Harder & Steenbeck

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COMPANY HISTORY 1923 – 2013: The joy of innovation


In 2013, Harder & Steenbeck celebrates its 90th anniversary. The celebrations provided an opportunity to have an in-depth look into our company’s history. Research revealed the company’s ups and downs, which were closely linked to history, and it has shed light on a variety of products and people shaping the company. Most striking, however, was a sort of leitmotiv which has very much determined Harder & Steenbeck’s character ever since its humble beginnings: “the joy of innovation”.      
  1923   In Hamburg, engineers and fellow students August Harder and Wilhelm Steenbeck found the metal goods factory “Harder & Steenbeck”. Initially the company produces variable capacitors, oscillator coils and other products for the manufacture of radio receivers – back then a really trendy product, as Berlin’s first regular radio programme is being launched during that time. Later, the product range is expanded to include devices for presenting physics experiments in schools and engineering colleges.    
  1928/29   With the emergency decree following the world economic crisis, funding for teaching materials is being cut drastically. The market for Harder & Steenbeck’s physics experiment equipment collapses, forcing the owner to downsize.    
  1931   Wilhelm Steenbeck leaves the company in order to pursue his own precision engineering business. By the 1950s, the company W. Steenbeck & Co. would be famous for its film editing tables. In 1999 the company declared bankruptcy.    
  1930s   August Harder continues with Harder & Steenbeck on his own, and he switches the production to the manufacture of accessories for the booming auto industry. Opel, Volkswagen and Mercedes Benz are producing the first German cars, and for them, Harder & Steenbeck manufactures various parts including grease fittings and switches for starters.    
War II
  Due to the war Harder & Steenbeck is forced to manufacture parts for sonar systems for ships.    
c. 1950
  After the war, due to a lack of further demand for sonar Harder & Steenbeck starts producing paint spraying equipment. Initially mostly foreign models are being copied, bit there are more and more proprietary designs. First models: Lüster, Majo, Autograph, Foto, Zeisig, Stieglitz, Marabu, Pelikan and Universal. Models such as Lüster and Majo are equipped with different sets of nozzles according to customer requirements, with nozzle sizes ranging from 0.3 and 1 mm in diameter. Autograph and Foto are precision tools with 0.2 mm nozzles, especially for photo retouching. Colour spray guns are sold to graphic designers, retouchers, artists and painters – and to the porcelain doll and toy industry located mainly in southern Germany. Early on, the company supplies other European countries (including Denmark, Finland, Switzerland).    
  From 1954   New models are introduced: Prima, Meteor, Condor, Consul, Ultra. The range includes blow-out device Ultra A, which is very similar to the Airblower featured in 2010. Major customers include porcelain makers Rosenthal, Schacht & Westerich and Königliche private Porzellanmanufaktur Fettau. In addition, suitable air connectors (connecting elements) are produced which can also be used with other pneumatic devices.    
  1955   Hans Harder, nephew of August Harder, joins the company as an engineer (he is shown in the photo visiting the company in 2012).    
  1956   Harder & Steenbeck produces its first twin device, similar to the Evolution CRplus twin action introduced in 2012.    
  1975   Company founder August Harder dies. His nephew and employee Hans Harder takes over the company. In addition to paint spraying equipment, the company has been manufacturing small mechanical machines such as onion slicers, wind indicators and tube folding machines since the early 1950s, and it will continue to do so until the 1980s. Another important line of business for Harder & Steenbeck is the job order production of paint spraying equipment and other metal goods. To date, Harder & Steenbeck supplies porcelain and toy manufacturers, medical and cosmetics companies and many others with specially developed and produced airbrush models.    
  1983   Jens Matthiessen starts at Harder & Steenbeck as a precision mechanic. At this point the company produces about 100 paint spraying devices annually. The production of a device takes several days.    
  1992   Michael Strube, MBA takes over the company from Hans Harder. The company’s headquarters are relocated from Hamburg Altona to Oststeinbek.      
  1995   Jens Matthiessen – by now master precision mechanic – joins Michael Strube as shareholder. In addition to this the company has only one employee. In the same year, CNC technology is introduced to production. Jens Matthiessen starts developing new airbrush models. To date, he is responsible for all of the company’s new developments and patents.    
  1996   For the first time in over 40 years Harder & Steenbeck presents two new models: Grafo and Colani. With the Grafo the company introduces universally interchangeable nozzle sets. In the following years, this design will be extended (especially in the context of the Evolution) to a cross-model, modular construction system that provides customers with flexible conversion options and provides the company with higher efficiency in assembly and warehousing. The Colani is based on the technology and functionality of its precursor, the 1954 Ultra. Harder & Steenbeck commissions famous German designer Luigi Colani to design and colour the handle; he lends his name to the whole device.    
  1997   Harder & Steenbeck takes over the production of nozzles, needles and air heads for Hansa World of Office located at Norderstedt. Around two years later, the company will
be producing all of Hansa’s devices.
  1998   The company launches its Evolution airbrush. The Evolution is the company’s biggest seller and makes Harder & Steenbeck what it is today. From the launch until 2013 the company will have sold a total of over 80,000 Evolution airbrushes.    
  2000   Hansa World of Office declares bankruptcy, and its whole airbrush division is sold to Harder & Steenbeck. Here, it will continue as independent company Hansa Airbrush GmbH until the end of 2008 and then as a brand and shareholder of Harder & Steenbeck GmbH & Co. KG. Hansa World of Office’s ranges of office supplies and lighting equipment will be integrated into the Spichtig group (styro GmbH, Schillingsfuerst) in 2003; they still exist as a brand.      
  2001   Harder & Steenbeck adds compressors to its product range. In subsequent years, the range will constantly expand to include more airbrush and creative accessories from trading partners. In addition, the company develops and produces its own accessories such as distributors, cleaning supplies, airbrush holders and stencils.    
  2004   Jens Matthiessen takes over the Harder & Steenbeck Metallwarenfabrik e.K. as its sole owner. Production and especially management and warehousing are modernised. At this time, the annual production and sales volume is 6,000 airbrush devices.    
  2006   The new Ultra airbrush is launched: This low-price model adopts the name of the earlier successful Harder & Steenbeck product, but design and engineering are completely new.    
  2007   Harder & Steenbeck introduces the Infinity airbrush model. In design and functionality, this device sets new standards, and it will become the company’s biggest seller besides the Evolution. In the same year the company starts its sales activities in the US, represented by Anke Matthiessen (CEO Jens Matthiessen’s sister) and Mike Littlefield based at Brooksville, Florida.    
  2009   The company moves once more, from Oststeinbek to Norderstedt, and changes its name from Harder & Steenbeck Metallwarenfabrik e.K. to Harder & Steenbeck GmbH & Co. KG. Using a storage lift system introduced in 2008, the company has 1,000 square metres of high-stack shelf-space at its disposal and an additional storage capacity of several hundred square metres, all within the smallest of spaces. This allows for optimised delivery times, improved inventory management and faster operations during final assembly. Production processes are optimised according to ISO standards in order to ensure maximum production reliability. In addition, the company is instrumental in the founding and establishment of the Airbrush-Fachverband e. V., and CEO Jens Matthiessen is elected to the board.    
  2011   For the first time, Harder & Steenbeck offers a multi-coated and chrome-finished CRplus version for its product lines Infinity and Evolution.    
  2012   Harder & Steenbeck opens its own flagship store Airbrush Universe and offers various trainings. In addition the Company takes over distribution in Germany for the products of Taiwanese airbrush brand Sparmax.    
  2013   Harder & Steenbeck is currently employing 16 people, 6 in administration and 10 in production. Within 10 years the company has more than tripled its production and sales volume and today it produces about 20,000 airbrush devices every year for customers all over the world. 

In May, the company celebrates its 90th anniversary with over 200 guests.