Willhelmus Adrianus van Berkel was born on 5th February 1869 in Enschot (Netherlands). At the age of 20 he started to work as a butcher but his primary passion was always for the mechanics. Young, very enterprising and subtle, worked on ceaselessly to develop a system for cold meats slicing with a mechanical device able to facilitate the butchers work and offer the customers more uniform products in their dimensions and thickness of the slice. With engagement and perseverance, in few years from a simple butcher he became a worldwide successful entrepreneur.
It is said that, due to the continuous claims of customers on the irregularity of the slices to be cut, Van Berkel had the intuition to create a machine able to mechanically reproduce the slicing movement of the hand while using a knife. Taking advantage of his own great passion and experience in the field, he succeeded in creating knackish device which turned out to be useful and functional right from the start. It combined together a big concave circular blade, a big hand operated flywheel and a mobile carriage which forwards automatically towards the same blade : it was the very first Berkel Slicer.
Van Berkel was a far-sighted man and never stopped his self to the simple idea. He immediately committed his self to transform his invention in a professional machine for a widespread use and registered his own copyright. Not disposing of the needed means to initiate production of his slicer, van Berkel knew about the LJsbergn Typography forging and machine tools workshop – with whom he was already in good business relationship – who were about to fail in business. Van Berkel suggested the old owner to change it into a laboratory dedicated to the production of his own Berkel flywheel slicers. After various attempts, the old owner accepted.
The first establishment
On the 12th October 1898 in Rotterdam the Van Berkel trading company was born and its very first establishment for the production of Berkel Flywheel slicers was founded. Ever since – until the end of the 30s – the company had an incessant rise, launching more and more new patents and machine models in the market. The production figures during the first year were excellent : overall 76 slicers were produced among model A, 3 small sized slicers , B and 5 special slicers of Model C.
The market entry
Initially, the introduction to market of the Berkel Meat Slicer was not easy : butchers and employees in other commercial activities saw in this a threat to their labour. Van Berkel did not let this aversion discourage him : he walked through the streets and showed butchers the effective convenience of his machine, assuring that he wouldn’t divert customers – on the contrary – he would support a remarkable increase in the sales. Once clear and evident the real advantage the Berkel flywheel slicer could bring to meat curers and butchers, the slicers got soon appreciated and spread all over the world.
The Berkel flywheel slicers were exhibited at the most important international trade shows, in which they started to achieve their very first official awards. In the first 30s of 900, the machines got the expected golden medals at the trade shows in Nord-Hansen (1904), Hamburg (1907), Düsseldorf (1908), Lyons (1913), San Francisco (1916) and Paris (1937). The Berkel flywheel slicers became more and more demanded by foreign markets, at the point that the establishment in Rotterdam was not in a position to satisfy the surge any longer. Therefore, the company decided to build up more factories in Denmark (1905), Sweden, Belgium and Switzerland (1909), United States, South America, Norway, Germany and France (1911), England (1913), Austria, Czech Republic and Italy (1924), Canada (1929), Spain and Portugal (1939). Van Berkel became soon a full-fledged multinational with their own manufacturing establishments worldwide.
The two world wars
The trading company ceaselessly went on with its growth, even during the period of the first world war. Notably, due to the needs caused by the conflict, they diversified production, by manufacturing the machine tools, ships motors and seaplanes on behalf of the Dutch Government. Also, in 1929 the production of scales took place. The second world war severily affected various Berkel establishments. The prestige of the trademark and tenacity of the executives allowed production to be re-set up in new factories, even more modern and better equipped compared to the previous establishments gone destroyed by bombardments .
In the 50s Berkel was not only an innovative multinational, producing flywheel slicers. The trademark became a true and proper status symbol, a life style, a passion for elegance, unicity and sophistication. The success was not only determined by the genial idea made true by van Berkel but also by the accuracy and quality of materials through which the machines were built. Even when their creator passed on (in 1952), the Berkel flywheel slicers stayed real design icons : the elegance in their shape, the harmony in the movement, the blade luster and the typical red color became distinguishing signs able to evoke charm.
In 1991 a devastating fire completely destroyed the historical Berkel establishment of Rotterdam. The company didn’t stop with their production, but moved to a new suburban establishment.
Today, after over 100 years of history, Berkel still stands for innovation, liability, perfection and ever-lasting.