In 2016, MANN+HUMMEL will be celebrating its 75th anniversary. This landmark provides a fantastic opportunity to create a timeline of the company’s history and give its press archive a professional makeover. Our team of history and archiving experts from Firmenhistoriker has been backing up documents, photos and other artefacts for MANN+HUMMEL for three months now. As the team leader, I am excited to have the chance to tell you all about the interesting work we have been doing at MANN+HUMMEL, the results we have achieved, and the surprises that were awaiting us in that basement in Ludwigsburg, in my very own two-part blog post.

In the words of Wilhelm von Humboldt: “If you do not know about the past, you cannot hope to understand the present. And it is only once you understand the present that you will be able to shape the future.” With this in mind, us company historians have made it our mission to archive the history of companies of all shapes and sizes – from family-run businesses to municipal energy providers – and make it easily accessible to their employees.

Before we started work at MANN+HUMMEL, the archive shelves in the basement of Plant 5.1 were rammed full, not to mention the array of folders filed away in cabinets and the cardboard boxes on the floor overflowing with loose documents. Our task was to create a corporate communications archive, designed to support and facilitate press relations at MANN+HUMMEL. We wanted to make it possible for employees to quickly locate any documents or photos they may need, and present the company’s 75-year history in a clear and transparent way that would enable exciting discoveries to be made.

Although we always follow the same basic principles every time we set up an archive, we find that there are always surprises waiting for us every step of the way!

Step 1: Sort through the archive

Taking that very first look into an archive is always an exciting moment. The MANN+HUMMEL press archive was located in a pallet cage at the end of a narrow corridor, and we needed every last centimetre of space to sort through all of the archived material. Our first surprise was the photos, as we soon discovered that MANN+HUMMEL had the largest image archive we had ever worked on. Lined up, the folders full of photos measured more than 120 metres! There were so many wonderful old pictures in this collection – memories of fashion shows from back in the ‘Pamina Mann’ days and overseas vistas, such as those from Brazil in the 60s. To put the sheer volume of photos in perspective: the folders containing documents equated to just 15 metres – and even that is a rather impressive length!

As we sorted through the archive, every single business report and photo passed through our hands (don’t worry – we were wearing gloves). We digitised every artefact and reorganised everything. With every day that passed and every item we discovered, our picture of MANN+HUMMEL gradually grew, becoming more and more detailed.

Step 2: Package artefacts up safely

What few people realise is that folders and plastic wallets can damage photos and paper; clips and staples leave behind horrible marks, whilst the plasticisers in plastic destroy documents over time. We therefore got rid of all the metal and plastic from the documents we found in the MANN+HUMMEL basement and repackaged them in acid-free archiving materials before putting them in special boxes.

Step 3: Conduct extensive research

As we worked on the MANN+HUMMEL archive, we were also trawling through other archives, such as those for the town of Ludwigsburg and the federal state of Baden-Württemberg, and even the German State Archive, with the aim of filling in any gaps left by missing information and creating a comprehensive documentation of the company’s history. As part of our research, we also interviewed some of the people who had been around the company at various points in time, which provided us with a lot of previously unknown information and a whole host of amusing anecdotes. Using all of the external and internal information we had gathered, we were finally able to draw up an outline of the company’s timeline.

Step 4: Create a new structure for the archive

The archive’s new system is divided into groups or ‘clusters’, of which we have created 1636. They are now stored away in special archive boxes, which are labelled with the corresponding cluster number. This new system, combined with the company’s own database, means that every document in the archive is now easy to locate. You just need to enter a keyword and the database will bring up any related photos, correspondence and documents.

Anyone that takes a look into the press archive now will see an impressive collection of uniform folders containing all of the stories and information, and keeping them safe for the future. Plus, there is still plenty of room left for everything the future of the company might bring.

Another big surprise for us was that MANN+HUMMEL already has its own small filter museum within the company grounds. Current museum tour guide Marcel Hofmeister and his predecessors have collected many historical artefacts there over time, and had some real gems for us, including an old briefcase. You can read all about the treasures – large and small – that we found in the filter museum in the next part of this blog post!