Harder & Steenbeck

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COMPANY HISTORY 1923 – 2013: The joy of innovation


In 2013 Harder & Steenbeck celebrated the company’s 90th anniversary. The celebrations provided an opportunity to receive an in-depth look into the history of our corporation. Thorough research had revealed the ups and downs our business had gone through; changes closely linked to the world history. It shed light on people and products who shaped the company’s image. It was incredibly insightful and interesting to observe the leitmotiv, which had defined the company character of “Harder & Steenbeck” ever since its humble beginnings. We call it: “The joy of innovation”.      
  1923   In Hamburg, young engineers and fellow students August Harder and Wilhelm Steenbeck, establish the factory for metal goods production, named “Harder & Steenbeck”. Initially the company produces various capacitors, oscillator coils and other products needed for the manufacturing of radio broadcast receivers! At the beginning of the 20th sanctuary the radio receivers were considered a booming and trendy product, especially as the first radio program began its regular transmission in Berlin. Later the company’s product range was extended and included the production of experimental devices for physics in schools and engineering universities.    
  1928/29   An economic crisis happens on the global scale and with it an emergency decree is proclaimed. This forces the state to stop the funding of educational instances, which leads to drastic shortages in finances. The booming market for Harder & Steenbeck’s physics experimental equipment collapses, forcing the owners to downsize their business.    
  1931   Wilhelm Steenbeck leaves the company in order to pursue his own business, focused on precision engineering. In the 1950s, the company W. Steenbeck & Co. would be known and famous for manufacturing film editing tables. In 1999 the company will declare bankruptcy.    

August Harder continues with Harder & Steenbeck on his own, and he switches the production focus on to manufacturing of accessories for the booming car industry. Such companies as Opel, Volkswagen and Mercedes Benz, are producing the first German cars.

They use parts, including grease fittings and switches for starters, produced by Harder & Steenbeck.
War II
  Due to the outbreak of war and the world’s shifting political structures, Harder & Steenbeck is forced to manufacture parts for the sonar-systems, which are used in marine ships.    
c. 1950

After the war, due to the lack of demand for sonar-systems, Harder & Steenbeck starts the production of paint spraying equipment. Initially, due to the new field of production, foreign models are copied. However with time own, proprietary designs are created and developed.


First models are the considered the following: Lüster, Majo, Autograph, Foto, Zeisig, Stieglitz, Marabu, Pelikan and Universal. Models such as Lüster and Majo are equipped with different sets of nozzles, created according to requirements of the customers. Their nozzle sizes cover the range from 0.3 to 1.0 mm in diameter. Autograph and Foto are tools for precision. They are furnished with 0.2 mm nozzles, and used especially for photo retouching. The spray guns are sold to graphic designers, retouching companies, artists and painters. The porcelain doll and toy industries, located mainly in southern Germany, feature the highest demands for the airbrushes. Early on the company already supplies other European countries (such as Denmark, Finland and Switzerland).
  From 1954   New models are introduced: Prima, Meteor, Condor, Consul, Ultra. The product range now includes the blow-out device called “Ultra A”, which resembles the Airblower featured later in 2010. Harder & Steenbeck’s major customers include porcelain manufactories such as “Rosenthal”, “Schacht & Westerich” and “Königliche private Porzellanmanufaktur Fettau”. In addition to this development, suitable air connectors (connecting elements) are produced, which can be used with other air-operated devices.    
  1955   Hans Harder, the nephew of August Harder, joins the company as an engineer (the photo shows him visiting the company in 2012).    
  1956   Harder & Steenbeck manufactures its first twin-device, similar to the Evolution CR plus Twin-Action airbrush, which was introduced in 2012.    
  1975   The company founder August Harder dies. His nephew Hans Harder and an employee, take over the company’s leadership. 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. The production will continue until the 1980s. Another important line of business for Harder & Steenbeck is the toll manufacturing of paint spraying equipment and various other metal goods. To this date date, Harder & Steenbeck supplies porcelain and toy manufacturing businesses, medical and cosmetics companies and many other dealers, with specially developed unique custom airbrush models.    
  1983   Jens Matthiessen starts his work at Harder & Steenbeck, hired by the company for a role of a precision mechanic assistant. At this point, the company produces about 100 paint spraying devices annually. The production of a single device takes up to several days.    
  1992   Hans Harder passes the company leadership to Michael Strube (MBA). The company’s headquarters are then relocated from Hamburg-Altona to Oststeinbek.      
  1995   Jens Matthiessen – a master precision mechanic now – joins Michael Strube and becomes a shareholder. At this point the company has only one further employee. In the same year, CNC technology is introduced to speed up and raise the competitive aspect of the production. Jens Matthiessen starts developing new airbrush models and variations. To this date, he is accounted for all of the company’s new developments and patents.    
  1996   For the first time in over 40 years, Harder & Steenbeck presents two new airbrush 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 regards to the Evolution) a modular construction system which is spanning across various models. This provides the customers with flexible conversion options and grants the company with higher efficiency in assembly and warehousing. The Colani is based on the technology and functionality of its predecessor, the 1954 Ultra. Harder & Steenbeck commissions famous German designer Luigi Colani to design and color the handle; he is also the one, who lends his name to the device.    
  1997   Harder & Steenbeck takes over the production of nozzles, needles and air heads for the “HANSA World of Office”, located in Norderstedt. Two years later, the H&S company will be producing all of HANSA devices.    
  1998   The company launches the Evolution airbrush. The Evolution is considered the company’s biggest success and most sold airbrush, which makes Harder & Steenbeck to what it is today. Starting with the launch of the airbrush, until 2013, the company will sell a total of over 80,000 Evolution model airbrushes.    
  2000   “HANSA World of Office” declares bankruptcy, and its entire airbrush production-branch is sold to Harder & Steenbeck. It will continue being an independent “Hansa Airbrush GmbH” company until the end of 2008, then changing to the brand and shareholder of Harder & Steenbeck GmbH & Co. KG. “Hansa World of Office” product range of office supplies and lighting equipment will be integrated into the Spichtig group (Styro GmbH, Schillingsfuerst) in 2003; they still exist as a brand up to this day.      
  2001   Harder & Steenbeck adds compressors to the product range. In the following years the range of products will constantly expand. It will include airbrush and creative accessories from various trading partners. In addition the company develops and produces its own accessories, such as manifolds, cleaning supplies, airbrush holders and stencils.    
  2004   Jens Matthiessen takes over the Harder & Steenbeck Metallwarenfabrik e.K. as the sole owner. Production and management of the warehousing are revised and modernized. During this time the production and sales volume of airbrush devices adds up to 6,000 items sold annually.    
  2006   The new Ultra airbrush is launched! This low-price model for a small budget, adopts the name of the earlier successful Harder & Steenbeck product but is completely new in its design, quality and engineering.    
  2007   Harder & Steenbeck introduces the Infinity airbrush. This model puts completely new standards in place in both its design and functionality! It will become the company’s top sold airbrush, next to the Evolution. In the same year the company goes onto the global market and starts the sales in the US, being represented by Anke Matthiessen (CEO Jens Matthiessen’s sister) and Mike Littlefield. “Harder & Steenbeck USA” is based in Brooksville, Florida.    

The company relocates its company headquaters one more time from Oststeinbek to Norderstedt. It 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 now has around 1,000 square meters of high-rack space at its disposal, as well as additional storage capacity of several hundred square meters.

This ensures faster delivery, improves inventory management and caters for faster operations during the final assembly. Production processes are optimized according to ISO standards in order to ensure maximum reliability. In addition Harder & Steenbeck plays a key-role in the founding and establishment of the “Airbrush-Fachverband e. V.”, and CEO Jens Matthiessen is elected to be part of its committee.
  2011   For the first time, Harder & Steenbeck offers a multi-coated and chrome-finished CR Plus version for its product lines Infinity and Evolution.    
  2012   Harder & Steenbeck opens an own flagship store “Airbrush Universe” and offers various courses for end-users and dealers. In addition the company finds a strong partner in the Taiwanese airbrush and compressor brand “Sparmax”, and takes over the distribution of their products in Germany.    
  2013   Harder & Steenbeck is employing 16 people: 6 in administration and 10 in production. The company has more than tripled its production and sales volume within 10 year. It produces about 20,000 airbrushes every year for customers all over the world. 

In May 2013, the company celebrated its 90th anniversary with over 200 guests.