Centenary celebrations: eight firms that are 100 years old in 2019

two men and several women sit around a sign with number 100 on it

1919 was an industrious year, with many organisations we know today being founded.

In the wake of World War I and the Treaty of Versailles, many entrepreneurs and companies were able to take advantage of the advances in technology during the war years, as well as, in advance of the 1920s, a modern, forward-thinking climate to increase trade and cooperation.

From aviation to fashion, food and drink to vacuum cleaners, here are eight well-known European firms celebrating their cententary in 2019.

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Bentley

Iconic British motor firm Bentley was founded in 1919 by Walter Owen Bentley, who had designed and supplied engines for the war effort. Following the war, his contribution was recognised with an MBE and £8,000 from the Commission of Awards to Inventors.

This gave him the capital to establish a premises in Cricklewood, North London where he turned his engines business into one for car production.

The company grew through the following decade, in particular associated with motor racing with five victories at Le Mans in the 1920s. Now, 100 years later, Bentley Motors are located in Crewe, one of Europe’s leading luxury car manufacturers.

British Airways

The company we know today as British Airways has its origins 100 years ago, at the beginning of civil aviation.

In August 1919, Aircraft Transport and Travel Limited, a forerunner company of today’s British Airways, launched the world’s first daily international scheduled air service, between London and Paris. On board: one passenger, a consignment of leather, several brace of grouse and some jars of Devonshire cream.

Many mergers and name changes later, today British Airways celebrates its 100 years as one of the world’s largest airlines and a century of heritage to look back upon.

Citroën

French car manufacturer Citroën was founded in 1919 by the industrialist André-Gustave Citroën.

1n 1908, Citroen became the chairman of automobile manufacturer Mors. During World War I, he was responsible for mass production of armaments. After the war, realising he would have a modern factory without a product, Citroen returned to cars.

Launched in 1919, the Citroen Type A was the firm’s first model. From there, Citroën became the first mass production manufacturer in Europe and, by the 1930s, the fourth largest automobile manufacturer in the world.

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Danone

Danone – a multinational food corporation now based in France – has its roots in 1919.

Isaac Carasso, a Sephardic Jewish doctor, who was born in Thessaloniki, moved to Barcelona in 1916.

There, concerned for stomach ailments of the city’s children, including his own son Daniel, he began producing yoghurt, selling it in pharmacies. Carasso named the yoghurts Danone, after his son.

A decade later, in 1929, Daniel Carasso joined the family business, moving the company from Spain to France, and later, during World War II, to New York where the brand name was changed to Dannon to sound more American.

Now Danone – again based in Paris – sells products in more than 120 countries.

Electrolux

Swedish home appliance company Electrolux was founded in 1919.

Its founder Axel Wenner-Gren had launched his first vacuum cleaner, the Lux I, seven years earlier in Stockholm.

In 1919, his firm was acquired by Svenska Elektron A, changing the naame from Elektromekaniska AB to Elektrolux. In the early years, it sold Lux vacuum cleaners in several European countries.

During the 1930s and 1940s, the firm drew inspiration for its products from the car industry, with modern, fashionable, streamlined products.

Today, Electrolux produces and sells many types of household appliance in more than 150 countries worldwide.

KLM

Dutch airline KLM was founded in 1919, when a consortium of eight businessmen founded the firm on 7 October, one of the world’s first commercial airline companies. Two weeks later, the firm’s first office opened on Heerengracht in The Hague.

The first KLM flight took place on 17 May 1920 flying from London’s Croydon Airport to Amsterdam Schiphol.

100 years later, today KLM flies to 145 destinations around the world.

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Tesco

British supermarket retailers Tesco were founded in 1919 by Jack Cohen as a group of market stalls, although not initially called Tesco.

That name appeared 5 years later when Cohen bought a shipment of tea from Thomas Edward Stockwell and sold it under the name combining these initials with the first letters of his surname. It was still later, in 1931, when the first Tesco store opened in Burnt Oak, a suburb of London.

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Through its century, Tesco has grown from market stalls to a leading supermarket chain across Europe – with stores now in the United Kingdom, Czech Republic, Hungary, Ireland, Poland and Slovakia as well as a number of countries in Asia

Wasabröd

Sweden’s Wasabröd is the world’s largest producer of Scandinavian style crisp bread – knäckebröd in Swedish.

Its name, Wasa is associated with Swedish king Gustav Vasa and was chosen to create an easily recognisable brand.

Its first bakery was opened in Skellefteå in 1919 by Karl Edvard Lundström. In 1931, the company opened another bakery – completely mechanised – in Filipstad which still operates today (along with another factory in Celle, Germany).

Today, wasabröd products are sold in 40 different countries.

By Adrian Murphy, Europeana Foundation


Share your story

Did you or your family work for any of the companies in this blog? Share your story and help us tell the story of Europe through our working lives in the past and the present.

photograph of man working in a factory surrounded by machines, the words 'Share your story' and a logo saying 'Europe at Work' are above

This blog post is a part of the Europeana Common Culture project, which explores varied aspects of our shared cultural heritage across Europe.

Feature image: 100 Years Dalang factory, Museen Muttenz, KIM.bl, CC BY-NC-SA

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