Franz Claas – machine builder and designer.
Franz Claas junior was born in 1890 as the third-eldest son in the family. In choosing the name, his father Franz perhaps hoped to pass on to the next generation his own passion for mechanical engineering. At any rate, his own affinity for machines and technical problem solving was seamlessly continued in his younger namesake.
While still little more than a child, Franz junior was given responsibility for ensuring the smooth operation of the flour mill on his father's farm. A lathe was the chief tool used for repairs and spare parts which, of course, were manufactured in-house, and this was where Franz junior constructed his first machines and models. Later, when the sawmill went into operation, he was also responsible for technical work procedures there.
When World War I broke out in 1914, he was made weapons master in his army company on the basis of his knowledge of machine construction and mechanics, with the task of modifying seized weapons for use in the German weapons system. Always the pragmatist, he manufactured cigar cutters and cooking utensils for his fellow soldiers in addition to his principal duties, using an ancient pedal-driven lathe.
A degree of improvisation was needed in the first few months of the young company named Gebr. CLAAS ("CLAAS Brothers"). In 1919, in the immediate postwar period, the first new machines were initially produced from old hay balers, because of the shortage of raw materials. Despite all the external difficulties, Franz managed to adjust the standards, and build up a smoothly flowing production system, thanks to his feel for material, and for technical relationships. "He talks with the material", was the approciative comment in the factory.
At an early stage, he realised that to achieve smooth-running production that would also meet high quality standards, modern technical operating equipment and intelligent, high-quality tools were needed, and were in fact essential. His objective was to create an in-house tool and machine production facility for CLAAS.
By 1928, this objective had been achieved. Franz Claas set up a special department: "The Tool Workshop". Under his supervision, all the fitters and turners now worked in one area, and this is where Franz Claas now constructed and manufactured all the equipment and machinery needed for production.
Taking matters into their own hands, having in-house manufacturing instead of outside purchasing, staying independent of suppliers and quality norms – these were principles that all the Claas brothers had taken to heart. Franz Claas expressed their attitude very clearly: "For model making, we first used outside companies, so we were dependent on them. Thanks to extensive investment in equipment and the continuous modernisation of our in-house tool workshop, we are now in a position where we can manufacture ourselves all existing tools and any tools still to be manufactured."
The employees gave him the respectful title "Father of the Tool Workshop". Once international business began to steadily increase after 1945, Franz Claas started to make frequent trips with his son, Günther, to the USA, to attend tool trade fairs and look at the latest operational equipment. "The only way we can compete is if we can provide the best there is", was his philosophy.
And Claas was proud to measure its own strength as a company on the basis of its machinery and equipment: "In 1962, our factory has over 2,000 modern, or the very latest, tool machines and more than 6,000 cutters and fixtures of all kinds."
Franz Claas was an extremely modest individual; personal fame and public attention meant little to him. He preferred to work quietly in the background. His family, consisting of his wife Christine and their three children, Walter, Günther and Helga, were his refuge and retreat. Nevertheless, the obligatory Sunday walk with the children and the family dog still brought him back to the site of the plant.
He and his wife Christine believed in unconditional cooperation with his borthers and in the welfare of the CLAAS company family. Indeed, they saw these as binding obligations.
To mark his 70th birthday, Franz Claas was made an honorary citizen of the town of Harsewinkel and awarded the German Federal Cross of Merit 1st Class, one of the highest awards in Germany. On his 75th birthday, in recognition of his services on behalf of the church, His Holiness Pope Paul VI awarded him the Knight's Cross of the Order of Saint Sylvester. Unfortunately, Franz Claas did not live to see the establishment of a separate subsidiary called CLAAS Fertigungstechnik ("CLAAS Manufacturing Engineering"). It represents the culmination to date of a development that can be traced directly back to Franz Claas junior.
Franz Claas junior, the "Father of the Tool Workshop", died on 24 December 1965.