Manfred Walter - A Short Biography
The Transition History - Braun AG to Lectron GmbH
Lectron, GmbH Under Manfred Walter
55 Limburger Strasse
The Early Years: 1972 - 1975
The Later Years: 1976 - 1996
1997 - 25th Anniversary Product Line
The Final Years: 1998 - 2001
Manfred Walter's life history, like Georg Greger's, is also currently somewhat shrouded in mystery. He was born October 20th, 1924 (based on a birthday announcement published on October, 17th, 1999 in the Frankfurt Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (F.A.Z) newspaper.). He held a Diplom-Ingenieur (Dipl.-Ing) degree. He was married and then divorced and had two sons from this union. One of the son's names was Nicholai. Mr. Walter's last address was 11 Kantstrasse in Oberursel (Taunus). He lived on the first (ground) floor while maintaining an office in the attic area. As of December, 2014, this building appears to be unoccupied. Mr. Walter's passing date is currently uncertain. He died several years after gifting the Lectron assets to RWO in 2001. I have not been able to find his obituary.
The mailbox shows the name Krause-Walter. Ms. Krause was Mr. Walter's domestic partner and according to a neighbor, moved away several years ago (~ 2010) somewhere in the local area. I could not find her name or current address doing an internet search. For some reason, the name remained on the mailbox and door bell name plates and were still there as of November, 2013. According to Horst Kaupp (current (as of 2014) curator of the BraunCollection in Kronberg), Ms. Krause had been a secretary at Braun.
I have not been able to learn much about Mr. Walter's involvement with the LECTRON while at Braun. Per Mr. Dietrich Lubs (the deputy manager of product design and close colleague of Dieter Rams at Braun), Mr. Walter was leading the Lectron division at Braun since the Fall of 1967. The photo below shows Mr. Walter (on the far left) speaking to visitors at the Didacta show held in Hannover between June 7th through 11th in 1968.
Mr. Kaupp related to me in June of 2014 that Mr. Walter had started off being in charge of electronic equipment for Braun shows. In about 1970, Mr. Walter tried to increase LECTRON sales and supported the design of the new style cassette trays to replace the styrofoam molds. Mr. Walter also had the idea of using the metal stacking trays to facilitate the LECTRON's use in the classroom. When Mr. Walter took over the LECTRON assets, he was able to leverage the good relationships with many electronics distributors that he had built during his years with Braun.
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According to the F.A.Z newspaper article of November 17th, 1973, Braun formally began to arrange for the transition of the LECTRON distributorships to two companies in the Fall of 1972 - INELCO of Italy and Lectron, GmbH of Germany. What happened to Deutsche Lectron? There was only a five year distributorship contract (1968 - 1972) between Deutsche Lectron and Braun. Once the terms of the contract were met, Deutsche Lectron, GmbH was dissolved and the development (Entwicklung), production (Herstellung), and sales (Vertrieb) fell to Lectron, GmbH (please click here for a more detailed explanation.) As mentioned in the above introduction section, Braun's management (with likely prodding from Gillette) had decided to divest themselves of their education product lines.
According to Mr. Lubs, Mr. Walter expressed an interest in continuing the LECTRON product and system as his own business and purchased the rights at a very good price to do so, forming Lectron, GmbH. Mr. Lubs did not know how or if Deutsche Lectron, GmbH (the Lectron manufacturing and product development arm formed from the Egger-Bahn company in the Fall of 1967) was a part of the transition process.
A special thanks to Günther Stabe for finding this 1973 article about the LECTRON and giving me an initial translated partial summary in English to peak my interest.
A special thanks is also due to Tom Doering, a gentleman I met through an eBay auction. Tom provided the following complete translation to English of the above article.
A Market For Educational Building Blocks
Lectron primarily successful in teaching aid business
Lectron Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung (GmbH), Frankfurt/Main.
The main principle is amazingly simple: on a metal work top, which works as a conductor at the same time, you attach modules that stick together magnetically on the work top and to each other and which also show professional electronic graphic symbols printed on the top cover. The result is a circuit schematic which is also an operating device because the modules contain the corresponding electronic components or electrical function. The Lectron kits, which have been available since 1968 [actually since 1966 through the progenitor Egger-Bahn MWP], start with a simple basic introduction model (“Buchlabor”) to extensive experimental systems in electronics, logic algebra and cybernetics. Lectron offers, because of its possibility of a fast go-through of modifications of electronic circuits, excellent training capabilities for schools and apprenticeship programs.
Approximately one year ago (1972) the Braun Corporation in Frankfurt/Main, under whose wings the LECTRON had been guided, committed the Italian part of the Braun Lectron division to its Italian representative INELCO-Industria Elettronica Comense in Tavernerio / Como. However, the sales and distribution for Lectron in German-speaking countries, in Benelux (Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxemburg), the Anglo-Saxon and the Scandinavian countries were assigned to the new Lectron Ltd. Company. Their managing director, Manfred Walter, led the Lectron division at Braun before this transition.
The Lectron Ltd. Company will continue doing the product development work and Walter is strongly committed to expand the Lectron principle and product line. An unusual process in the history of new products and their “marketing” is that a big corporation – the Braun Corporation under leadership of its major shareholder Gilette – lets a company operate, apparently not well suitable for their previous distribution channels, by a new-found family business. The ownership of Lectron Ltd. is neither connected with Braun or INELCO. INELCO itself will take care of the patents, while the Lectron Ltd. Company manages the production and the marketing outside of these boundaries.
According to Walter’s disclosures, sales may have increased 45 to 50 % per year meanwhile compared to the time before Oct. 1st, 1972. This may exceed the still remarkable growth rates in the market of technical and scientific teaching toys. Based on the observations of the industry, the customers of those experimental kits are not just adolescents but rather more and more adults mostly buying in toy stores, do-it-yourself stores and book trades.
But the main growth of the Lectron distribution results in the business with schools and apprenticeship (vocational) institutions. The strongly promoted object-lessons in basic level schools and secondary schools by the new guidelines of the different countries and the better remuneration of the schools for these subjects, increase the business with experimental systems as well as the group lessons which are promoted by more and more teachers. If the manufacturer of experimental systems choses the distribution channel of book trades, they will cooperate with publishing companies who want to enlarge their sales program on their part. Lectron with their own domicile in Frankfurt/Main might have located a partner by the Diesterweg* publishing company. In addition the Italian partner provides a completion of the sales program with audio-visual devices [I would love to know and see what those were! MWP].
[* In point of fact, the Diesterweg publishing company had at least two collaborations with Lectron, GmbH. The first was the publication of the 1974 "Funktionsmodelle - Versuche (experiments) zur biologischen Nachrichtenverarbeitung" written by Hartmut Birett, and the 1975 "Physik Experimentell" book edited by Heinz Saucke. Mr. Saucke was also the author of Braun's Was ist Elektronik? which was the book included in the Buchlabor model. Lectron (GmbH) under Manfred Walter produced the Funktionsmodelle and Physik Experimentell models. More information on these two models are located under the Lectron - MW Era -> Schülerübungssysteme tab. MWP]
Translated from the German by Thomas H. Doering
Edited and annotated by Michael W. Peters
From the article dated November 17th, 1973 and appearing in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
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Mr. Walter spearheaded the creation of the newly formed Lectron, GmbH as its Managing Director when the transition from Braun was concluded in the Fall of 1972. Braun had made the decision to divest themselves of their educational toy product lines which included the LECTRON. Mr. Walter expressed the interest in acquiring the LECTRON assets and purchased them from Braun. LECTRON GmbH initially remained in the same building that Braun was in -- 22 Rüsselsheimer Strasse, 6 Frankfurt (Main) 19.
On my trip to Germany in November of 2013, I visited the Rüsselsheimer building complex which was the first home of the LECTRON during the Braun era. The Braun executives (including Artur and Erwin Braun) were located in the building on the left in the photo below. The reader may recall that it was Erwin Braun who had championed the Braun acquistion of the LECTRON as a superior education tool to educate students about electronics. This fact was relayed to me by Dr. Rams in an interview conducted on my behalf by Mr. Lubs in September of 2014.
Dr. Dieter Rams, and Mr. Dietrich Lubs of the design department were located on the fourth floor in the building directly behind the above sign. Mr. Manfred Walter, according to Mr. Lubs, was located one floor below them along with the LECTRON department.
Mr. Lubs informed me that Braun began its move to its current (November, 2013) address (145 Frankfurter Strasse in Kronberg im Taunus) back in 1972.
By May 1973, Lectron, GmbH was located at 143 Gartenstrasse in Kronberg im Taunus, the same city that the Braun corporate headquarters was located.
By October of 1973, Lectron, GmbH had moved to 17 In Der Schneithol in Kronberg im Taunus.
In 1988, Lectron GmbH was still in Kronberg but by February, 1990 (address listed on the price list), the company had relocated to 55 Limburger Strasse in Niedernhausen which is located about 20 minutes from Frankfurt. This was to be the final Lectron, GmbH location during the Manfred Walter era.
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Originally constructed by the turn of the century, the main building of #55 (there is also a 55a building) had served as a guest house for many years. This photo was taken in the 1970's.
The photo below shows how the #55 building looks today (November, 2013). It is comprised mostly of private residences. The building area where Lectron, GmbH was located can be seen on the left side of the photo.
Prior to Mr. Walter renting the repurposed community hall it had been rented by at least two other businesses including Lundt Chocolate. The photo below (taken in November of 2013) shows the building section in which LECTRON GmbH was located for about 11 years (1990 - 2001). It is currently the home of Fotostudio AMV. If you click on the link, you will see numerous current interior photos of the building.
I want to especially thank Ralph Stenzel for his invaluable support and help during my trip to Germany in November of 2013. He made a special trip to Frankfurt to provide translation services and was a great research companion.
Arriving at the 55 Limburger Strasse address, we rang several bells with no response. Then Ralph had the idea of walking down the alley to the right of the main building to what looked like a garage area. There was also another building marked 55a.
We rang the door bell and because of Ralph's winning personality, we were able to speak to the current owners of the 55 Limburger Strasse building - Dieter and Carmen Richter. Mrs. Richter's grandmother (Luise Eckert) was the original owner of this building and had given the lease, in about 1990, to Mr. Walter for the LECTRON business' new home.
Carmen Richter provided me with quite a bit of information about Mr. Walter's tenancy. She remembered him as being tall and thin and in later years, a bit disheveled. He was always polite. Money seemed to be a bit tight in later years of his tenancy so that no repairs were made on the roof by him despite there being leaks which damaged part of the LECTRON inventory. Mr. Walter gave away a lot of the LECTRON inventory to local schools. In 2001, when the deal with RWO was concluded, Mr. Walter's two sons helped with getting rid of the LECTRON remnants and did not want anything to do with the LECTRON business. Unfortunately, most of the documentation and photographs of that period were disposed of when Mrs. Eckert died in 2003. The few photos that remain may be seen in the Final Chapter of Lectron, GmbH - MW Era section below. These were provided to me by the Richters. My sincerest thanks to the Richters for their generosity and hospitality.
Ralph took a picture of me with our new friends - the Richters.
Mr. Walter kept the Braun LECTRON product line essentially intact for the first several years. The two exceptions were the introduction of the Ausbausystem 4 - Kybernetik II model in the Fall of 1973 and the Ausbausystem für Buchlabor model.
The Ausbausystem 4 model had been announced in two Braun color catalogs but was not released by Braun. The below document (circa early 1973) showing the early Lectron - MW product line (courtesy of Mr. Michael Lierke) states that the Ausbausystem 4 would be available in the Fall of 1973 while also introducing the new (Neu) Ausbausystem für Buchlabor model. What is interesting in this document is its listed + (extra) subject matter module for the Ausbausystem 4 - Leistungselektronik (power electronics). The productized Ausbausystem 4 had Sensorik as its + module. The power electronics module would be redirected to the future (showing up first in the 1977-MAR-01 price list) Ausbausystem 5 model.
By the 1973-MAY-01 price list, the legacy Egger -> Braun 8000 series models had been retired. This legacy line had originally been in the Braun Experimentiersysteme category along with the Grund S and all the Ausbausystem S models (including the 'M' version). The latter were moved from the Braun Schülerübungssysteme category to the Lectron-MW era Experimentiersysteme category. The Minisystem, Buchlabor, and Ausbausystem für Buchlabor remained in the Experimentiersysteme category. The Demonstrationssysteme category retained the 1300, 3102, and 3201 models. The Lectron - MW Schülerübungssysteme category initially only had the System 1xxx product line and the Curriculum Kybernetik 1 model.
Mr. Walter began to further develop the LECTRON's international marketplace presence. Relationships with LECTRON resellers were cultivated including two in England - Ideas For Education, and Adlab. INELCO also retained a relationship with Lectron, GmbH. INELCO would sell the LECTRON through 1977.
By 1975, The LECTRON product line was enhanced and brought to new levels of excellence under Mr. Walter's continuing leadership. The Funktionsmodelle (8 110 062/4), Ausbausystem Funktionsmodelle (8 110 063/64) and Physik Experimentell (8 110 070) models first appeared in the 1975 price list. I first learned of their existence thanks to the research of Günther Stabe. He found two books entitled "Funktionsmodelle - Versuche zur biologischen Nachrichtenverarbeitung" 1974 (Function model for biological message processing) and "Physik Experimentell - Erfahrungen mit dem elektrischen Strom" 1975 (Experiences with the electric current). These two books were the actual manuals for these two models. The Funktionsmodelle brochure that I acquired in September of 2013 also described, with verbiage and a photo, the LECTRON System Ökologie - a model not catalogued in the 1976 or 1977 price list. This model used the same book as the Funktionsmodelle but only focused on several chapters for subject matter content. I do not have a 1978 price list but this model does show up in the 1979 price list.
LECTRON kits from the Manfred Walter (MW) era remain scarce on eBay. Most models have not appeared on eBay during the last several years I have been searching (2010 - 2014). Fortunately, many annual price lists from 1972 to 2001 give us an understanding of how the LECTRON product line changed over the years.
The were minor differences between the Braun and Lectron - MW era (at least from 1972 through 1975) 'M' and 'S' models. Aside from a small number of blocks being exchanged between the Grundsystem S and Ausbausystem 1 S models, the most obvious change was that the 90 experiment manual was redone. Aside from the cover adding the Lectron logo (while retaining the Braun Lectron branding in the first line verbiage) the manual's page count was reduced by 64 pages. This was accomplished by having most of the experiment diagrams share the same page with the description of the experiment. In the Braun manual, each experiment diagram occupied its own page with the verbiage on the opposing page. Additionally, 4 auxilliary experiments were added to the Lectron - MW era manual (67a, 69a, 71a, and 81a) to expand on their associated base experiment. New photos were added to replace the original Egger era ones. On page 55, the instruction manual puts a plug in for the S product line by listing several of the additional experiments that the 1100 and 1101 Lehr-und Lernkartei provide. Unfortunately, the credit acknowledgements to the original LECTRON development team, including Mr. Greger, were eliminated in the MW era instruction manuals.
Mr. Walter kept his focus on secondary schools and vocational schools for most of the LECTRON product line models.
The Funktionsmodelle model was one of the few that focused its subject matter at the university level and a separately published textbook used LECTRON experiments to demonstrate 'biological message processing'. Please click here for more information.
It seems, based on what Lectron-MW era models I have acquired, that Lectron-MW initially used the Braun kits and packaging. The Braun manuals were also used but with the Lectron, GmbH brand added to the upper left side of the cover. When the Braun packaging supplies were exhausted, a new cover with a single larger graphic (see below) was introduced.The cassette tray packaging did not change. In order to save further costs, the same box and cover was used for all the models but a three language descriptive label was added on the front cover on the bottom left side and on two of the four cover side panels to denote the model. The color of the label would vary. I know of four colors at the moment: green for the Ausbausystem für Buchlabor model, red for the Ausbausystem 3 S model, orange for the Ausbausystem 2 M, and grey for the Grund- und Ausbausystem 1 S and Mini-System models.
The same cover photograph would be used by Lectron-RWO era but on the inside of the cover. In point of fact, the MW era cover became the RWO era cover by simply being turned inside out to expose the plain cardboard side and that is why the photograph is the same.
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In the 1977-MAR-01 price list, the Ausbausystem 5 first appeared for sale as model # 8 100 072.
Additional 1100 Trainer series of models would continue to be developed and introduced. Solar and KfZ (Automobile electronics subject matter) were two such new models.
In 1995, Mr. Walter also looked to the Far East and the document below is an early correspondence with a Mr. Chuang of the Boko Trading Company in Taipei, Taiwan. An interesting point detailed in the letter is that Mr. Walter had successfully concluded the sale of 10,000 units of the Buchlabor model (Book Laboratory) to the Sony Corporation in the Japanese language. It would seem that this order was never productized. I have not seen one such unit and if 10,000 units had ever been produced, one of them would have shown up on eBay. Mr. Walter also offered both the Japanese and Chinese markets to the Boko Trading Company pending future progress in distributorship discussions. After a small initial order, disagreements about the quality of the components ensued and the business relationship did not progress any further.
In the Fall of 1997, Lectron, GmbH released the price list for the 25th anniversary of the LECTRON system under Manfred Walter's leadership. A cover page was also sent out and which may be seen under the Lectron - MW Era -> Documentation tab. A review of some of the changes in the product line up is also discussed on that page.
The last several years leading up to 2001 were difficult for the LECTRON business and for Mr. Walter. His age (he was born in 1924) and the onset of Parkinson's Disease was starting to impact his ability to conduct business. From interviews I have conducted, Mr. Walter did try to interest other companies in taking over the LECTRON company. Unfortunately, there were past due tax issues and other companies were concerned that they would be incuring steep cost liabilities that were not easy to calculate or balance out from a risk management perspective. So no other commercial company pursued taking over the LECTRON business.
The 'white knight' who preserved the LECTRON product and system turned out to be the business entity that Mr. Walter had been working with since 1995 to help with the LECTRON product assembly - the Reha Werkstatt Oberrad (RWO) in Frankfurt/Main, Germany. The RWO is part of the Frankfurter Verein für soziale Heimstätten e.V. Mr. Wolfgang Schrank was the deputy Managing Director when I first met him in November of 2013 and back in 1995 was the key facilitator and relationship manager to Mr. Walter and Lectron, GmbH.
Mr. Schrank recognized the value of the LECTRON as a viable product and helped, with tax advisors, devise a plan to relieve Mr. Walter of past LECTRON company tax liabilities. The upshot was that if Mr. Walter gifted the LECTRON assets to RWO then the past tax liabilities issue would be resolved. In 2001, this arrangement was concluded and RWO became the new owner of the LECTRON product and system. The Lectron, GmbH RWO Era story continues under its own information tab.
In the Fall of 2000, Mr. Gerd Kopperschmidt also entered into Lectron history and exchanged correspondence and telephone conversations with Mr. Walter as an interested Lectron buyer. The Digitaltechnik model idea was shared to Mr. Kopperschmidt and in February, 2001, Mr. Walter faxed a of layout drawing of each of the two trays along with a cover letter and invitation to attend the Didacta 2001 show where the Lectron product would be shown. Mr. Walter had hoped to have the Digitaltechnik model prototype available but unfortunately, the model never moved beyond the conceptualization stage. The Digitaltechnik model idea would become the 1007 Digitaltechnik model that Mr. Kopperschmidt designed and was productized by Lectron - RWO. Mr. Kopperschmidt attended the show but by this time, the transition of Lectron, GmbH to RWO had been completed. Mr. Walter was not at the show and Mr. Kopperschmidt met Mr. Norbert Cahn Von Seelen for the first time.
As mentioned earlier in this page, 55 Limburger Strasse was the final location for the Lectron, GmbH company before the RWO took over. Mr. Walter could not afford to maintain the building and leaks in the roof had taken their toll on a majority of the LECTRON parts and inventory stored there which included packaging, manuals, and documents. Mr. Norbert Cahn Von Seelen, who is the LECTRON product manager at RWO (at the time of this writing in 2013), was part of the salvage team that rescued what it could from the Limburger Strasse LECTRON facility. The photos below show what they encountered at the beginning of the salvage operation.
The jacket shown in the photo belonged to Mr. Walter (per Mrs. Richter).
Perhaps the saddest photo of all shows a mountain of LECTRON white block covers intact with schematic symbols which were piled in a corner of the back room.
The cover print blocks were recovered as well and are seen below. Note the large Braun era 3100 series blocks on the second from top left shelf.
During the last several years, Mr. Walter maintained the Lectron business at his Kantsrasse address. In December, 2014, I visited the address hoping that someone might still be in the home. Unfortunately, the building appeared to be unoccupied.
I do not currently know what Mr. Walter did after his retirement after the RWO acquisition of the LECTRON. According to Mr. Lubs (Braun Product Designer from 1962 - 2001), Mr. Walter was not part of the LECTRON development team that was formed after the 2001 transfer of the LECTRON assets to RWO. Mr. Schrank had visited Mr. Walter at his home on Kantstrasse about 10 times over the course of their business relationship. Mr. Walter was always passionate about the LECTRON and had many ideas about potential new LECTRON models. Mr. Walter was a great visionary with wonderful ideas but this enthusiasm had to be moderated by economically realistic sales and product development considerations provided by Mr. Schrank's business savvy and sense of practicality.
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This page will continue to be added to as additional information is discovered. Of course, readers who can provide information about the Manfred Walter era of the LECTRON are heartily encouraged to reach me by email: mpeters at mpetersco dot com.
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