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Riedel: It's A Family Thing

Nov 2, 2007
During the Seventeenth Century, Bohemia, in the then Austro-Hungarian Empire, was the glass making capital of Europe. Its seemingly endless forests gave the glass makers all the timber they needed to fire their ovens.

The Riedel story began with Johann Christoph. Born in 1678, he worked as a merchant based in Sudetenland and made a small fortune by exporting the glassware produced in his home region, as far a field as Spain and Portugal. Even though travel at that time was arduous and sometimes dangerous, the money he made more than compensated him for any discomfort he endured.

Johann's son: Johann Carl made a living in his own glass cutting and gilding workshop. But it wasn't until the end of the Austrian-Prussian Seven-Year War in 1756 that the Riedel family really began to make their mark.

The region's property had been devastated during this time and major re-development work ensued. Johann Leopold established the family's first glass works, which opened for business in 1756 and specialized in making replacement windows. His real claim to fame was that he designed a method whereby damaged stained glass, which would have cost a small fortune to repair, was replaced with ordinary window panes.

As the next generation, in the form of Anton Leopold, took the helm, the company's operations moved away from window panes and the focus shifted toward ornate glass and chandelier components.

A couple of generation later, and the Riedel glass works relocated to Polaun. By now, firing glass ovens by burning timber was old hat. Coal was both cheaper and more efficient and with Polaun being on the rail-network, deliveries could be made directly to the factory. The rail link also served in despatching the finished products with ease. At this point in its history, Riedel employed some twelve hundred or so workers, producing mainly glass beads and blanks that were then sold on to finishing shops. Marketing was left in the hands of a series of trading companies, exporting the beads as far a field as India and South America.

Due to the beads being marketed in this manner, the Riedel name never appeared on any until 1890 when Josef Riedel The Younger headed the company. Being and excellent chemist and engineer, he transformed the bead manufacturing process by using mechanical cutters and introduced a range of some six hundred colors.

During World War II, the Riedel glass works fell into the hands of the Nazis when they invaded Czechoslovakia. Riedel was forced to abandon the manufacture of luxury goods and, instead, take on the development of "picture tubes" which were an integral part of the German's radar system. Unfortunately, when the Russians invaded Berlin in 1945, one of these Riedel picture tubes was found and the inventor, Walter Riedel, was imprisoned for ten years and made to work for them.

Whilst Walter was locked away in Russia, the now Communist, Czech government confiscated the Riedel family's possessions and took charge of, and nationalized, their companies.

On being released from imprisonment in 1955, Walter returned to Austria where family friends, the Swarovskis, funded the opening of a factory, headed by Walter and his son, Claus J. It opened its doors in 1956, specializing in mouth blown glass products.

Claus J. introduced the production of art forms to the factory and started upon the development of the, now, world famous Riedel Stemware. Steering clear of the usual heavy, cut glass, Claus went for thin-blown, long wine glasses and gained much, world wide, admiration from both customers and museums alike.

Today, 11 generations later, Riedel is an international company with Maximillian Josef heading operations in North America and Riedel enjoying unprecedented success.
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