How it all began

Rafael Stahl, the founder of the company and a Circular spring needle machine, 1893

The history of the R. STAHL Group starts on August 1, 1876. Rafael Stahl, the founder of our company, began his entrepreneurial activites by founding the "Stahl und Weineck" mechanical workshop outside the Stuttgart town boundary. The first products were for the textile industry and ranged from American-style irons to circular spring needle machines for making tricot (cotton jersey).

With a variety of partners, he surmounted the difficult years of economic expansion until, from the mid-1880s, Rafael Stahl managed the company alone as R. STAHL Rundstuhlfabrik. The company grew. The circular spring needle machines were improved technically and soon being sold abroad as well. He developed circular spring needle machines with the then sensational single electrical drive, which were awarded a gold medal at the Teplitz international exhibition in 1895.

The company, meanwhile renamed Maschinenfabrik R. STAHL, supplied all the equipment a complete tricotage factory would need, such as circular spring needle machines,  washing and fulling machines, centrifuges, rolling and tensioning machines, presses and sewing machines. But as the spirit of the times and fashions changed, ladies lost interest in tricot ware and thus the demand for capital equipment in the industry dropped drastically.

The era of material handling

Electric hoist brochure, 1932

By this time, the sons of the founder were running Maschinenfabrik R. STAHL, they came up with new ideas, and designed and built the first lift in 1893. Thus the era of material handling in the company began. The second generation of the family successfully extended the business to lifts, electric pulley blocks and cranes. People paternosters were added to the range in 1908, the first unit being installed in the Graf Eberhard building in Stuttgart.

The First World War meant a serious break in the company's history and exceptional efforts were necessary to survive the war and post-war confusion. Considerable help at this time came in the form of orders from leading German chemical companies and the national railways who bought platform lifts on the supporting chain principle patented by R. STAHL.

From 1921 onwards, the company moved into the field of explosion protection for electrical equipment, as material handling systems at leading German chemical companies had to be equipped to this standard.

By the time the company celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1926, it was doing brilliantly; but R. STAHL also suffered when the world economic crisis hit. For the first time in its history, the company had to lay off staff. The situation improved from the mid-1930s. The company was making cranes of up to 100 t capacity, the lift and electric hoist sections were doing well.

The Second World War marked the start of a difficult period, which the grandsons of the founder mastered with great efforts. It was in this period - the beginning of 1944 - that electric hoist production was moved from Stuttgart to Künzelsau.

New beginnings and growth

First brochures for explosion-protected switchgear, 1956

After the War, the company started growing as never before. All our products were redesigned or newly developed. New explosion-protected switchgear for lift systems, designed on a totally new principle, also came into being.

This was the beginning of an extraordinary period of success. Innovations in lifts, such as lockless lift doors, collective control and automatic lifts, were developed. The first lift without an operator, with a variable DC drive, was designed and installed in a bank in Frankfurt. In the following year, R. STAHL became the major lift manufacturer in Germany, one of the leading suppliers of wire rope and chain hoists, and entered the market for explosion-protected electrical equipment, quickly becoming one of the leaders in this market as well

R. STAHL supplied the lifts for the structures illustrated.

Sales operations were extended on both national and international level, with one technical masterpiece following another. In 1950, R. STAHL launched the electric chain hoist with round link chain, in 1952 a new generation of wire rope hoists, in 1956 the fastest lift in Europe for the exhibition tower in Hannover and novel explosion-protected controls.

In 1965, R. STAHL and A. Zaiser merged. Zaiser, also a Stuttgart company with a long tradition, was founded in 1879 by Louis Adolf Zaiser and brought its lifts and above all escalator business into the merger.

By the late 1960s, the expansion of the lift business was outgrowing the scope of a family business; in 1969, it forced the company to decide either to cut the lifts department back considerably or to look for a partner. So in 1970, the lift division was separated from the company and sold to Rheinstahl. The capital recovered was used to continue extending the remaining promising activities.

R. STAHL today

At the end of the 1970s, the company followed the trend towards diversification and acquired Staehle Maschinenbau GmbH located in Leinfelden-Echterdingen, which was renamed R. STAHL Blasformtechnik ten years later. This subsidiary coined the brand name of Hesta and developed well. In 1998 the decision was taken to find a partner for the blow-moulding business which would promise a better future as regards products and marketing. Thus the division was sold to the American Graham Engineering Corp.

At the beginning of the 1980s, the operative divisions were transformed into subsidiaries providing them with considerably extended freedom for decision-making.

In order to ensure finance for the growth continuing to be planned and achieved, the company, trading as a joint-stock company since 1997, decided to go to the stock exchange. The R. Stahl share is quoted on the organised market and is a Prime Standard share.

In December 1998, R. STAHL took over the Muehling und Partner consultancy firm in Essen, German, merges it with its own IT activities and renamed it "altro consult GmbH".

After the Group operated in the red in 2001, the Board launched an extensive restructuring programme. Two years later, the company returned to the black on schedule. This was followed by strategic realignment of the Material Handling Division. The focus switched from standard cranes to customised special projects in which R. STAHL was able to incorporate its entire engineering know-how. Success was achieved faster than anticipated.

The market leader, KCI KoneCranes, successfully positioned in this niche market, started to keep an eye on R. STAHL Fördertechnik. The development opportunities for this sector in the medium term were better in a far larger company intending to add a new string to its bow on the market with STAHL Fördertechnik. The Material Handling Division was then sold to the Finish company KCI KoneCranes in late 2005. R. STAHL obtained the funds to focus on the higher-margin safety technology business and further expand it.