The WECK preserving method

Following Guericke, Papin, Appert and Pasteur

Otto von Guericke, Denis Papin and Nicolas Appert were the scientists who created the base for the invention of preserving, but it was the chemist Dr. Rudolf Rempel from Gelsenkirchen that managed to combine all these discoveries and 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 24th April 1892. His wife recounted later in a beautiful letter dated on 6th October 1939 and addressed to the company WECK how her husband had found this process that was going to cover the entire world.

Dr. Rudolf Rempel and Johann Weck

"50 years ago my dear husband deceased. Dr. Rudolf Rempel, at that time a chemist at the Gelsenkirchen coal distillation Company performed his first experiments. He used chemistry laboratory powder jars whose edges were polished. He covered the jars with a rubber ring and a tin lid and plunged the jars filled with food in boiling water by placing a heavy object (stone or weight) on the lid of each jar.

The sterilized 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 tests at home on Sundays with fruit and vegetables that he had harvested directly from his large garden. He had polished the jars on the kitchen sink with abrasive powder which was not an easy task and he tried in all possible ways to sterilize various fruits and vegetables having a beautiful appearance. Often the jars did not close but those who remained sealed resist remarkably well. It then was necessary to produce a device that should keep the lid on jars during cooking. A first device which he screwed the jars in for cooking was quickly abandoned because of many failures. He then produced a device to keep the jars under spring pressure. But the attempts were far from convincing. He prepared as many as 80 to 100 canned fruits and vegetables for his own use and it was only after many Sundays that he managed to produce canned goods of 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. Mr. and Mrs. Rempel were the chairman of this committee. When Dr. Sack saw their multi-coloured jars he was very excited and told Mr. Rempel, "You have made a great discovery. Yet, there is no sterilisation process that has been proven besides tin cans". With the support of the consulting engineer the Rempels obtained patents in many countries and Mr. Rempels' younger brother, a manufacturer in Plettenberg, Altena, was in charge for the distribution of jars and appliances. Among the first customers there was a certain Mr. Johann Weck.

Mr. Weck showed a keen interest for this business and ordered a full wagon of jars. But Mr. and Mrs. Rempel were not yet equipped to deal with such large orders. All of their savings were engulfed by the acquisition of patents, the construction of a warehouse, prints and advertising. Mr. Rempel felt seriously ill and died at the age of 34.

Albert Hüssener, the director of the first benzene factory in Germany (Mr. Rempel had been employed there) sensed a good business and established 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 have in my possession about 100 jars which I use 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. Thanks to me the first jars appeared in Southern Africa: My friends' sons who were officers with the occupation troops soon received from their mothers the WECK jars filled with fruit, vegetables and meat. Today, at the age of 75, I'm still interested in the devices and rejoice to see how the new devices and jars are well finished and irreproachable."

The company WECK in the past, present and future

Johann Weck's name appears for the first time after the discovery of the process and its certification. Johann Weck, born in 1841 in Schneidheim in the Taunus region, had moved in 1895 to Öflingen nearby Säckingen 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 at that time struck the population.

Johann Weck 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 region of Baden, rich of orchards, showered his vows. Johann Weck who, like a relentless adept of Dr. Rempel, had obtained the exclusivity of all Southern German new jars and devices to be sterilised and who later bought up the whole company. As to say the whole business including the sterilisation patent.

Johann Weck and Georg van Eyck

Johann Weck decided to found his own company in Öflingen to spread out through German territory. But very soon he realised that he could not assume alone the whole business. The promotional work and the required planning for an expansion of this magnitude were not his strength. Johann Weck therefore allied with the services of a collaborator in the person of a merchant from Emmerich, a city on the Dutch border, to whom he had already granted the local representation of his products.

This businessman Georg van Eyck, born in 1869 in Emmerich, was since his youth working in the family business of porcelain and pottery. As a young man he already had the intuition of a merchant who knows the needs of his customers. In the mid 1890s he heard that Johann Weck had offered the WECK jar sterilising method to different porcelain and potteries in Germany.

But Johann Weck had no business senses and was totally clueless about advertising. So his offers remained desperately unheeded with the exception of the van Eyck Company in Emmerich. In two years Georg van Eyck had sold more WECK jars to housewives of Emmerich and the neighbouring city of Wesel than all the other companies in the whole of Germany. He was very far-sighted 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 housewives not only jars, but also practical demonstrations to convince them to purchase. Later Georg van Eyck often thanked the women of Emmerich and Wesel in contributing 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.

In such a context of success it's not surprising that Johann Weck asked his talented customer Georg van Eyck from Emmerich how he managed to sell so many jars. When Georg van Eyck described his way of proceeding Johann Weck spontaneously asked him if he did not want to settle down to Öflingen and organized the sale of his jars throughout Germany. Georg van Eyck accepted and established the Johann Weck and Co. Company in Öflingen (now Wehr-Öflingen) with Johann Weck on the 1st January 1900, at the dawn of the 20th century. Relentlessly he developed his business and extended it to neighbouring European countries such as Austria-Hungary, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland and France. No one could stop him in 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 organized the introduction and sale of the WECK jars and devices. He hired female home economic teachers who offered in schools, rectories and hospitals contracts with internships for jars and appliances and he never rested to improve jars, rings, sterilising devices, thermometers and other utensils that he marketed 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 everywhere today.

A few years after having estabished his company Georg van Eyck inherited a small glass factory in Friedrichshain nearby Cottbus which he converted into a 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. Without the WECK jars no canning would have beeen possible, especially not in the hard times of the two world wars. 

The company WECK suffered serious setbacks on the account of the two world wars. When World War I began all commercial contacts with Europe and across the Atlantic were brutally broken and in the end of World War II the three WECK glassware factories which were located in Eastern Germany – the Friedrichshain factory nearby Cottbus, the Wiesau and Penxig factories nearby Görlitz – were confiscated without any compensation. After World War II a new WECK glassware factory was  built in Western Germany at Bonn-Duisdorf which in 1950 resumed production of the WECK jars. The new factory, today still owned by the grandchildren of founder Georg van Eyck, has meanwhile developed into a very successful company thanks to automatisation. It doesn't only produce the traditional WECK jars, but also industrial flasks and bottles for the packaging industry without forgetting the WECK glass bricks that are very popular for their quality of decoration and in the building industry.