100 years of Wiesner-Hager furniture.
Magazine Contact #32
From a carpentry shop to a furniture joinery.
The Wiesner-Hager company dates back to 1849, the year when Josef Wiesner opened up a carpentry shop. Rudolf Wiesner and Sebastian Hager took over the business in 1921. They created a second leg for the company to stand on by setting up a furniture joinery in the course of a conversion. However, their precise reasons for choosing to specialise in furniture production are not completely known. Was it strategic foresight, a spontaneous idea or just simple coincidence? Only a later statement made by Theresia Wiesner gives an insight into the decision taken at that time: “There had already been a joinery workshop during the First World War which had mainly dealt with kitting out barracks, but it needed orders. So it seemed like a good idea to add a furniture joinery to the business.” At the start, the focus was on making simple folding chairs for cinemas and garden furniture. Even so, initial plans to export furniture had already been drawn up by the mid-1920s. Before long, an order came in for a large consignment of furniture to England. Understandably enough, this was a great cause for celebration. From 1928 to 1930, an English trading company organised the dispatch of 144,000 items of Wiesner-Hager garden furniture. Some ended up as deckchairs on passenger liners, while others were shipped to various English colonies, especially to India.
Wartime years pose a tough test.
As with many companies the wartime years between 1939 and 1945 represented a struggle to survive for Wiesner-Hager and were accompanied by numerous human tragedies. Of the 104 employees called up for military service, 35 did not return. At the start of the war, Wiesner-Hager still managed to get by as a supplier to the military. Wiesner-Hager also became a member of the German bentwood cartel, which placed orders for the Wehrmacht from Berlin. In fact, the company made even larger investments: In addition to chairs and stools, recliners were also required for field hospitals and so-called “sleigh boats” had to be produced as a means of transporting war matériel and the wounded. For these reasons, it was especially women who kept the business going during the war, enabling the company to stay afloat for a long period of time during the war years. As the war continued, shortages of manpower and materials led to the complete closure of the company for a few months. Production only resumed at the start of 1946.
Wiesner-Hager soon recovered after the Second World War. The prevailing mood of optimism was driven by demand. Moreover, the 1950s ushered in a great period of prestigious cultural projects: Many renowned cultural sites, such as the Vienna State Opera, the Burgtheater or, a little later, the Brucknerhaus in Linz, were fitted out with chairs from Wiesner-Hager. The company also maintained a long-standing connection with the Salzburg Festspielhaus. Built by Professor Clemens Holzmeister, the old Festspielhaus featured a large auditorium which had already been fitted out with 1,200 chairs by 1935. High levels of quality and long-standing expertise in furnishing projects ensured that the new Festspielhaus was completed in cooperation with Wiesner-Hager at the end of the 1950s. Even today, audiences in the Salzburg Festspielhaus still sit on the original chairs from 1960.
“Austria may be small, but it has powerful brands that spread its reputation all over the world. In the field of culture, we have the Salzburg Festival. In regard to furniture, there is Wiesner-Hager. When Clemens Holzmeister designed the Großes Festspielhaus in 1957, he turned to Wiesner-Hager and had the company create a special form of seating which has truly proved its worth right up to today. We ourselves celebrated our 100th anniversary in 2020, and now the Salzburg Festival wishes to congratulate the Wiesner-Hager company on its 100th anniversary.”
Helga Rabl-Stadler, President of the Salzburg Festival.
A shift towards furniture design and architecture.
Product design and development have become increasingly important since the 1960s, resulting in a new and evident attachment to architecture. Franz Schuster was one of a number of renowned architects who established close links to Wiesner-Hager through years of collaboration. For example, Schuster designed various ranges of wooden chairs that still do a roaring trade in some antique shops today. Schuster brought his extensive experience to the field of furniture design. He firmly believed in bringing low-cost but aesthetically pleasing furniture to the market. Wiesner-Hager was the ideal partner for his ideas. In those days, almost no other company was able to offer items of furniture produced in large quantities and consistent quality on an industrial scale, while at the same time infusing them with the soul of creativity.
© Dorotheum GmbH & Co KG, auction catalogue of 3 June 2020