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Thonet GmbH

legal form GmbH
founding 1819
Seat Frankenberg (Eder) , Hesse , Germany
management Brian Boyd, Michael Erdelt
Number of employees 198
Branch Furniture manufacturing

The Thonet GmbH is a family-owned German manufacturer of furniture based in northern Hesse Frankenberg (Eder) . The company originally comes from Boppard and already experienced its heyday in the 19th century in Vienna with furniture made of bent wood. The production site in Frankenberg achieved world fame , especially with Bauhaus tubular steel furniture.


19th century

Michael Thonet and his sons, from left to right Michael jun., Josef, Michael sen., August, Franz, Jakob (1850s)
Paper stickers under one of the Thonet chairs in Hanover's New Town Hall
Advertisement from 1906
Thonet AG shares of more than 1,000 marks from August 20, 1922

Michael Thonet already experimented with bentwood techniques in his first workshop in Boppard am Rhein ; The first designs with bent plywood were made around 1830. Prince Metternich brought him to Vienna in 1842, where the company's economic success began with the so-called Viennese coffee house chair from 1859, actually chair No. 14. On November 1, 1853, Michael Thonet transferred the business to his sons, although he continued to work for the family company until his death. The "Gebrüder Thonet" company was founded and recorded on this date. When the workshop originally built on Gumpendorfer Strasse in Vienna became too small due to the increasing demand and the expansion of the business, Thonet rented the Mollardmühle, which was located next to the Sechshauser line and belonged to the former Gumpendorf estate, including the residential building and outbuildings, in 1853. After moving to Mollardmühle in the summer of 1853, a total of 42 workers were employed there. So far, only machines with manual operation were used in production, but this year the first small steam engine was put into operation.

Due to the steadily growing production and the steadily increasing sales of bentwood furniture, the rooms of the Mollardmühle soon proved to be inadequate and the procurement of beech wood of suitable quality became more difficult. Thonet therefore decided to relocate production to a wooded area in the province, where freshly felled beech wood could be obtained directly from the forest and cheap labor was available. The choice fell on Koritschan near a train station near Gaya in Moravia . After signing a multi-year wood supply contract with the owner of the Koritschan estate, Hermann Christian Wittgenstein , the first large bentwood furniture factory was built there. In the spring of 1856 Michael Thonet left the management of the Viennese company to his sons and moved from Vienna to Koritschan. There he drew the blueprints himself and directed the construction and installation of the factory. On July 10, 1856, the Thonet brothers received a new "privilege" for the "production of armchairs and table legs from bent wood, the bending of which is caused by the action of steam or boiling liquids".

In 1857 the factory in Korichan started operations. In doing so, the foundations of production were created, which were decisive for further development and expansion. The division of labor was carried out; Professionals were no longer involved in the actual chair manufacture. Men were used for the hard work, for the lighter ones such as rasping, polishing, braiding, packing, etc. only young unskilled workers, mostly girls. After some time, pipe braiding took place almost exclusively in the domestic industry . There was cheap labor available, but it had to be trained first.

When the Koritschaner factory, which was enlarged from year to year, was no longer able to meet the continuously increasing demand, the factories in Bistritz am Hostein in 1862, Gross-Ugrócz in 1865, Hallenkau with branches in Wsetin in 1868, Nowo Radomsk in 1880 and Frankenberg in Hessen built in 1890. In addition, a large number of branches and sawmills were put into operation. During the autumn maneuver of 1897, the headquarters of Emperor Franz Joseph I was in Bistriz am Hostein. On September 3rd of that year the emperor visited the factory there. After a tour of all the rooms of the extensive establishment, the emperor expressed his satisfaction to the bosses present in words of great appreciation.

Since then, the Thonet company has participated in all major trade exhibitions. The products of the house were exported all over the world.

Emperor Franz Joseph I awarded the founder of the house with the golden cross of merit with the crown and the Knight's Cross of the Franz Joseph Order , and the achievements of Michael Thonet's sons were also awarded the Knight's Cross of the Franz Joseph Order and the Order of the Iron Crown III. Class recognized. After Michael Thonet's death, the company and the bentwood furniture industry continued to grow. It was thanks to Thonet to have created a new, important industry. Around 1910, 52 companies in more than 60 factories beyond the borders of Austria-Hungary were producing furniture from bent wood. In Austria-Hungary alone, this industry claimed the regular forestry use of 350,000 hectares of beech forests. More than 23,000  tons of bentwood furniture were exported from the dual monarchy to all parts of the world every year, and around 35,000 people found employment in this area of ​​acquisition.

The members of the Thonet family had invested a lot in war bonds as patriotic loyalty to the emperor during the First World War , which is why the collapse of the monarchy and the difficult post-war years hit the company hard. In the 1920s, the Jewish merchant Leopold Pilzer from Hungary bought in and merged Thonet with “ Mundus AG ” and later with the company “ Jacob & Josef Kohn ” (Vienna). Pilzer managed to make the company profitable again by investing in tubular steel furniture. He bought companies in Berlin that worked for the Bauhaus and carried out designs by Mies van der Rohe , Le Corbusier and Marcel Breuer .

With the invasion of the National Socialists and the Anschluss , Pilzer was forced to emigrate and fled to the United States. The Thonet company was broken up, and Pilzer founded Thonet Industries in North America.

post war period

Thonet chair in tubular steel construction (1964), designed by Hans Luckhardt

After the Czech, Polish and Hungarian plants were lost through expropriation and the headquarters in Vienna were destroyed in the Second World War , Georg Thonet , a great-grandson of the founder Michael Thonet , rebuilt the plant in Frankenberg, which was also destroyed in the war in 1890, and founded Thonet there in 1953 GmbH new. Peter Thonet has been running the company as a direct descendant of the founder since 2011.

Thonet Brothers Vienna

Grave complex of the Thonet family in the Vienna Central Cemetery, Group 14 B

In Austria, production started again in 1962 with a plant in Friedberg (Styria) . On May 9, 1980 Gebrüder Thonet KG received the state award . A series of management errors finally led to the sale of the Austrian branch to a German investor in 1996. In 2000 it was sold again, this time to the Italian luxury furniture manufacturer Poltrona Frau . Under the leadership of General Director Fiorenzo Mengoni, "Thonet Vienna" has again become profitable and internationally known. The Austrian Thonet factory was closed in 2006, only the Thonet Museum in Frankenberg (Eder) reminds of the former production . In July 2011, the Poltrona Frau factory premises were sold to a local community of investors.


The product range today includes the classics with which the company has become known, as well as designs by well-known contemporary designers such as B. Hadi Teherani , Norman Foster or Stefan Diez . In addition to bentwood furniture ( Viennese café chair ), tubular steel furniture from the 1920s and 1930s, designed by star designers such as Marcel Breuer and Mies van der Rohe , was one of the company's bestsellers. Thonet furniture is now represented in the most important design collections in the world, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich. Nowadays the production site is Frankenberg.

Bentwood furniture

Page from the Thonet Brothers catalog (1904)

Bentwood furniture established the company's success. This was particularly successful with the so-called Viennese café-house chair , actually chair no. 14, which had already sold over 50 million times by 1930.

Bentwood furniture (selection)
  • No. 14 ( Viennese coffeehouse chair ) from 1859
  • No. 1 (rocking chair) from 1860
  • No. 18 , late 19th century
  • No. 56 of 1885
  • 209 ( Le Corbusier chair , as Le Corbusier used a lot in his buildings)
  • 247 from 1904 ("Postsparkassen-Stuhl", design: Otto Wagner )

Tubular steel furniture

In the 1930s, Thonet was the world's largest producer of tubular steel furniture, designed by well-known architects / designers such as Mart Stam , Marcel Breuer or Le Corbusier , mainly from the Bauhaus environment , whose designers were the first to work with cold-bent tubular steel.

Tubular steel furniture (selection)

Museums and exhibitions

In 1989 a museum was opened in Frankenberg, which is located on the company premises and shows historical exhibits on 700 square meters of exhibition space.

The Museum of Applied Arts, MAK Vienna owns a large furniture collection and shows in its permanent exhibition an overview of a hundred years of Thonet's production as well as that of the Kohn brothers and the Danhauser furniture factory . The museums of the movables depot in Vienna are also showing selected objects from Thonet, including Michael Thonet's graceful running chair from 1843/48 for the Liechtenstein city palace . On the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the Thonet company, the Museum of Applied Arts, MAK Vienna will present a comprehensive exhibition (autumn 2019).

The Thonet Museum of the city of Boppard in the Electoral Castle shows furniture made of bent wood, primarily from Gebr. Thonet. The focus of the collection is on furniture from before the First World War. After extensive renovation work on the museum building, the museum has now reopened (as of 2017).

The Thonet Museum in the city of Friedberg (Styria) shows over 80 exhibits, including the world exhibition table from 1851 or the only Liechtenstein chair that is in a private collection, as well as the Postsparkassen chair by Otto Wagner and elegant pieces by the Viennese secessionists.

In 2014 the Grassi Museum in Leipzig presented the exhibition Sitting, Lounging, Swinging: Furniture by Thonet .

Individual evidence

  1. Consolidated annual financial statements 2015 from March 31, 2016, accessed via the E-Bundesanzeiger
  2. Thonet GmbH press kit. Website of Thonet GmbH in Frankenberg. Retrieved December 9, 2015.
  3. a b Thonet Brothers . In: Presented by the industrialists of Austria under the high protectorate of His K. and K. Highness of the Most Serene Archduke Franz Ferdinand (Hrsg.): Die Groß-Industrie Oesterreichs . Festival ceremony for the glorious fiftieth anniversary of the reign of His Majesty the Emperor Franz Josef I. Volume 3 . Leopold Weiss, Vienna 1898, VII. Wood and carved ware industry; Home furnishings, p. 325 .
  4. a b c d Thonet Brothers . In: The large-scale industry of Austria . P. 326
  5. Thonet Brothers . In: The large-scale industry of Austria . P. 327
  6. Ludwig Reinhardt: Cultural History of Useful Plants , Verlag Ernst Reinhardt, Munich 1911, p. 690.
  7. [1]
  8. Kleine Zeitung , Hartberg edition, July 21, 2011
  9. Manufacturer's website : 209 - Architects ' Favorite , accessed on March 29, 2017
  10. Gebrüder Thonet - Furniture made of bent wood, Böhlau Verlag, Vienna 2003.
  11. BUGHOLZ, MULTI-LAYERED - MAK Museum Vienna. Retrieved January 10, 2019 .
  12. Swing freely ; in Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung on May 18, 2014, page V9.


  • Stefan Üner: Gebrüder Thonet, in: Wagner, Hoffmann, Loos and the furniture design of Viennese modernism. Artist, client, producer , ed. v. Eva B. Ottillinger, exhib. Cat. Hofmobiliendepot, Vienna, March 20 - October 7, 2018, pp. 149–152, ISBN 978-3-205-20786-3 .
  • Albrecht Bangert: Thonet furniture. Bentwood classics from 1830 to 1930 . Heyne, Munich 1997, ISBN 3-453-13047-2 .
  • Hans H. Buchwald : Form from Process. The Thonet chair . Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Cambridge Mass. 1967.
  • Reinhard Engel, Marta Halpert: Luxury from Vienna II. Czernin Verlag, Vienna 2002, ISBN 3-7076-0142-0 .
  • Andrea Gleininger: The coffee house chair No. 14 by Michael Thonet . Birkhäuser, Frankfurt / M. 1998, ISBN 3-7643-6832-2 .
  • Heinz Kähne: Furniture made of bent wood. A look into the collection of the city of Boppard. Boppard 2000.
  • Heinz Kähne: Thonet bentwood classics. An introduction to the beauty and variety of Thonet furniture. Rhein-Mosel Verlag, Briedel 1999, ISBN 3-929745-70-4 .
  • Heinz Kähne: The Thonets in Boppard . Sutton Verlag, Erfurt 2008, ISBN 978-3-86680-368-8 .
  • Brigitte Schmutzler: An unbelievable story. Michael Thonet and his chairs . Landesmuseum, Koblenz 1996, ISBN 3-925915-55-9 .
  • Sembach, Leuthäuser, Gössel: Furniture design in the 19th century , Benedikt Taschen, Cologne 1990, ISBN 3-8228-0365-0 .
  • Eva B. Ottilinger (Ed.): Gebrüder Thonet furniture made of bent wood , Böhlau Verlag, Vienna Cologne Weimar 2003, ISBN 3-205-77102-8 .
  • Renz, Wolfgang Thillmann, sedie a dondolo Thonet - Thonet rocking chairs, Silvana Editoriale, Milano 2006, ISBN 88-366-0671-7 .
  • Natascha Lara, Wolfgang Thillmann, Bentwood furniture in South America - Bentwood furniture in South America - Muebles de madera curvada, La Paz 2008.
  • Wolfgang Thillmann, Bernd Willscheid, MöbelDesign - Roentgen, Thonet and the Modern Age, Roentgen Museum Neuwied, Neuwied 2011, ISBN 978-3-9809797-9-5 .
  • Gabriele Thiels: "Thonet? Everyone knows", in: ICON, October 2019, pp. 70–72.

Web links

Commons : Gebrüder Thonet  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files