Sep 23, 2016  Düsseldorf / Germany

A journey back through 140 years of company history

Fritz Henkel – pioneer and company founder

The founder of Henkel was born in 1848 in the small town of Vöhl (German federal state of Hesse) as the son of a school teacher. At the age of 17, Fritz Henkel moved to the old industrial town Elberfeld, today part of Wuppertal, and started as an apprentice at a local paint and lacquer factory. Soon after finishing his apprenticeship, he became a procurator at the same company – the start of a businessman’s career.

In 1873, he got married to Elisabeth von den Steinen, who would support him throughout his entire professional career. At the age of 28, Fritz Henkel founded the company Henkel & Cie with two business partners in Aachen in 1876. It was entered in the Commercial Register on September 26.

Being no chemist at all, Fritz Henkel had nonetheless the idea to produce household goods which would make the lives of consumers much easier. The company’s first product “Universal-Waschmittel“ was a laundry detergent based on sodium silicate. Contrary to all similar products, which at that time were sold loose, this heavy-duty detergent was marketed in handy packets – Fritz Henkel invented a trademark. The first product did not sell very well, but Fritz Henkel kept going and his commitment paid off: In 1878, Henkel started to produce his new brandname product “Henkel’s Bleich-Soda”. The bleaching soda was the result of Fritz Henkel’s own research and was sold in 500-gram packets at 10 pfennigs. This product was also the first one to be available outside of Germany: 200 boxes of bleaching soda were exported to Switzerland.

In 1878, Henkel moved to Düsseldorf. Two years later, the location of the company was changed again within the city because the factory had become too small. In 1899, Fritz Henkel was able to acquire suitable premises of around 55,000 square meters in the suburb of Holthausen, where the company’s headquarters are still situated today. His decision proved him right in the years to come, and today, the industrial area in Holthausen comprises 1.4 square kilometers.

In 1907, Fritz Henkel and his two sons Fritz jr. and Hugo achieved another milestone in the company’s history: Persil was launched as the world’s first self-acting laundry detergent. The detergent, which cleaned and bleached laundry without chlorine, not only eliminated the physically difficult task of scrubbing and washing by hand, but also improved household hygiene. These were tangible contributions that Henkel made to social progress – Fritz Henkel had proved his visionary and inventive spirit once again.

The founder also initiated important institutions for the social welfare of his employees such as a pension fund scheme, a medical service or a relief fund. His two sons and his daughter Emmy inherited the company’s shares after Fritz Henkel’s death in 1930. “Fritz Henkel was a true pioneer in every way – and it’s important to us to keep his entrepreneurial spirit alive,” says Dr. Simone Bagel-Trah, Chairwoman of Henkel’s Supervisory Board and Shareholders’ Committee, and great-great-granddaughter of the company founder.

Additional Information