The origins of the metalware manufacturing WMF company lay in the formation in 1853 of the firm Metallwarenfabrik Straub & Schweizer. Most early designs for the company looked to past historical styles although early recognition of the quality of its products included the award of a Gold Medal at the 1862 International Exhibition in London. The company showroom, established in Berlin in 1868, was its first retailing outlet and marked the beginnings of a rapid development in scale. By 1880, when the company merged with Ritter & Co. to form the Württembergische Metallwarenfabrik, the company employed about 200 and had a range of nearly 1,000 products, many of them electroplated. In the late 19th century the company was also involved in architectural decoration, ornaments for the home and replicas of works of art and archaeology, including the reproduction of Lorenzo Ghiberti's famous early Italian Renaissance doors from the Baptistry at Florence, now on show at the company's headquarters in Geislingen. In 1883 the company established a crystal and glass studio.
In the 20th century the company continued to expand at home and abroad, with subsidiaries in Britain, Poland, and Austria. Design was an important ingredient in the company's success, whether in terms of Art Nouveau styling or Art Deco. Art Nouveau designs for the company were generally produced in the company's design studio, under the direction of Albert Mayer between 1895 and 1915, although work was also commissioned from Peter Behrens and Hans Peter. There were opportunities for artist‐designers to experiment as an alternative to mass production, not least through the establishment of WMF's Contemporary Decorative Products Department (NKA) under the direction of Hugo Debachin (1925). Catering for a design‐conscious clientele, NKA commissioned work from a number of leading designers including Richard Riemerschmid. The NKA also oversaw innovations in glassware design, particularly coloured glass including the Ikora, Myra, and Lavaluna brand names. In 1927 WMF gained the rights from Krupp to use Cromargan, a registered name for stainless steel, launching its Cromargan cookware range at the 1927 Leipzig Trade Fair, followed later by Cromargan cutlery. The Contemporary Decorative Products Department (NKA) was enhanced be the addition of a ceramics workshop in the mid‐1930s.
The rupture of the Second World War caused considerable difficulties in the early reconstruction period and brought about the closure of the NKA (Contemporary Products Department) but, by the early 1950s, the company was again flourishing. Many WMF designs by Wilhelm Wagenfeld stem from these years, well known amongst them being the highly popular Max and Moritz salt and pepper pots. Such designs reflected the influence of Scandinavian design as well as German Modernism in the company's cutlery and tableware design. Typifying the work of this period were Kurt Mayer's organic Stockholm cultery designs. Over the following decades there was increasing development in international markets and, in 1977, WMF's computer‐controlled Warehouse and Distribution Centre was launched, an initiative which, by the later 1990s, allowed retail outlets to order directly from the factory and review stock and orders. In 1985 the Galleria range of domestic products was launched, including silverplated and stainless steel tableware, glassware, ceramics, and culinary equipment, much of it Postmodern in appearance. Collaborating designers have included Matteo Thun, Pierre Cardin, Garouste & Bonetti (Volute cutlery), Dieter Sieger (including coffee machines, kitchen knives), Mario Vivaldi (Esprit, Moda, and Solo cutlery) and Maiko Hasuike (Topstar stacking cookware range and Zeno cafetière). Amongst the company's more widely celebrated cutlery products of the last decades have been Thun's black and gold Hommage à Madonna, Candy, and Fantasia ranges, together with Hasuike's Grand Gourmet all‐metal kitchen knives.
Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.