The Transition History – Braun AG to Lectron GmbH
Lectron, GmbH Under Manfred Walter
The Early Years: 1972 – 1975
The Later Years: 1976 – 1996
1997 – 25th Anniversary Announcement
The Final Years: 1998 – 2001
55 Limburger Strasse
Lectron, GmbH was formed by Mr. Manfred Walter after having purchased the right to take over the Lectron System assets from Deutsche Lectron and the Sales Agency from Braun in the Fall of 1972. Mr. Walter had been the Lectron System division manager at Braun since the Fall of 1967.
The Transition History – Braun AG to Lectron, GmbH
According to the F.A.Z newspaper article of November 17th, 1973, Braun formally began to arrange for the transition of the Lectron System sales distributor-ships 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 (likely) dissolved and the development (Entwicklung), production (Herstellung), and sales (Vertrieb) fell to Lectron, GmbH.
A major research question that has yet to be answered (as of 2019) is what entity was responsible for the actual Lectron System component manufacturing post Deutsche Lectron? As told to me by Lisa Glauber in the Fall of 2019, INELCO did NOT have any manufacturing role and was strictly a reseller of the Lectron System. Ms. Glauber is the daughter of Max Glauber, the founder of INELCO. Ms. Glauber also worked at INELCO during the 1970’s (when INELCO sold the Lectron System) and is a primary authoritative history resource for my research.
The above article provides so much critical information that I had it translated into English courtesy of Mr. Thomas H. Doering, a fellow Lectroneer.
A Market For Educational Building Blocks
Lectron primarily successful in teaching aid business
Lectron Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung (GmbH) (with limited liability), Frankfurt/Main.
The main principle is amazingly simple: on a metal work top, which works as a conductor at the same time, you attach blocks 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-MWP] 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 (INELCO) 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 Gillette – 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 instruction book included in the Buchlabor model. Lectron (GmbH) under Manfred Walter produced the Funktionsmodelle and Physik Experimentell models.]
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.
According to Mr. Dietrich Lubs (the former Deputy Head of Design at Braun), Mr. Walter expressed an interest in continuing the business of the Lectron System product as his own company and purchased the rights at a very good price to do so, forming Lectron, GmbH.
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 acquisition of the Lectron System 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.
On my trip to Germany in November of 2013, I visited the Rüsselsheimer building complex which was the first home of the Lectron System during the Braun era.
Dr. Dieter Rams, and Mr. 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 System division.
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.
The Early Years: 1972 – 1975
Mr. Walter kept the Braun Lectron System 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 + topic 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 Grundsystem 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 Mini-System, 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 System’s international marketplace presence. Relationships with Lectron System 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 System through 1977.
By 1975, The Lectron System product line was expanded 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 my research colleague 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 model 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 System kits from the Manfred Walter (MW) era remain scarce on eBay. Fortunately, many annual price lists from 1972 to 2001 give us an understanding of how the Lectron System 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 auxiliary experiments were added to the LectronMW 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. Georg 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 System product line models that would be developed in the future.
The Funktionsmodelle model (created by Hartmut Birett) 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‘.
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 (as of 2019): 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 LectronRWO 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.
The Later Years: 1976 – 1996
In the 1977-MAR-01 price list, the Ausbausystem 5 first appeared for sale as model # 8 100 072.
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 represented that he had successfully concluded the sale of 10,000 units of the Buchlabor model (Book Laboratory) to the Sony Corporation in the Japanese language. Unfortunately, I have only seen one such unit on eBay in early 2017. It was only going to be sold as part of a lot of several other Lectron Systems with a $800.00 asking price. I proposed a counter offer but unfortunately never heard back from the Japanese seller.
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 ‘test’ order, disagreements about the quality of the components ensued and the business relationship did not progress any further.
The Final Years: 1998 – 2001
The last several years leading up to 2001 were difficult for the Lectron, GmbH 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, GmbH. Unfortunately, there were past due tax issues and other companies were concerned that they would be incurring 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 System business.
The ‘white knight’ who preserved the Lectron System product and turned out to be the business entity that Mr. Walter had been working with since 1995 to help with the Lectron System 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 System as a viable product and helped, with tax advisors, devise a plan to relieve Mr. Walter of past Lectron, GmbH tax liabilities. A deal was arranged with the German tax authorities which was that if Mr. Walter gifted the Lectron System assets to the RWO then the past tax liabilities issue would be resolved.
In 2001, this arrangement was concluded and the RWO became the new owner of the Lectron Systems assets and rights.
In the Fall of 2000, Mr. Gerd Kopperschmidt also entered into Lectron System history and exchanged correspondence and telephone conversations with Mr. Walter as an interested Lectron System 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.
55 Limburger Strasse
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.
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 warehouse and assembly area 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 Lectron, GmbH’s 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 System inventory. Mr. Walter gave away a lot of the Lectron System 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 System remnants and sadly did not want anything further to do with the Lectron, GmbH 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 carousel 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’s health was beginning to fail in 1999 and it became increasingly difficult for him to maintain the Lectron, GmbH company and the Lectron System business. Mr. Walter could not afford to maintain the building (as the tenant, he was responsible for repairs) and leaks in the roof had taken their toll on a large portion of the Lectron System parts and inventory stored there which included packaging, manuals, and documents.
Mr. Cahn Von Seelen, was part of the salvage team that rescued what it could from the Limburger Strasse facility. The photos below show what they encountered at the beginning of the salvage operation. What ever remained that could be salvaged was relocated to the RWO in Frankfurt.