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Fichtel & Sachs

Fichtel & Sachs, in 1895 this is where money and expertise were united. Karl Fichtel took over the commercial- and Ernst Sachs the technical side. This is roughly how it was. In addition, Fichtel's father-in-law held vast subsidies ready when the company was going through a bad period.

Karl Fichtel however, was aware of Ernst Sachs's talent, and stuck with the company, even through the difficult times. They avoided the changeover to a public company, which in the end, would turn both of them into employees without any rights, under the management installed by the banks.

At the of founding the company, Sachs was 27 years old. After a serious bicycle accident he had to sit out for almost a year, although with his reputation as a technologist, he could have worked almost anywhere. He nontheless, decided to take the distinctly more difficult road to self-employment.

One invention made it possible for him to take this step. It was the ball-bearinged wheel-hub, which avoided the rolling resistance and made the safety bicycle, which was prevalent at the time, easier to use. This hub was further developed relatively quickly. It featured a freewheel and later, also a back-pedal brake.

Nowadays, one can't even imagine, that until Sachs's invention, one had to push with ones feet, or lift ones legs off the ground, even when riding downhill and that one had to trust the (not particularly effective) block- brakes. Indeed, the first Sachs-hubs were, by no means, completely thought out. Only after about 1930, the decisive breakthrough was made with the Torpedo-hub, named after Russian war weapons.

So, why was the bicycle so important, when, for the normal worker it was actually unaffordable? Well, it did after all, offer the possibility for the individual to move away from his/her familiar surroundings, perhaps even to cross borders. Once it had been purchased, this could be done quite reasonably. In reality however, at this time it was more used as sport equipment.

The Fichtel & Sachs company was not the only vehicle manufacturer who had started out with bicycles. Consider, e.g., the Opel- and Davidson brothers or the founders of Wanderer. The production of vehicles was quite often based on the production of motorised bicycles. Therefore, it's not at all surprising that Ernst Sachs and Wilhelm von Opel were well aquainted through bicycle racing.

This success took place in Schweinfurt, a town in the middle of lower Franconia (northern Bavaria). The town grew with it's companies, among them, the company Kugelfischer. This brings us to the important subject of "ball-bearings". Indeed, apart from the later famous clutches, shock absorbers, two-stroke mopeds, stationary engines and the Torpedo-hub, until 1929 the ball-bearings played the leading role.

Before the end of the 19th century, not even the engineers could really imagine there being an alternative to the roller-bearing. Of course, one was aware of the efficiency advantages of ball-bearings, indeed, they feared that they would not even stand up to mid-load straining. Then finally, the time was ripe, in a long term process, to revolutionise the world of bearings.

The patent for deep-groove ball-bearings was already one hundred years old. It's application failed however, because of problems with the material and the manufacturing of, e.g., the balls. These problems were solved in Schweinfurt, by Hans Sachs's company (together with Karl Fichtel) and also the participation of his father-in-law's company, Fries & Höpflinger and very decisively, through Friedrich (Kugel-) Fischer.

The three companies were not alone for long in the boom time of the ball-bearing, up to the turn of the century there would be approx. 30 others. After fighting price-wars, something similar to a cartel was developed, in which the German economy took over the leading role. This ended abruptly with the First World War, the global market was lost. Indeed, this cartel still exists, the leading role however, is now taken up by the S venska Kullagerfabriken, which was founded only in 1907.

By the way, with the support of two SKF employees, the Volvo company was founded in 1929 (independent from 1935 onwards). In view of the Swedish economic superiority, Ernst Sachs had no other choice in 1929, than together with 6 other German manufacturers, to slip under the umbrella organisation of SKF, indeed with such a success that in future, the German section shifted it's headquarters from Berlin to Schweinfurt (and Cannstadt).

As we all know, 1929 was the beginning of very difficult economic times, which ended in 1933 in Germany with more than 6 million unenemployed and the assumption of power by Hitler. Through the loss of the ball- bearing manufacturing almost half of the employees were lost. At least, through paying out the Fichtel heirs, Ernst Sachs had complete control of the company. And a new product-field had already been established, the Sachs-clutch for motor vehicles.

It would still take until 1933, before this clutch, together with the duty-freed automobile economy, would start it's triumphal march. It was time to improve this conception. At this time, the clutches were closely related to the shock absorbers. These are the so-called lever-dampers, multi-disc clutches which reduce the oscillations. Thus this (only now beginning) business sector was brought to the Sachs company.

An interesting point is that the former racing cyclist Sachs, also introduced innovations into the bicycle manufacture. It seemed logical, that after making pedalling easier, through the ball-bearing-hub, the next step would be the motorisation. It was however, also quite clear that pretty difficult engineering tasks lay ahead. One tried nonetheless, to unite a strong engine with the available, relatively weak bicycle-frame.

Before this target would be reached, it would take two development stages and a great deal of time. First, a 98-cm³-two-stroke with 1,65 kW (2,25 HP), which, mounted in the frame, drove the rear wheel. It proved to be a moneyspinner. In 1936 it was brought onto the market with a 0,9 kW (1,2 HP) engine, which was completely integrated into the rear wheel-hub which could replace any customary rear-wheel. The "Saxonette" was born.

In 1932 Ernst Sachs had already died of leukemia, right in the middle of the hard times. His son Willy took over the works. From 1935 onwards, one could slowly show economic successes again. It was at this time, that the customer service was introduced, which was by no means usual and still today is valid as an important factor when the customer must decide on a certain product.

After all, the Sachs-products, after giving up the ball-bearing manufacture, have become more complex. Thus, regular training of the service personnel almost all over the world, are a pre-condition for being allowed to hang up a Sachs sign on the outside wall. Good times however, seldom last very long. In 1939 the world, once again stood at the abyss of a war. And because the allied armies considered the Schweinfurt production- range as decisive for the war, the town was the target of heaviest bombing attacks.

Thus, in the after-war years, one found oneself again in a very badly damaged factory, and in a town that had lost at least half it's population. It took ten years, before they exceeded their pre-war production figures. They did however, have the advantage, that a production range with bicycle hubs and small engines, did fit in very well during the post-war years. The moped became the most important transport medium for people and partly also for goods and materials.

The 1953 50-cm³-engine, shown above as a complete unit with pedals and three-speeds was legendary. It participated, through immense production figures, in the prevailing moped boom. Indeed, at sometime this would also come to an end and the population were no longer prepared to get wet while travelling. However, the Sachs company also had an ace up their sleeves as far as motor cars were concerned the semi- automatic "Saxomat", meaning also the continued employment.

Should you be interested in it's construction, please read this. It is the German (not yet spoiled by prosperity) answer to the American fully automatic transmission. The traffic volume is increasing and would like to spare the drivers, at least the difficulty of pulling off and using the clutch. Indeed, if the centrifugal clutch were not a little rough, we would perhaps still be using it today. Then one thing is certain, it does not suffer the efficiency loss of the torque converter.

Right in the middle of the time when the company was still growing, Willy Sachs died. It was said that he, exactly like his father, had a relatively large circle of important friends inside of the industry. In addition, it was said that he showed a great amount of talent as far as the technology and the business side of the company were concerned. He did however, suffer from depression, and his death was caused by suicide. His marriage to Elinor von Opel was also divorced early, his eldest son was just six years old at the time.

That he was given the first-names "Ernst" and "Wilhelm", after his father and grandfather, was an obligation to carry on the tradition. All that's known about his professional qualifications, is that he achieved his knowledge and experience through training periods at, among others, Daimler Benz. Otherwise, he his brother grew up, together with his mother in Switzerland. He entered onto the board of directors and, after the death of his father, also became chairman.

There were stormy times ahead for the factory, e.g., the founding of the European Economic Community. The company management found it very difficult to react to the challenges facing them. They had already earlier thought about entering into the field of refrigeration, which because of being so foreign to the subject of bicycles and cars, it was dropped again. This time they saw it through, and failed.

In 1976, the sale of the share majority of Ernst Wilhelm and his younger brother Fritz Gunter Sachs to the British GKN-concern for aviation and automobile construction, was prevented by the Federal Cartel Bureau, but then the elder of the two died in an avalanche at a Swiss skiing resort. The younger brother stayed on as acting chairman until 1980.

In the rainbow press at that time, he was "celebrated" as a playboy and (undeserving) heir to millions. Everything he did was placed exclusively in the leisure-time category and accompanied by a large press hustle- and bustle. If today, there are the so-called "Paparazzi", at that time they had still to be invented. His fame increased enormously, particularly after his marriage to the "Myth, Brigitte Bardot", although this was only to last for three years. His following marriage held up until his suicide in 2011.

All in all, one probably does him wrong by branding him as "wealthy and only enjoying life", after all, Wikipedia writes about him: "He studied mathematics and economics in Lausanne and completed an apprenticeship in precision-mechanics and in banking, as well as a French interpreter's diploma. As an art collector and also knowledgeable expert, he promoted more than just the sad beginnings of Andy Warhol. We'll now leave this man and his extensive operational fields, which you can read about here.

It was only in 1987 that the sale of the majority shares through Gunter Sachs and the heirs to Ernst Wilhelm Sachs, to Mannesmann was successful. The former shock absorber competitor Boge came in and bit-by- bit a concentration was formed, whereby, the engine construction and bicycle accessoiries were dropped. In 1997 the name of the co-founder Fichtel finally dissapeared from the company name. Since 2011 however, "Sachs", as an independent company name, was no longer existent, because the company was completely intergrated into the new owner-company, the Zahnradfabrik Friedrichshafen. 10/11

Ball bearing manufactoring