Franz Trinks

In March 1892, Franz Trinks (1852-1931), a mechanical engineer and personally liable partner of Grimme, Natalis & Co. of Braunschweig, manufacturer of sewing machines and other household items as well as cast goods, was visiting a meeting of German sewing machine manufacturers in Hamburg. There he met a representative of the Russian company Königsberger & Co. of St. Petersburg, who offered him the patents and distribution rights for the Odhner calculating machines for Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland.

Upon his return to Braunschweig, Trinks presented the proposal to the company’s supervisory board and despite its distrust and resistance, he pushed so hard, that the patents offered to him were acquired. Trinks argued as follows: If so a typewriter, which only serves to reduce physical work, has found an unpredictable sales area, the sky is the limit for the time-saving calculating machine that replaces the strenuous mental work with a mechanical crank. This idea later became the trademark for his calculating machine, with the advertising slogan “The brain of steel.”

Brunsviga Model A, produced in several versions from 1895 until about 1920
Brunsviga Model A, produced in several versions from 1895 until about 1920

It was a costly and risky move by Trinks that should pay off in the future. The patents cost the company 10000 RM plus 10 RM licenses for every machine sold. In addition, there were additional costs for special tools, machines, and manufacturing facilities. Immediately after the license agreement was signed in April 1892, the reconstruction of the Odhner machine began. As early as July 1892, the first calculating machine under the name “Brunsviga” (Brunsviga is the Latin name for the city of Braunschweig) could be ordered for 150 marks, on 29 August 1892, Trinks presented in Hanover the “new Brunsviga calculating machine”, and it was exhibited in the same year at the world exhibition in Chicago by Germany, which mainly served the advertising strategy.

The first machine, Brunsviga Model A, is almost identical to Odhner’s 1890 design, as described in his US Patent No. 514725. Then followed the models B, C, D, F, G, H, K, J, JA, Arithmotype (1908, first printing 4-species machine), M, MA, MR, M24, MD, Trinks-Triplex, MDIIR, MH , MJ, MJR and N.

The Brunsviga Model A has dimensions: body 200W x 140D x 120H, overall 470W x 200D x 160H; weight: 11 kg. The brass rotor disks are 71 mm in diameter, with the nine setting levers spaced on 9 mm centers. The moving carriage has 10 places in the counter register and 18 in the accumulator, but the tens-carry mechanism only covers 10 of the 18 places. The carriage is positioned manually by releasing a latch and moving the assembly by hand to the required position. The registers are cleared by a full turn of the large wing nuts on either end. The mechanism is very basic, with no safety interlocks and no added features.

The company soon concentrated not only on replicating the Odhner machine but also began improving the construction, which resulted in different models in order to ultimately meet customer requirements. Trinks got his first patent in this area as early as 1895 (DE87093), and in the next 35 years, he received several hundred patents in different countries for improvements in Brunsviga (by 1912, 89 German patents and 152 foreign patents were issued in his name, as further patents followed). The improvements included the installation of safeguards, such as a locking system that could prevent incorrect operation. Devices were also attached so that the crank was always turned completely, otherwise, a wrong result could be displayed.

Like the sewing machines previously manufactured, the calculating machines were industrially manufactured in large numbers without pre-ordering and were such a great success that after just a few years the company was only producing calculating machines. Some 80 types of calculating machines were on the production line for 66 years.

A Brunsviga advertisement from 1911
A Brunsviga advertisement from 1911

Since the market for calculating machines was not yet developed in Germany at the beginning of Brunsviga’s production, the company concentrated mainly on foreign countries. The global distribution network was used, which had already been created as a basis through the experience of exporting sewing machines. Attempts were made to create new marketing concepts in order to create a market for calculating machines in Germany and to expand the foreign sales market. The Brunsviga story is characterized by the fact that an advertising strategy began at the same time as the start of computer production. In addition to advertising, however, they also rely on advice and customer care, which were based on different service promises. Advertising has mainly relied on the publication of advertisements and articles in newspapers and magazines. The advantages that were promised with the Brunsviga were: No overexertion! No mistakes! No brain work! No loss of time! These motifs were repeated in brochures and brochures for decades. In order for the advertising to be effective, it was supported by an expansive sales system and appropriate user advice and training. In 1905 there were a total of 40 depots or main sales outlets. The company had trade contacts with the most important countries on all five continents. In 1931 there were foreign representations in 92 cities. In Germany, in addition to the dense network of sales agencies, a large number of travel agents were also used, each assigned a specific geographical area and doing customer advice and advertising there. Potential buyers were specifically selected and written to via telephone directory addresses. Contact with customers continued after the sale. The customer service made it possible for every “Brunsviga” owner to be visited by a representative in the event of defects or difficulties. They also organized company employee training for the customers, both introducing new employees to work with existing calculating machines and providing follow-up training. For the representatives, there was a fortnightly central introduction in Braunschweig, which was continued with an equally extensive program related to various applications, e.g. in insurance, for construction companies or also dairies, etc. The result of advertising, advice, and training was that “Brunsviga” established itself as a brand name so well that it became a synonym for “calculating machines”. Brunsviga’s trademark “Brain of Steel” was known in many different countries in the English, French, Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese language areas. Brunsviga also had a significant share in the Hungarian, Norwegian, Swedish, Polish, Italian, Danish, Japanese, Turkish, Bulgarian, Yugoslav, Finnish, Romanian, Czechoslovak, Greek, and Russian calculating machine markets.

The “Brunsviga” owed the decisive share in the global success of the calculating machines not only to their constant improvements and innovations but mainly to the deeds of the inventive, technically gifted, and imaginative engineer and manager Franz Trinks.

Biography of Franz Trinks

Franz Trinks (see the lower portrait from the early 1920s) was born on 19 June 1852 in Helmstedt, an old town on the eastern edge of the German state of Lower Saxony. He was the second son of Caspar Trinks (1823–1892), a local mechanic, watchmaker, and photographer, and his wife Henriette (1817–1858), a milliner. Henriette Trinks was a Jew (the daughter of Levi Salomon (1785–1850) and Rebecka Meier-Bacharach (1782–1855), but upon her marriage in 1847 to Caspar Trinks, who was a Catholic, she converted to Catholicism. Franz had three brothers—Hugo (born 1847), Heinrich (1857–1897), and one who died as an infant; and two sisters—Friederike (b. 1855), and one who died as an infant.

Franz Trinks (1852-1931), a portrait from 1921
Franz Trinks (1852-1931), a portrait from 1923 (Braunschweig. Landesmuseum)

Franz was educated at the local Gymnasium (grammar school) in Helmstedt, then he enrolled Handelsakademie (commercial academy) in Hildesheim. After graduation from Handelsakademie, Trinks began studying mechanical engineering at the Technische Hochschule (Technical University) of Hanover. During his studies, Trinks became a member of the youth association Corps Alemannia Hannover. After graduating in the late 1870s, he worked as a teacher at the technical center in Rinteln and for half a year at the Maschinenfabrik Dippe (machine factory) in Schladen am Harz.

On 1 August 1883, Trinks took over the position of operations director and technical manager at the Braunschweig company “Grimme, Natalis and Co.”, which manufactured sewing machines and foundry products, as the successor to the late company founder Carl Grimme (1836–1883). In April 1884 Trinks became a personally liable partner alongside the company founder Albert Natalis (1831–1904), and kept this position until the company was converted into a stock corporation in 1921.

Kurt Trinks (1882-1958)
Kurt Trinks (1882-1958)

Franz Trinks married in 1877 to Therese Uhde (1849–1919) from Hannover, a daughter of the local court baker. They had one son—Kurt (15 Aug 1882 in Rinteln–6 Sep 1958 in Helmarshausen), and one daughter—Magdalene (1878–1963). Interestingly, Kurt Trinks became a prominent German lawyer and in 1931 was appointed Attorney General of the Free State of Braunschweig and in 1932 President of the Braunschweig Regional Court. However, in 1933 he had to leave this post because of his non-Aryan descent (his grandmother was a Jew) and was demoted to the district judge, but in 1945–1950 he was again President of the Braunschweig Regional Court.

Besides the numerous patents for calculating machines, Trinks’s activity also extended to the construction of telegraph and telephone technology, and cash registers. In 1912 he founded a calculating machine museum in which, in addition to “Brunsviga” machines, a large number of historical forerunners and contemporary calculating devices were collected. In 1910 Trinks was honored with the Knight’s Cross II Class of the Order of Henry the Lion. In 1922 he was made an honorary doctor of the Technical University Braunschweig. Franz-Trinks-Strasse in Braunschweig was named after him.

On 1 April 1926, Franz Trinks retired as technical director and took a seat on the company’s supervisory board until his death on 2 October 1931 in Braunschweig.