Sterilization History - History of WECK
From time immemorial, the provision of provisions, and more particularly the preservation of food, has always been an essential human need. The provisions gave him the assurance that he would never suffer from hunger or deprivation during years of scarcity or lean times.
Method of conservation from Antiquity to Modern Times.
Long before the WECK sterilization process became the first method of food preservation, humans used other methods and techniques to preserve food. Thus, in the very beginning, food was either dried in the shade or in full sun, salted or put in brine, or immersed in salt, vinegar or sugar water. A Roman poet and writer, Varro, who lived from 116 to 27 B.C., described a practice that, at first glance, resembles a method of sterilization but on closer examination turns out to be a simple salting or sugaring of food. According to his testimony, the Romans of his time immersed the fruit either in grape juice thickened by cooking or in salty solutions, all preserved in earthenware jars closed with lids. The stems of the fruit were also dipped in boiling pitch, then wrapped and kept away from light.
Birth of a great discovery
The technical starting point of sterilization, and subsequently the very process of sterilization, was not found until the time of Modern Times.
Otto von Guericke, born in 1602 in Magdeburg and died in Hamburg in 1686, was a scientist, engineer and politician, who made a very important discovery at that time. His influence on sterilization was partly indirect: he invented an electrostatic friction machine; He discovered electrical repulsion, conductivity, and influence and constructed the first barometer.
Otto Von Guericke during his experimentation with the famous Magdeburg hemispheres
But his merit lies in the fact that he was the first to recognize the materiality of air and to determine its thermal expansion. He was the first to experiment with vacuums by attempting to measure the effect of external pressure on an empty or low-pressure chamber.
Famous is his historical experiment performed before the members of parliament at Regensburg in the year 1654 with the famous "Magdeburg hemispheres" which enabled him to demonstrate, to the great astonishment of the spectators, the greatness and power of atmospheric pressure. Guericke was aware of the value of his discovery for the future of the technique, even if he could not have guessed that he had thus discovered an important step in the sterilization process, namely the pressurized closure of the sterilization jars.
Denis Papin, a French scientist and physicist born in 1647 and died in 1712 in Marburg an der Lahn in all likelihood, took the second decisive step in the discovery of the sterilization process.
Papin, who was on friendly terms with the great German philosopher and universal scientist Leibniz, had gone to Marburg on the occasion of his appointment as full professor at the university of that city. Papin, nicknamed "the disaster man" by his contemporaries, made many experiments. Already in 1690, Papin produced the first vacuum using steam in the famous "Papin's pan", a thick-walled copper pressure pan. By equipping this pan with a safety valve, Papin started from simple observation to observe that a liquid can only exceed its boiling temperature if the lid of the container is hermetically sealed.
Denis Papin at work with his DigesterThe steam created in this way continues to exert pressure on the liquid and shifts the boiling point. For his tests, he had first used a glass container that often cracked or simply shattered. Papin gave his saucepan the name "Digester." Thanks to such pots, Papin also preserved jellies "of unequalled taste," and even boiled meat. His experiments with the "Digester" made him more famous among his contemporaries than his other scientific works, which were much more important and which were the origin of new foundations of physics. At the time of Papin's tests, the rubber ring did not yet exist and the closure was ensured by a turpentine sealant.
Papin's experiments remained only at the stage of scientific experimentation, they never found a practical application in the preservation of food. Guericke had discovered vacuum sealing and Papin had figured out how to make a vacuum with steam - the transformation of air under the action of heat.
It was actually François Nicolas Appert who discovered the second step of the sterilization process, namely how to kill all the saprogenic bacteria inside and outside the food. Born in Châlons-sur-Champagne in 1749, he first worked as a cook under the name Franz Nikolaus at the court of Duke Christian IV von Zweibrücken. He then moved to Paris to work as a pastry chef and chocolatier. Around 1790, he discovered the principle of heat preservation. To do this, he relied on the essays of the Italian monk and professor Lazzaro Spallanzani, who lived from 1729 to 1799. The latter, in the context of the eternal controversy about the appearance of organisms from a dead substance, had already demonstrated in 1769 in his scientific hypothesis "without life, no life" that by hermetically closing the container and heating the liquid of organic matter long enough, he succeeded in preventing the development of microbes, and in killing any similar microorganism for a long time.
After being appointed Commander-in-Chief of the French Republican Army by the Directory on 26 October 1795, Emperor Napoleon I performed a significant act in the course of his duties: he offered a very large reward for the time - 12,000 gold francs - to anyone who could find a way to preserve food. This was in order to expand the possibilities of supplying the troops, as he himself had suffered from insufficient food during the siege of Toulon in 1793. By this time he had already felt the need to find a method that would allow the army and navy to be kept in store so that they could follow the soldiers wherever they went. This would ensure an adequate supply of troops once and for all, even in inhospitable regions and in winter.
This prize was actually won in 1810, after the French navy had tested canned food during several crossings, the food having been preserved thanks to the principle of scalding. But at that time, there were only glass containers which, due to their fragile nature, were in limited use on ships.
Nicolas Appert won the prize for "the art of preserving the original freshness of any animal or vegetable substance", as stated in the deed of concession. Appert was invited to transcribe his knowledge into a cookbook, which had already been published in 1822 by Mörschner and Jasper, Vienna, in a German version under the title "The Art of Preserving All Vegetable Animal Substances Ranging from Meat, Poultry, Game, Fish to Vegetable Fillings and Cakes and Medicinal Plants, fruit, meat jellies and fruit juices; not to mention beer, coffee, tea, etc. without losing an ounce of freshness or flavor. Showered with all honours, Nicolas Appert died in Paris in 1841 at the age of 91.
Be that as it may, Appert had in practice favoured the discovery of Louis Pasteur - a French chemist and bacteriologist born in 1822 and died in 1895 who often referred in his scientific works to Appert's experiments. The difference between Appert and Pasteur lies in the fact that Pasteur discovered yeast bacteria in the air and wanted to render them harmless by bringing them to a temperature of 70 degrees Celsius for a few moments, whereas Appert found through practice and experience that in order to obtain a long-lasting preservation it was necessary to sterilize food, i.e. boil them at 100 degrees Celsius. With the discoveries of Guericke and Papin, Appert's experiments and Pasteur's scientific reports were now met all the necessary conditions - even taken separately - to finally discover the WECK sterilization process.
The problems and the task at hand had been brought to light, and all that remained was to combine them all to arrive at the final discovery.
It was the chemist Dr. Rudolf Rempel from Gelsenkirchen who succeeded in combining all these discoveries and perfected the sterilization process. The discovery of this man, who was born in 1859 and died at the age of 34 in 1893, was patented on April 24, 1892. His wife later recounted in a beautiful letter dated 10.6.1939 to the WECK firm how her husband had found this process that was to travel the world: "50 years ago, my dear husband, now deceased, Dr. Rudolf Rempel, then a chemist at the Gelsenkirchen Coal Distillation Company, undertook the first trials, He used jars for powders from the chemistry laboratory with polished rims. He covered the jars with a rubber ring and a tin lid and immersed the jars filled with food in boiling water, having placed a heavy object (stone or weight) on the lid of each jar.
The sterilized milk he consumed after a few months during one of his visits to the laboratory to make himself a coffee was remarkably fresh. Then came the trials at home on Sundays, a day of rest, with fruits and vegetables that we went to get directly from our large garden. I polished the jars on the kitchen sink with abrasive powder, which was no small feat, and we tried in every possible way to sterilize various fruits and vegetables with a beautiful appearance. Often the jars did not close, but those that remained tightly closed held remarkably well. It was then necessary to make a device that would hold the lid on the jars during cooking. A device, in which the jars were screwed for cooking, was quickly abandoned due to the number of failures. A device was then made in which the jars were subjected to spring pressure. But the attempts were far from convincing. I made 80 to 100 preserves of fruit and vegetables for us and it was only after many Sundays that I managed to make my preserves look good.
One day we had as our guest a consulting engineer, Dr. Otto Sack from Leipzig. Before the Technical Committee, he gave a speech on the new law governing patents and the protection of registered designs. My husband was the chair of that committee. When Dr. Sack saw our multicolored jars, he was very excited and said to my husband, "You have made a great discovery. To date, there is no proven sterilization process outside of tin cans." With the support of the consulting engineer, my husband obtained patents in many countries and his younger brother, Kreis Altena, a manufacturer in Plettenberg, took care of the distribution of jars and appliances. Among the first customers was a certain Mr. Johann Weck.
He showed a keen interest in the affair and ordered a wagon full of jars. But to cope with such yields, we were not yet equipped. All our savings were swallowed up by the acquisition of patents, the construction of a warehouse, printed matter and advertisements. My husband became very seriously ill and died at the age of 34. Albert Hüssener, the director of the first benzene factory in Germany (my husband had been employed there), sniffed out a good deal and founded the Hüssener firm. But he made the mistake of not investing in advertising and, when his hopes were not realized, one of his acquaintances, Johann Weck, bought the business.
In Zabern (Saverne) in Alsace, I still had about a hundred jars in my possession, which I used regularly. I showed them to several of my acquaintances who were enthusiastic and soon all of them ordered their own jars directly from Öflingen. It wasn't long before an Alsatian merchant had it resold. It was thanks to me that the first jars appeared in southern Africa: the sons of friends, who were officers in the occupying troops, soon received from their mothers WECK jars filled with fruit, vegetables and meat. Today - at the age of 75 - I am still very interested in appliances and I am delighted to see how well finished, flawless the new appliances and jars are. I saw this for myself when I gave my daughter jars yesterday as a wedding gift.
Past, present and future of WECK:
Johann Weck's name appears for the first time after the discovery of the process and its approval. Johann Weck, born in 1841 in Schneidheim in the Taunus, had moved in 1895 to Öflingen near Säckingen in the state of Baden on the Swiss border, after having bought the "Rempel patent" from the director Hussener. Johann Weck was a notorious vegetarian and advocate for alcohol-free living. With his products, he wanted to eradicate the scourge of alcohol that was afflicting the population at the time.
Today, he could be described as an "apostle of nature" and a protagonist of a natural and healthy lifestyle. To some extent, he was even an outsider and sometimes fickle; He always had to be on the move. The orchard-rich region of Baden fulfilled his wishes. Thus Johann Weck - who, as Dr. Rempel's most ardent follower, had obtained the exclusive right to sterilize the new jars and apparatus for the whole of southern Germany and who then bought the entire company from Hüssener, i.e. He decided to found his own company in Öflingen in Baden and from there spread throughout Germany. But he soon realized that he could not take on the whole affair alone. The commercial work and planning required for such a large-scale expansion was not his forte. He therefore enlisted the services of an employee in the person of a merchant from Emmerich em Niederrhein, to whom he had already granted the local representation of his products.
Georg van Eyck, a merchant born in 1869 in Emmerich, had been involved in the family porcelain and pottery business since he was a teenager. At a very young age, he already had the intuition of a merchant who knows the needs of customers. In the mid-1990s, he took over the novelty that Johann Weck had offered to the porcelain and pottery shops in Germany: the WECK sterilisation jars. But since Johann Weck had no commercial sense and knew nothing about advertising, his offers went desperately unheeded, with the exception of the van Eyck firm in Emmerich.
Within two years, Georg van Eyck had sold more WECK jars to housewives in Emmerich, Wesel and the surrounding area than all other businesses in Germany combined. He saw far ahead and, with his common sense, he recognized not only the importance of this process for a household, but also the possibility of offering housewives not only the jars but also of giving practical demonstrations to convince them to buy. Subsequently, Georg van Eyck often thanked the women of Emmerich, Wesel and the surrounding area for having contributed to the worldwide spread of the principle of "preserve" by recognising at that time the importance of the WECK process for the constitution of household provisions.
In such a successful context, it is not surprising that Johann Weck asked his talented customer Georg van Eyck from Emmerich how he managed to sell so many WECK jars. When Georg van Eyck described his way of doing things, Johann Weck spontaneously asked him if he would like to move to Öflingen-Baden and organise the sale of his WECK jars throughout Germany. On 1 January 1900 - at the dawn of the 20th century, Georg van Eyck accepted and founded Johann Weck & Co in Öflingen (now Wehr-Öflingen). Relentlessly, he built his business and extended it to neighboring European countries such as Austria, Hungary, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Switzerland and France. Nothing dampened his tenacity, not even the departure of Johann Weck in 1902, who sold his shares for personal and family reasons in exchange for a very high license agreement.
Georg van Eyck trained his own collaborators and organized the introduction and sale of WECK jars and WECK devices throughout the country on the basis of the same measures that he had applied in his early days and which had been equally successful for him. He hired female teachers of household arts who offered contracts in schools, rectories, and hospitals with practical internships for jars and appliances, and he never ceased to improve the jars, rings, sterilizing apparatus, thermometers, and other utensils which he marketed under the brand name "WECK."
With the WECK brand, he created one of the first branded items in Germany and embarked on a well-thought-out advertisement that combined the strawberry symbol with the word WECK to make it a branded item - a label that can still be found today. A few years after founding his company, Georg van Eyck inherited a small glass factory in Friedrichshain near Cottbus, which he built up over the years into a relatively large and successful company for the time. During the first four decades and until the end of the Second World War, hundreds of millions of WECK jars were produced here, without which the preservation of household provisions was not conceivable in Germany and Europe, especially in difficult times such as the two world wars.
Weck's oldest jar filled in 1897
WECK suffered a serious reversal of fortune with the two world wars. When the First World War broke out, all commercial contacts with Europe and across the Atlantic were abruptly severed and at the end of the Second World War, the three Weck glassworks that were located in the East - the Friedrichshain factory near Cottbus, the Wiesau factory and the Penzig factory near Görlitz - were confiscated without any compensation. After the Second World War, a new WECK glassworks was built in the West, in Bonn-Duisdorf, which in 1950 took over the production of WECK jars. The new factory in Bonn-Duisdorf, which is still owned by the grandchildren of founder Georg van Eyck, has since developed into a high-performance company thanks to automation. It manufactures not only traditional WECK jars, but also industrial bottles and jars for the packaging industry, as well as WECK glass blocks, which are highly prized for their quality in the decoration and construction industry.
Excerpt from the "Weck Book of Sterilization, How to Sterilize Correctly and Safely" 2008 edition.