Friedrich Soennecken

I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.
Mark Twain

Friedrich Soennecken (1848-1919)

Office administration became a lot more convenient in 1886 when the German inventor Friedrich Soennecken (see the nearby portrait) invented the ring-binder, and the hole-punch. Only several years later Soennecken patented a simple calculating device, which went into production under different names (Consul (the educated monkey), Jumbo (der multiplizierende elefant), der kleine Rechenkünstler, Eureka, Recnomatic, etc.) for many years and had quite a few clones.

Friedrich Soennecken (1848-1919) was a well-known German entrepreneur and inventor, the founder of F. Soennecken Verlag, a German office supplier. The company, incorporated in 1875, existed for almost a century, and although it went into bankruptcy in 1973, its trademark Soennecken, registered in 1905, is still in business.

The calculating device of Soennecken was patented in Germany (patent №51445 for Rechenvorrichtung zum Vervielfachen und Teilen, dated: 13.06.1889) and in Great Britain (patent Nr. 188910495 for Calculating apparatus, dated: 28.06.1889).

Eureka calculating device of Soennecken
Eureka calculating device of Soennecken

The calculating device of Soennecken (see the nearby image of the Eureka calculator (the little accountant), which was produced in Germany from 1889 until 1906) has a base plate, made of wood or another suitable material and painted with different background images. It has a linkage mechanism where the operator placed two small double-armed levers, rotatable around a pin, to point to the numbers to be multiplied, after which the large arrow points to the result.

The multiplication by means of the above-mentioned device (see the patent drawing) takes place in such a way that firstly one of the levers H (e.g. H’, the right lever) is moved to point the first factor. The tip of the pointer Z takes any position on the decade circle of the network of numbers N. If you now take the other lever and set it to the second factor, then during this movement the tip of the pointer Z is set around the point needed and thus set to the number indicating the result.

When solving division problems, the process is reversed. First, one grasps the pointer Z and sets it to the dividend. The position of the two levers is arbitrary. Then one moves one lever so that it comes to rest on the divisor, during which rotation the second lever naturally adjusts itself to the quotient.

Eureka and its clones were sold in many countries, for example in 1904 and 1905 it was sold in France for 3.00 FFr by the publisher of the French magazine Les Inventions Illustrées.

Biography of Friedrich Soennecken

Friedrich Soennecken in 1876
Friedrich Soennecken in 1876

Friedrich Soennecken was born in Iserlohn-Dröschede, Sauerland, on 20 September 1848, as the sixth of twelve children of the blacksmith Johann Peter Caspar Soennecken (1810-1871), and his wife Louise Wehner (1820-1879). Friedrich attended elementary school in Iserlohn, but later the meager financial resources did not allow for theology studies as he originally intended. In 1864, after only two years spent in a rectorate school, Soennecken began a commercial apprenticeship at the Iserlohn company Aurand & Sudhaus (spurs, stirrups, carriage fittings).

A loan from a brother enabled Friedrich to become self-employed in 1875. On 27 May 1875, he founded the trading company F. Soennecken Verlag in Remscheid. A good year later, the young entrepreneur moved from Remscheid to Bonn, where the company started by selling special circular (synchronous) nibs. Manufactured according to his specifications in Birmingham and marked with his name, they were delivered in sacks to Bonn, where packing and distribution took place in three rented houses. Portable copying presses were added in 1877. In 1883 the company already employed 30 workers and packers, plus ten correspondents and one traveler. The broadening of the product range made a completely fresh start necessary. In the neighboring community of Poppelsdorf (incorporated into Bonn in 1904), Soennecken found a plot of land that could be expanded. In 1884, an unadorned three-story factory was built there, in which the famous letter folders and hole punches were also manufactured since 1886.

In the course of the industrial boom from 1895 to 1913, the workforce grew to over 1000 people. Visiting the world exhibition in Chicago (1893) gave the company founder valuable impulses for the production of office furniture. Their manufacture using modern American methods meant the final transition to industrial production. Between 1895 and 1911, an impressive, closed complex of five-story large buildings was built in Poppelsdorf. In 1913 Friedrich Soennecken was one of the richest men in the region with a fortune of five to six million gold marks. Management of the company later passed to his son Alfred Soennecken.

Soennecken is best known for the reintroduction of the Rundschrift (round script) style of calligraphy and the broad pen nib associated with it. He had a talent for calligraphy and has published several books on the theme in his own publishing company. He was the first German manufacturer of fountain pens in 1871.

Soennecken also introduced the two-hole punch and the ring binder. In 1876 he and his company relocated to Poppelsdorf, near Bonn, to be closer to the University which later awarded him the honorary title Dr. med. h. c. He was politically active as a deputy in the Poppelsdorf mayor’s office from 1883 to 1904 and as a Bonn city councilor from 1904. He had been deputy chairman since 1905 and chairman of the Bonn Chamber of Commerce since 1914.

Friedrich Soennecken was a prolific inventor. His first invention for ink container with a stable stand he made as an apprentice in the middle 1860s. Besides the above-mentioned patents for calculating devices, he was a holder of dozens of patents for devices like: binder, perforating device, copying-machine, bracket, letter-file, paper-cutting device, etc.

Soennecken married in Remscheid in 1877 to Helene (1852–1878), the daughter of the local pastor Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Wülfing, but she died only a year later, together with their newborn son. Friedrich married a second time in Remscheid in 1880 to Bertha (1855–1914), the daughter of the local blacksmith August Busch. They had two children: Alfred (1881-1954), who inherited the family business, and Karoline (1883-1972), who in 1911 married Wilhelm Hammerschmidt (1883-1924), the only son of the commercial councilor Rudolf Hammerschmidt

Friedrich Soennecken died in Bonn on 2 July 1919. He found his final resting place in the mausoleum of the Soennecken family in the Poppelsdorf cemetery, which has been preserved to this day. He was posthumously awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Bonn.