You would hardly find a company like KOH-I-NOOR HARDTMUTH in this specific field of first-rate stationery which has written down its name so apparently and indelibly during the world wide history of a pencil. Josef Hardtmuth was the founder of the company but originally he was an architect and a builder. He bequeathed many interesting monuments not only in Vienna but elsewhere. Apart from that he was also a good inventor. Firstly he established a company engaged with earthenware in 1790 and later invented the production of graphite leads. At the same time this was invented by a French inventor Contem who managed to have it patented earlier but his technology was inapplicable within the factory. Josef Hardtmuth started the manufacture of the graphite pencils and later also the coloured pencils in Vienna in 1802 and this technology has been used all over the world in all pencil companies.
He had his sons Ludvik and Karel to follow in his footsteps and they even wanted to enlarge the factory. HOWEVER they found out that there were few prospects for their company in Vienna because all the raw materials had to be imported. Another problem was with the demand of labour and NO appropriate estates for building the new factory. These were the main reasons to consider relocation which managed to happen quite fast. Within 2 years a new big company was built nearby the city Budweis. Everything was cheaper including water, raw materials, land, labour etc here and the deposit of graphite and clay was nearby. Budweis was also connected by the horse-drawn railway from Budweis to Linz and then using rivers the Danube, the Vltava and the Elbe exporting the goods to the whole world.
The grandson Franz Hardtmuth had better technical and economic education than his ancestors in such cities like Vienna, Berlin and London In the end of 19th century he started the transformation of technology of production and used his own single-level machines for the mass production. His pencil factory became the first one using mass production of pencils in the world which was much cheaper than before. The other producers were copying this new technology gradually. This came to the fact that the pencil has become an ordinary product of high quality at affordable price. Franz Hardtmuth established the 20 gradations of the graphite pencil which have been used by now. He also launched the pencil 1500 which had yellow finish, all of gradations and mainly the first quality. It was named after the biggest yellow diamond KOH-I-NOOR. It reached a great selling success and has become a world class standard of quality and is produced without any changes now. The pencil factory was inspired by this product and named KOH-I-NOOR HARDTMUTH.
Franz Hardtmuth also put an emphasis on the organisation of selling. He started to establish an important trade network and other production plants. At the beginning of 20th century his company was the greatest pencil plant in the world and the factory in Budweis produced more pencils than all German factories together. The company in Budweis had more than 2 00 employees, and owned 8 establishments in Europe and America. Furthermore it had 34 commercial representations and storehouses in the world including Japan and China. There were produced 300 million pencils just before the WW1 in 1913 and this number has not been overcome yet.
WW1 meant one of the three turning points in the company history. The empire split up into 3 groups: the Czech-Austrian-German part, the French-Italian and the Anglo-American. The French-Italian group existed only as a trade company and finished shortly after the WW2. The Anglo-American group became independent but as the time passed, it kept loosing its position and finally disappeared at the end of 20th century. The production basis in Budweis slowly achieved former greatness in the inter-war period. After the succession of Hitler in Germany the company tried to move its law of property to a neutral Switzerland. So it did not to end up as it had done after WW1. Unfortunately, the transfer to the neutral land wasn’t completed in time. Therefore the WW2 caused the second turning point in the company. The company was left only with the factory in Budweis, the rest was lost. 1945 meant the escape of the owners abroad, leaving the factory behind and finally the nationalization. The change of regime in Czechoslovakia also caused the beginning of the quarrels over the trademark. The lawsuits looked good for the company at the beginning but later on everything changed. Export has always played the most important role in the production and now it was endangered. On that account Koh-i-noor created a fictive company Zavody Bohemia which overtook the whole export and established many new valuable trademarks. The dispute over the trademarks came to an agreement with the original owners and resulted in the contract for a joint venture in 1966. The socialistic enterprise gained a subsidiary company in capitalistic Austria. Again the change of the regime entailed the nationalisation of other small enterprises and their incorporation to the pencil company. A production unit was created step by step and the production was not only pencils but also toys, sports equipment, corks and even the coffins.
Such a wide range of the products could not have produced goods of such high quality and competitiveness. So the concern started to divide into smaller parts again. Once this was finished, the Velvet Revolution and the year 1989 changed everything again. After the privatization, the whole company was left only with the factory in Budweis. The problem in export appeared because of the change of conditions. The year 1994 signified a total turnover in the corporate policy. In 2 years time the dispute over the trademark was finished and the stock company with clear portfolio of ownership started its way upwards. The export was 3 quarters of the sale again and the company has become the biggest producer in Middle and Eastern Europe. The network of subsidiary companies was developed in order to secure the sale of the production abroad. Own production was set up in China, the company took over and innovated the factory in Bulgaria producing markers and bought one of the best tool factory in the Czech Republic. It has concentrated on the high quality performance and also goods requiring ‘KNOW HOW’ the skilled workers and the manufacturing tradition. The main emphasize has been put on the development of new products for the artistic section, especially graphite and colour pencils, chalks of all kind etc. The company has created the most complex and top quality collection which can satisfy every demanding artist and this collection took an important place worldwide again.