Station 1

TextilindustryStockings for the world market

Information points:
- Bronze memorial plaque to Sophie Stecker (Haus Weststraße 14); at the corner of the street 'Paul-Falke-Platz

- Residential building Weststraße 12: Entrance to the former knitwear factory Sophie Stecker

Long tradition of wool processing in Schmallenberg
The raw material wool was supplied by the local sheep; the yarns were then spun and processed in homework. A fulling mill for the processing of woven wool fabrics was already in existence in 1416 on the Lenne (on the Laken), a second fulling mill existed in Grafschaft. Around 1800 the production of woollen stockings in the publishing industry increased. An entrepreneur as a publisher provided the workers with raw material (wool) and partly also working instruments (stocking chairs): The work was then done at home. One of the larger entrepreneurs was city pensioner Caspar Störmann, who in 1853 employed homeworkers at 44 stocking chairs (26 of them in his house at Oststrasse 63). So-called "Westfalenjacke" (a whale jacket) were produced, as well as butcher and skipper jackets, scarves and stockings.

First spinning and knitting factories
The growth of the Schmallenberg wool industry began in 1850. In order to be independent of yarn supplies, Störmann and a partner founded the spinning factory Störmann & Bitter in Schmallenberg in 1851 and produced wool yarn with a Selfaktor (spinning machine with a movable carriage carrying the spindles) with 264 spindles and 13 workers. A second spinning mill was built in 1865 by Jacob and Daniel Meisenburg on the Lennewiesen, a third in 1867 by the brothers Michael and Salomon Stern.
A new phase in textile production began in 1868, when Franz Kayser founded the first knitting factory: it was not until 1863 that the Lamb knitting machine was invented and the mechanisation of knitting became possible. Most of the factories (spinning mills, dye works) now also incorporated a knitting mill. The business practices were not always honest: Veltins & Wiethoff (who had taken over Störmann & Bitter in 1870 as former employees or relatives) secretly had their workers trained in the use of the machines by an employee of Kayser. In 1872, they moved the knitting mill into an annex at Weststraße 13. Stecker, founded in 1883 by five siblings, focused exclusively
on knitting. The siblings worked in shifts and carried out all secondary activities themselves. Net cotton jackets and woollen stockings were produced. After the death of the oldest sister, Sophie Stecker (1864-1957) managed the company and sales. She presented her products to customers in Cologne and elsewhere: For a woman in those days this was quite unusual. From 1909 she successfully expanded the product range to include children's clothing.
In 1895 the trained roofer and knitter Franz Falke set up his own business with ten knitting machines. Almost 10 years later, the Falkes opened their first branch in 1908 and in 1918 they bought the Meisenburg spinning mill. In the 1920s branches were founded in Berlin, Chemnitz, Gelsenkirchen and Bielefeld.

Sophie Plug (1864-1957)

As a young woman, she travelled to Cologne in the 1890s and sold her knitwear herself - highly unusual for a woman at the time!

Here you can read about her very own chapter.

Residential building Weststraße 12: former knitwear factory Sophie Stecker

Production focus on solid woollen goods
The Sauerland hosiery industry mainly produced coarse solid woollen goods: jackets and socks. With these coarsely knitted standard articles, it set itself apart from the fine wool products of its Saxon competitors, met the great demand from the nearby Ruhr area and was able to fall back on a relatively unqualified workforce. This production method also repeatedly won orders from the army: In the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71, German soldiers wore Störmann jackets and Cayser socks; in the First World War, Stecker produced undercoats, head and ear protectors; during the Second World War, production was considered important for the war effort, which also resulted in the use of forced labourers.
Home work and publishing continued well into the 20th century. Around 1960, however, most companies had centralized branch operations, where 15 to 120 women workers - all of them women - did simple tasks on machines: they footed the lengths, tied the stocking laces on linking machines or sewed tubes together. The working hours changed enormously: in 1900 they worked 58 hours a week, in 1918 the working hours were set at six days and 48 hours a week. The 40-hour week dates from the 1960s. During the First World War, the age limit for working people was lowered from 70 to 65 years. Patriarchal conditions prevailed: Obedience was taken for granted. But the boss also took care of the workers and was always present. Before 1914 Veltins & Wiethoff were Schmallenberg's largest company with 100 employees; Falke expanded strongly after the 1st WK and had several 100 employees in the 1920s. Stecker employed 200 workers until 1945. In addition, numerous smaller companies were active.
During the National Socialist era, the company continued to manufacture stockings, workwear and unisex outerwear (Stern) or baby underwear (Stecker). Falke bought the Stern company in 1938 in a trade satisfactory to all parties involved, whose Jewish owners could still leave Germany. During the war there was a lot of work with forced labourers and Eastern workers. Towards the end of the war production came to a standstill in most factories. During the conquest of Schmallenberg on 7.4.1945 the factory Stecker was destroyed; the factory Veltins & Wiethoff was closed by the Americans.

Structural change after 1960
Slowly, production started up again. Undaunted, Sophie Stecker and her nephew set about rebuilding her company. Numerous displaced persons from the East found work in the textile factories. By 1950, 1,800 people (two-thirds of whom were women) were already working in the city's textile factories again. In the 1960s, production ran at full speed: guest workers were hired. 90% of the jobs in Schmallenberg were directly or indirectly dependent on the textile industry. Falke became the largest employer.
At the end of the 1960s expansion came to a halt due to increased competition (cheap imports from the Far East), the effects of the structural crisis in the Ruhr area and changing consumer habits. In 1980, only about 30% of the jobs in Schmallenberg came from the textile industry. Some of the traditional companies, including Veltins & Wiethoff in 1974, had to close down, while others relocated production to low-wage countries, closed branches or expanded their collections. Falke was able to assert itself successfully on the market with production changes and relocations. The company started producing nylon stockings in 1958, and in 1970 also entered the production of sports articles, creating production niches and unique selling points with designer fashion.

Spinning mill of the company Veltins & Wiethoff an der Lenne, picture taken shortly after 1900.

Knitting room at Veltins & Wiethoff in the early 1930s: The footsteps and the making up of the stockings were almost exclusively women's work.

The disposition of the Stern company around 1930: Here the goods were sorted and orders received.

Production hall of the Stern company: The transmission shaft at the top of the long side of the hall was used to drive the machines, around 1930.

Franz Falke-Rohen junior (1885-1951): He took over the company from his father and had a decisive influence on the further development of the company. He was also mayor of Schmallenberg for many years.

Falke took over the Uhli fine stocking factory in 1958

Falke successfully asserted itself on the market with innovative advertising and the expansion of the product portfolio: advertising motif RUN in the 1990s.

Historical knitting machine from the Falke company in the Holthausen Museum

Until 1959, gloves were produced in the Sauerland on traditional Lambschen knitting machines.

What else is there to discover here?With a view over the rifle range...

The old shooting tent from 1900.

Rifleman's tent around 1930 with court.

An old postcard shows Schmallenberg in the year 1905 with the shooting tent from 1900.

The shooting range in the 1960s

Sophie Plug1864 - 1957

Sophie Stecker was the youngest of six children in a long-established Schmallenberg bourgeois family. Her older sister Therese Stecker trained as a knitter in Cologne in 1870/71 and then trained workers herself in Biedenkopf. Since 1883 the Stecker family had been producing cotton net jackets and woollen stockings in their parents' house at Weststraße 14 in shifts, which were sold in the Rhineland and Westphalia. Despite all their hard work, money was scarce, so they worked on wages until the first machine of their own was saved from the mouth and a wholesaler for the stockings was found. Sophie herself worked as a forewoman in foreign knitting factories and saved money to buy two second-hand knitting machines, which she contributed to the family business.
Sophie Stecker travelled to Cologne in the 1890s and sold her knitwear herself, which was very unusual for a woman at that time. In 1903 the Stecker company set up its own production building at Weststraße 12. On May 12, 1906, the company was registered with Sophie Stecker in the Commercial Court - after the death of her sister Therese, Sophie ran the company.
In 1909 she set up motor knitting machines and by 1913 all hand knitting machines had been replaced by motor machines. From 1927 onwards, she created a promising sector for herself by switching to baby underwear and toddler clothing. Young women preferred to go to Sophie Stecker for work: there was a pleasant atmosphere and baby lingerie was produced. The factory was destroyed in
the last days of the war in 1945; undeterred, Sophie Stecker had the factory rebuilt in a modern style until 1953. On her 90th birthday in 1954, Sophie Stecker became an honorary citizen of her home town: she played a decisive role in making Schmallenberg a textile-industrial town