In 1853, mill owner Daniel Straub, together with the Schweizer brothers, Louis and Friedrich, established the Straub & Schweizer metal works in Geislingen an der Steige, Germany. Only a few years later in 1862, their silver-plated tableware and serving dishes were awarded a medal of distinction at the world exhibition in London. The company, originally called Metallwarenfabrik Straub & Schweizer, merged in 1880 with Ritter & Co - a producer of high end luxury items who were ahead of their time in silver plating technique.
Instead of using the method of heat and mechanical pressure to plate their wares, Ritter dipped the item into a bath of silver which together with an electric current produced pieces that were finely and evenly covered in a layer of silver. This method of plating was called ‘Galvanisation’ and allowed more intricate and complex pieces to be plated.
Geislingen an der Steige (Germany)
After several years both companies still faced financial problems and in 1880 they joined with the Wurttemberg Union Bank and the company was renamed “WMF” (Württembergische Metallwarenfabrik). From its founding as one company, WMF's growth was tremendous - acquiring more factories along the way, notably including "Orivit AG" and "Orion KM". By the end of the 1900's, they were the world's largest producer and exporter of household metalware.
WMF's rapid expansion was inpart due to astute acquisitions, often with competitors, that gave the company entry and expansion into the Russian and Austrian markets as well as growing inside Germany. But it was WMF's focus on technology and design that enabled them to produce innovative pieces that were desired by the newly moneyed middle classes. WMF collaborated with leading artists of the time - translating the emerging Jugendstil style into attainable household items. WMF pieces are now very popular among collectors - considered as the best samples of the Art Nouveau style (Jugendstil in Germany and Secessionist in Austria).
Typical example of WMF Art Nouveau design