For several weeks now we have been preparing for this company anniversary. We, Viessmann Modelltechnik GmbH, are still a quite young company ourselves and we have been responsible for the kibri brand for a little over 10 years only. Therefore, it is not easy to comprehend and to appreciate what it means for a company to have the chance of celebrating such an anniversary.
When doing some research work for this article we have come across a large amount of evidence from the creative activities of the kibri company and yet it is only a small fraction of everything that this company has achieved in 125 years. We are impressed by the variety of the product portfolio as well as the number of products released in 125 years, by the many staff members that have been fully committed right from the outset of the company until this very day which has made this 125 year anniversary possible in the first place.
We are highly valueing an excellent performance over a considerably long period of time that can hardly be expressed in words.
Two world wars, large and small political crisis, phases of economic weakness, challenges due to generational transition, diverging interests of owners, changing market forces, new product technologies – despite all these circumstances, this brand was able to sustain its position.
How was this at all possible? It was certainly not the result of sheer luck but of hard work by many motivated people over several generations. The shared desire to offer „the particular“ to the customers – the unique kibri models. Having started modestly in the Baden-Württemberg town of Böblingen and maintaining its position for more than a century at the same place, the company is now in good hands with Viessmann.
We as manufacturers, the specialised trade and you as railway modellers, we all benefit from the the achievements of the past and we are well aware of it.
1895 until 1945 At the beginning a lot of tin and wood
Founded in 1895 in Böblingen by Wilhelm Kindler sen. (1864-1916) and Adolf Briel under the former name Kindler und Briel, the company initially produced only metal toys. Items made of other materials were generally procured from other suppliers. The production comprised a variety of toys, primarily made from tin, e. g. for doll’s houses and toy shops as well as accessories for model trains. The company’s first headquarters were at Karlstraße 19 in Böblingen until the major fire in 1973.
After the passing of the founder Wilhelm Kindler sen. in 1916, his son Wilhelm Kindler jun. (1888-1941) assumed the company’s management. When Wilhelm Kindler jun. died, the company was yet again run by his son Paul Kindler as well as Rudolf Gußmann, Paul’s brother-in-law.
Collectors of ancient model railways particularly appreciate the relatively simple tin-made, yet due to an intelligently chosen conception of design and colours, very stunning stations, signal towers, level crossings and other accessories for the model trains of gauges 1, 0 and 00 of the years 1930 until 1940 and 1949 until 1955. Besides the tin products, there were also wooden construction systems for bridges and ramps as well as small tunnels with painted wooden portals and a paperboard wrapper used as a carrier to design the mountain with a mixture of plaster and glue. Before the war, kibri supplied the tin buildings and wooden tunnels with slight deviations, particularly in terms of coloration also for the Trix Express product range. During the war, stations for the larger gauges were produced where tin parts had to be replaced by wooden components due to material shortage.
Photo: Andreas Praefcke, CC BY 3.0, Link
Toy shop around 1960
Postwar period Plastic enters to toys world
After the second world war, kibri resumed the production already in 1948/49. There are some buildings that were obviously produced from canning tin shortly after the war and which show the characteristic can end stamping. The postwar buildings were initially marked with the stamp „kibri – made in the US zone Germany“. Later, around 1952, the stamp „kibri – made in West Germany“ was used. It is quite remarkable that many ancient buildings from this time period can be found at online auctions in the United States. The reason for this is that the American soldiers while based in Germany bought kibri products and took them home to the USA. In the years 1954, 1955 and 1956 there were kibri catalogues in English language even with prices indicated in US dollars. During the years 1950 until 1953, kibri supplied newly constructed tin buildings for the gauge 0 product range of Fleischmann company.
Around the mid fifties, the metal finishing was gradually replaced by the plastic injection moulding technology. Just like the other manufacturers, polystyrene was used. Besides Faller and Vollmer, kibri became one of the most important producers of model railway accessories.
From 1959 on, one of the most popular kibri plastic models was the fuel depot, consisting of various kibri components. The complete fuel depot consisted of five individual kits which were also offered as finished models until 1972. Over time, numerous further models, conceived in accordance with existing prototypes in Germany and other countries for gauges H0, N and Z were launched to the market.
In October 1973 an arson attack on the Böblingen factory stopped the production; however, in 1975 a new building was erected in Böblingen-Hulb. Thanks to the subsidiary in Schopfloch near Freudenstadt, the production could be maintained. The company’s archives were destroyed in the aforementioned arson attack. Therefore, one needs to refer to old catalogues and collections in order to trace the kibri company history. For the 100 year anniversary in 1995, kibri issued a festschrift giving a comprehensive survey. Furthermore, kibri had the catalogue of 1937 reprinted which shows the complete product portfolio at that time.
Unlike most other competitors, kibri offered, besides buildings and landscape components, a comprehensive portfolio of kit models for road and track vehicles such as trucks, construction machines, cranes, track construction vehicles and other utility vehicles for gauges H0, N and Z. In 1976 for the first time kibri issued construction machine models in scale 1:87 which were advertised for many years under the slogan „kibri has the particular“. At the end of the eighties resp. beginning of the nineties, kibri attracted a lot of attention with its large crane models. 1990 was the start of the Gottwald AMK 1000 which was at that time the most powerful truck-mounted crane in the world. (Source: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kibri)
What are the connections between Viessmann and kibri ?
Already four years after founding the Viessmann Modellspielwaren company in 1988, Wieland Viessmann put out his feelers towards kibri for the first time. Mr. Gußmann, longtime managing director at kibri, was looking for a potential successor for his company.
Wieland Viessmann remembers:
Our sales representative Wolfgang Ruks had also been representing kibri for many years and he knew Mr. Gußmann and the kibri team very well. One day, Wolfgang approached me and said: „Wieland, Mr. Gußmann is looking for a buyer for his company. The man is already 88 years old and his daughter is not interested in the company.“ After intense negotiations with Mr. Gußmann, his accountant Mr. Metzger and the banks, there was a discrepancy of a very small amount of money at the end that Mr. Gußmann did not want to rebate. Consequently, Mr. Gußmann passed away in the mid-nineties without having prepared the way into the future for kibri.
A good 17 years later the time was finally right for a deal. During the summer of 2009 negotiations took place again. This time with the new kibri owner Franz Josef Roos from Wuppertal. Wieland Viessmann now had his son Matthias to his side at the negotiating table holding a fresh university degree. And the talks were fruitful this time. After a few rounds of negotiation, both parties were able to agree on an asset deal.
Wieland Viessmann remembers:
As Mr. Roos was not able to tie into the previous success of kibri, the company entered into a difficult economic situation. The number of employees decreased continuously. After several potential buyers only wanted to cherry-pick the most lucrative parts of the company, we submitted the offer to take over all parts of the company - except for the real estate – in order to continue the activities of the company and to maintain the kibri brand. At this stage almost the complete staff had already left kibri or had been given notice. It is always very sad and stressful having to dissolve the headquarters of such a traditional company and hearing the stories of the remaining staff knowing that behind each story there is a personal fate.
The greatest treasure – still today – are the more than 6,000 injection moulds accrued at kibri over the last decades. To lift this treasure it took 17 heavily laden trailers. Further 15 trucks were necessary to remove machinery and other company inventory.
In order to be able to continue the production of the partly sophisticated kibri models at the usual quality level, some kibri staff members were employed at the new location of Viessmann company in Hungary.
For Viessmann the great treasure of injection moulds was of high strategic importance. Finally, the filigree technology and the corresponding micro-electronics could be combined with the then static kibri models. The products of both companies formed a perfect symbiosis. A perfect example is the kibri wind power plant which could now be powered with the Viessmann technology.
We were following a trend initiated by the Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg and which is indispensable nowadays on any model train layout. More and more products were set into motion with modern micro-drive technology, houses were illuminated and vehicles were provided with sound.
At this initial stage it became apparent which direction kibri would take under the roof of Viessmann. Over the last 125 years, kibri has served many a toy segment. Besides doll’s houses, toy shops with groceries from tragacanth and rocket cars, railway modelling has always been a priority, of course. Needless to say that the requirements of the customers change in 125 years and a company has to adjust its product range accordingly.
The model railway layout has come to life. Everything that moves, makes noises, blinks or beams attracts us in a magical way. RailMotion – is the magic word under which Viessmann has developed the technology to set kibri track vehicles into motion. At the beginning there was a tamping express. The tamping unit with forward and reverse mode during slow approach provoked incredulous amazement among many railway modellers. The track motor car Robel was next..This time with a digitally controllable working crane on the loading area pivoting around its own axis while being directed on a motion link.
The latest development on the RailMotion product list is a two-way Unimog with driven low side car, planned for 2020.
In 125 years, kibri has always been able to adapt to the changing market requirements. This speaks in favour of the brand and its associated products.
We at Viessmann are honoured having been a part of this success story for 10 years and it is our obligation to continue the kibri history. This makes us proud and humble at the same time, knowing how many people have been working over such a long period of time to make kibri what is has been for many decades and is still today : the most longstanding model railway accessories producer with many beautiful, spectacular and history-charged models adorning our model layouts today and hopefully for a long time ahead.
We will do our utmost in order to take good care of the mould treasure and to advance it as much as possible.
We are thankful to our staff, partners and former companions who have supported us in continuing the kibri models under the roof of Viessmann.