„Johanna and Carl Ludwig Schmidt“
Carl Ludwig, son of Friedrich Schmidt and sole owner of the factory from 1909, recognised the need to realign production at an early stage. As early as the end of the 1870s, he pushed ahead with the company’s conversion to the production of haberdashery goods.
Around the turn of the century, the company became a manufacturer of end products with direct market access, i.e. with its own marketing and distribution network, by producing fashion accessories for the elegant lady and the elegant gentleman, cosmetics and office supplies. Carl Ludwig Schmidt consistently rejected the commitment to a single wholesaler and wanted to remain independent. In 1898 Carl Ludwig Schmidt implemented one of the most ambitious investment programs in the company’s history. After the extension of the company grounds between Austraße and Nahe, he laid the structural foundations for the company’s future square. In addition, steam power was upgraded by installing a second machine, another high factory chimney and an extensive renewal program into more productive machines for metal forming. This made the company one of the largest and most modern companies in Idar-Oberstein.
Although nobility was still able to maintain its feudal regime, the industrial revolution, with bourgeois entrepreneurship, created a new elite that was gaining ever greater political and cultural influence. At the same time, the increasingly large factories in the industry saw the growth of a workforce that in the second half of the 19th century began to articulate and organise politically. Subsistence farmers and craftsmen bound by guild regulations became freelance workers, who could at least change their job. In 1907, the conflict over a new labour order in the Obersteiner Metallbetriebe escalated into a labour dispute that spanned more than three months, ultimately dealing with the question of the recognition of the unions as a collective bargaining and legitimate interest representation of the working class.
The conflict was triggered by a dispute with Gebrüder Schmidt. Following the dismissal of most of the workers, the mass lockout of all Obersteiner workers organised in the metalworkers’ association followed. As a result, the dispute did not yet end in a collective agreement. However, social relations within the company were beginning to change permanently: Gebrüder Schmidt became an employer particularly appreciated by its employees due to its family and cooperative management style as well as the good working atmosphere. Carl Ludwig Schmidt, who was an enthusiastic draughtsman and painter in his brief free time, took over management tasks in the Obersteiner Handwerkerverein, which particularly excelled at business-related lecture events, and became a board member in the Chamber of Commerce co-founded by him.
His wife Johanna née Treibs was more than support limited to the family sphere of activity: the exceptionally emancipated woman also worked in the company with procurement from 1910.
Shortly after the turn of the century to 1900, the artistic reorientation of the company began: it made a quantum leap in product design. From the manufacturer of haberdashery goods, which were condemned by some as artistically inferior kitsch or knick-knacks, especially because of their historic stylistic elements, after years of preparation entered the age of modern industrial design after the First World War. Under the influence of the Deutscher Werkbund and the French Art Déco, founded in 1907, the company developed a design style in the 1920s and early 1930s with an industrially compatible formal language at the height of the epoch.
The trigger and main protagonist was the brother of Carl Ludwig Schmidt, Friedrich Otto Schmidt, who returned from Pforzheim as a leading employee. In addition, as school inspector of the Oberstein further education school and chairman of the new Oberstein vocational school, he was the driving force behind the development of the modern vocational school system in Oberstein. Gebrüder Schmidt became one of the leading companies in the German art industry with collections that met the highest design standards. One of his greatest achievements was the appointment of Julius Svensson as headmaster of the vocational school, who made invaluable contributions to improving the quality of industrial design in Oberstein until the early 1930s.
Under the influence of the political liberal, Karl Otto Schmidt grew to become the next leading personality in the company, who had a decisive influence on the fate of the company from the 1920s until the 1980s following drastic war experiences.