Memories and Milestones from Over Two Hundred Years of Business
In 1814, Johann Abraham Wüsthof (1776 -1839) founded Abr. Wüsthof, Scheerenfabrik, Stahl- und Eisenwaaren Zu Weinsberg: “Abr. Wüsthof, Shears Factory, Steel and Iron Works at Weinsberg". The world looked quite different then. The steam train made its debut, the first photograph was captured, and the Napoleonic Wars rippled across Europe. Meanwhile, Johann began to expand the business vision of his father, Johann Wilhelm Wüsthof (1760 -1829), who owned a small grindery in Solingen, Germany’s Weinsberg Valley along the Wupper River.
Soon, Johann converted his father’s workshop into an independent steel and iron business, leveraging the river’s water power to fuel his grinding wheels. Day after day for eighteen years, he made thousands and thousands of scissors. Johann stopped only occasionally, perhaps to enjoy a hearty kottenbutter , also known as a “grinder’s sandwich,” with dark German sourdough, butter, spicy mustard, smoked pork sausage, thinly sliced white onion, chives, and radishes. The work was tireless, challenging, and precise.
WÜSTHOF's "Kotten" in the "Weinsbergtal"
The Wüsthof Legacy
These are humble beginnings for what is now one of the most renowned knife-making families in the world. Legacy and artisanship have made WÜSTHOF a household name in the culinary realm, and the passion for high-quality craftsmanship has spanned over two hundred years and seven generations. The story of the Wüsthof family and the WÜSTHOF brand is a testament to three key aspects of building a global, intergenerational, and successful family business: heritage, innovation, and adaptability. It’s also a tribute to the spirit of connection, both to people and to place. WÜSTHOF continues to remain in family hands, and our knives are still made exclusively in Solingen, Germany, known as "The City of Blades” for its reputation as an epicentre of the craft. We have forged global relationships with millions of professional chefs and home cooks. Two centuries is a huge feat! So, you might be wondering: What else happened between Johann’s “Shears Factory, Steel, and Ironworks” and our two hundred and tenth birthday?
By the time WÜSTHOF’s second generation arrived, shortly after Johann moved his tiny company to a larger building in Solingen’s Widdert region, one of Johann’s sons, Eduard (1817 - 1876), had the idea to expand his father’s range of artisan goods. The Wüsthofs had mastered the art of making scissors, but what about diving into the craftsmanship of other blades, like professional chef’s knives? Eduard eventually took over the factory, creating around twelve-hundred handmade models of various pocket, bread, vegetable, and butcher’s blades. In the following centuries, the next generations of the Wüsthof family continued to concentrate on honing the essentials: premium knife artisanship for both home and professional use.
1881 marks a crucial overseas trip for WÜSTHOF. While Eduard Wüsthof maintained consistent knife production in Solingen, his brother Robert (1858 - 1914) packed a suitcase of scissors and pocket knives and hopped on a twelve-day ocean journey to the United States, seeking new business partnerships. As soon as Robert arrived in America, he learned he did not have enough money to clear his goods through customs. He spent the next few months trying to stay afloat financially as a dishwasher, waiter, and glove-launder. Thankfully, Robert’s optimism and determination was soon to pay off. He met an American businessman who was thrilled by his “Made in Solingen” knives, igniting a partnership that continued to bring WÜSTHOF’s goods to the States.
Meanwhile, Germany was experiencing a period of huge economic and industrial growth. Steam-powered machinery was purchased, WÜSTHOF production expanded, and in 1895 the trademark was accepted for the factory’s now-iconic trident logo. The trident signifies the Greek god Poseidon and his Roman counterpart, Neptune - just as these gods used their tridents to command water, the WÜSTHOF trident represented absolute control of one’s own elements in the kitchen. The trident has since been trademarked in almost every country in the world, and in 1886, it graced the very first production of the Classic knife series.
For those unfamiliar with the Classic series, it is driven by Eduard and Robert’s mentality that every knife should accompany its owner for the rest of their life. This intention created a knife series that was so exceptional, timeless, and durable, it remains permanently associated with the WÜSTHOF brand and has become synonymous with the European chef’s knife. The Classic series has boasted our best-selling knives for over two centuries and will always be known as “the Original.”
In 1914, Eduard retired from the company for health reasons. Later that year, in December, Robert died at sixty-five after catching a cold while hunting. Suddenly, this extremely successful company had lost its two figureheads. Yet WÜSTHOF was not without leadership. Robert left behind five sons, all of whom were ready to continue forging the same path that the previous generations had set.
Before they could start, however, the First World War shifted factory production to accommodate the war economy. Robert (1887 - 1964), the eldest of Robert senior’s five sons, took over management of the company, while his four younger brothers Artur Wüsthof (1890 - 1967), Bruno Wüsthof (1892 - 1944), Hugo Eduard Wüsthof (1894 - 1985), and Erich Wüsthof (1897 - 1937) fought on different fronts. As soon as the war ended in 1918, the five brothers began to rebuild relationships with their old customer base, which had been abruptly severed during the war. Each brother took on different roles within the company, and the brightest star was undoubtedly Hugo Eduard. A gifted linguist fluent in five languages, he built a significant market for WÜSTHOF in Italy and travelled the world throughout 1928. The Second World War, though, was just around the corner. WÜSTHOF’s production of knives and scissors was halted again, and in November 1944 the town of Solingen was almost completely destroyed in attacks. Miraculously, the WÜSTHOF factory suffered minimal damage, and post-war business slowly began to grow again.
In 1972, Wolfgang Wüsthof (1935 - present), sixth-generation owner, experienced a significant event that impacted the future of the company in America. Wolfgang was at the International Ironmongery Trade Fair in Cologne, Germany, when he saw someone having a medical emergency. Wolfgang jumped in to perform first aid and saved this person’s life. He soon learned that the man’s name was Chuck Williams - the founder and CEO of a North American culinary and homeware specialty dealer called Williams Sonoma. (Today, one of the largest retailers in the United States.) Wolfgang and Chuck became fast friends, and Chuck was so impressed by WÜSTHOF’s German knives that he immediately included them in his range of home goods. Thanks to this collaboration, today almost every adult in the U.S. knows the WÜSTHOF brand.
In our factory in Solingen, Germany, WÜSTHOF merged hands-on artisanship with state-of-the-art precision technology (thanks to our 120 robots!), making WÜSTHOF one of the most modern knife companies in the world. Despite our cutting-edge technology , we are still preserving the human touch in every step of the knife-making process thanks to our team of talented knife artisans. Two centuries of experience allow us to say this with confidence: There is nothing that compares to the adaptability and sensitivity of the human hand and eye. WÜSTHOF TRIDENT OF AMERICA, our first subsidiary, was established in 1987, and in 2012, WÜSTHOF TRIDENT OF CANADA followed suit. 1992 saw the development and patenting of our industry-disrupting “sacrificial anode,” a trick we adapted from the ship-building industry that makes each WÜSTHOF knife virtually indestructible. (We also invented the double-serrated edge, which is why our bread knife slices your homemade sourdough so perfectly, but that’s another story.)
In 2019, we opened our first flagship store onsite in Solingen; in 2014, we celebrated our two-hundredth birthday. Nine years later, we solidified our name as a global brand when we launched our direct-to-consumer business in China, where the variety, scope, and range of culinary traditions continue to impress and inspire us.
The Seventh Generation
This lands us, at last, with WÜSTHOF’s seventh-generation owners, cousins Harald Wüsthof and Viola Wüsthof. Harald, an experienced industrial engineer, became managing partner in 2005. Viola, a leader in the marketing realm, joined him as co-owner in 2014. As a little girl, Viola often visited the knife factory with her father, Wolfgang, marvelling at the bone-rattling whacks of the drop forger, the beauty of a new blade getting its final polish by hand, and the first-ever robot installed in the machine grindery. Harald, the son of Eduard, also grew up around the factory in Solingen, racing bikes in the factory yard. Years later, they have continued to shape WÜSTHOF into one of the world’s leading knife manufacturers, ushering in the age of social media, direct-to-consumer shopping, and even adding a modern pop of colour to the iconic Classic series.
It’s an interesting time to own a centuries-old family company. We at WÜSTHOF are always asking ourselves how to remain relevant in a fast-paced, digital era without compromising the time-honoured craftsmanship or family values that make our knives special. In many ways, Viola and Harald have chosen to set up future generations of the Wüsthof family by continuing to highlight the same message established hundreds of years prior: The best knives are made when high-quality production meets traditional artisanship. And for that, there is no place like home.