin cans". With the support of the consulting engineer, my husband obtained patents in many countries and his younger brother, a manufacturer in Plettenberg, Kreis Altena, was in charge for the distribution of jars and appliances. Among the first customers, there was a certain Mr. Johann Weck.

He showed a keen interest for this business and ordered a full wagon of jars. But we were not yet equipped to deal with such large orders. All our savings were swallowed by the acquisition of patents, the construction of a warehouse, prints and advertising. My husband fell seriously ill and died at the age of 34. Albert Hüssener, the director of the first benzene factory in Germany (my husband had been employed there), smelled a good business and founded the Hüssener Company. But he made the mistake of not investing in advertising and as his expectations were not fulfilled, an acquaintance, Johann Weck, bought the business.

At Zabern (Saverne in French) in Alsace, I still had in my possession about 100 jars which I used regularly. I showed them to several of my acquaintances who were enthusiastic and soon all ordered their own jars directly at Öflingen. It was not long before an Alsatian merchant obtained the resale rights. It is thanks to me that the first jars appeared in Southern Africa: the sons of my friends, who were officers with the occupation troops, soon received from their mothers the WECK jars filled with fruits, vegetables and meat. Today - at 75 - I am still interested in the devices and I rejoice to see how the new devices and jars are well finished and irreproachable. I noticed it myself when I offered yesterday to my daughter jars as a wedding gift”.

Past, present and future of the WECK Company:

He could now be described as "apostle of nature" and protagonist of a natural and healthy lifestyle. To some extent, he was even marginal and sometimes fickle; he had always to be on the move. The Baden region, rich of orchards, showered his vows. It is like this that Johann Weck - who, as a relentless adept of Dr. Rempel, had obtained the exclusivity for all southern Germany of the new jars and devices to be sterilised, and who later had bought from Hüssener all the Company, that is to say, the whole business including the sterilisation patent - decided to found his own Company in Öflingen in Baden to spread out from there throughout the German territory. But very soon he realised that he could not assume alone the whole business. The commercial work and the required planning for an expansion of this magnitude were not his forte. He therefore allied with the services of a collaborator in the person of a merchant from Emmerich em Niederrhein to whom he had already granted the local representation of his products.

In such a context of success, it is not surprising that Johann Weck asked his talented customer Georg van Eyck from Emmerich how he managed to sell so many WECK jars. When Georg van Eyck described his way of proceeding, Johann Weck spontaneously asked him if he did not want to settle in Öflingen-Baden and organise the sale of his WECK jars throughout Germany. Georg van Eyck accepted and founded with Johann Weck on 1 January 1900 - at the dawn of the 20th century - the Johann Weck and Co. Company in Öflingen (now Wehr-Öflingen). Relentlessly, he built his business and extended it to neighbouring European countries such as Austria, Hungary, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Switzerland and France. Nothing undermined his tenacity, not even the departure of Johann Weck in 1902 who sold his shares for personal and family reasons against a very high license agreement.

Georg van Eyck trained his own employees and organised nationwide the introduction and sale of the WECK jars and WECK devices based on the same measures as those he had applied in his beginnings and which had been so well successful. He hired female home economics teachers that offered in schools, rectories and hospitals contracts with internships for jars and appliances and he never ceased to improve jars, rings, sterilising devices, thermometers and other utensils that he marketed under the "WECK" brand.

Under the WECK brand he created one of the first branded articles in Germany and started a well thought advertising campaign which associated the symbol of the strawberry to the word WECK to make it a branded article - a label that is found even today. A few years after founding his company, Georg van Eyck inherited a small glass factory in Friedrichshain near Cottbus which he made over the years a relatively large and successful Company for that time. During the first four decades, and until the end of World War II, hundreds of millions of WECK jars were manufactured there without which in Germany and in Europe the conservation of household supplies would not have been possible, especially in the hard times of the two world wars. 

 Excerpt from “The WECK Book of Sterilisation, how to properly and safely sterilise" 2008 edition.

Weck was a teetotaler; he abstained from alcohol and was also a vegetarian. Born in 1841 outside of Frankfurt, he later lived in the historic region of Baden, now part of the German state of Baden-Württemberg, on the east bank of the Rhine River. A region of mountains and fertile valleys, southern Baden was a preserver’s paradise of plum, apple, and cherry orchards and was even well suited for growing walnuts and producing honey.

In these abundant surroundings, temperance-minded Weck was interested in a viable and appealing alternative to using fruit to make alcohol and preserving fruit in alcohol (a popular method at the time). To this end, he purchased a patent that originated with chemist Rudolph Rempel. Rempel put up the bounty of his own home garden in order to perfect his method for preserving food by boiling it in a glass jar with a rubber ring and metal lid weighted with something heavy like a rock. He secured the patent in April 1892, shortly before his untimely death in 1893.

Business took off for Weck, particularly after he reached out to George Van Eyck, a local businessman in the Lower Rhine. Van Eyck, who owned a porcelain and pottery shop, began selling Weck jars in 1895. Van Eyck outsold all other Weck purveyors in Germany, demonstrating to Weck that he was a standout salesman. The energy and mind for sales that Van Eyck brought to the young company led Weck to invite him to take over sales for the entire country. Together Weck and Van Eyck officially founded the J. Weck Company on January 1, 1900. Within two years, Weck jars began to be sold outside of Germany in countries such as France, Switzerland, and Austria.

Insisting on a comprehensive approach when selling the jars, Van Eyck always worked to educate potential customers on the practical aspects of preserving. In 1902, when Weck left the firm, providing this sort of education was one of the ways that Van Eyck continued to grow the company. Using a model that he developed when he first began selling the jars, he partnered with the experts in home preserving at the time to offer cooking classes and promote the spread of canning in religious and community centers. In keeping with this business philosophy, WECK produced a home and garden magazine for over 95 years.

As he stoked his potential customers’ interest in home preserving, Van Eyck also made improvements to the jars’ design and function. He trademarked WECK and created the strawberry logo with the word “WECK” across the center. It was one of the first trademarks in Germany, and the strawberry logo is still used by the company today.

Not surprisingly, the time around both World War I and World War II proved difficult for the company. During World War I business suffered gravely when all of WECK’s trade agreements with other European countries came to a halt and before the end of World War II, three of the company’s factories were subject to property seizures. After World War II, the company began production at a factory near Bonn, Germany, where they continue to manufacture jars, as well as other commercial glass products such as soda bottles and their ubiquitous glass blocks. The headquarters of the company are still in Öflingen, Germany, where the company was started over 100 years ago.