Photo: Wolfgang Steche - Hamburg/DGPH
Key stages: Kurt A. Körber
Early years and university studies
Kurt A. Körber was born in Berlin on 7 September 1909. He attended primary school in Berlin until 1923, after which the family moved to Chemnitz where he was educated in the secondary school and commercial college. He developed an early interest in broadcasting technology. His first invention at the age of fifteen was an automatically controlled transmitter read-out scale, which he successfully patented in Berlin. Following an apprenticeship as an electrician with the Allgemeine Maschinenbau-Gesellschaft (General Mechanical Engineering Company) in Chemnitz and an Electrical Engineering degree at Mittweida University, Körber went on to file more than 200 other patents during his lifetime.
The War Years
Körber joined the Universelle-Werke J. C. Müller & Co. in Dresden in 1935. As a strategically important wartime supplier, the Universelle Company also started producing armaments, for which it employed up to 3,000 foreign workers and forced labour. Körber became a member of the NSDAP (the Nazi Party) in 1940, which he regarded as a formal concession but never combined with any intellectual proximity to National Socialism. We have had this past of our founder researched: Most recently, the Institute of Contemporary History examined Körber's stance under National Socialism.
By 1944, Körber had risen to the post of Technical Director of the Universelle Company. In 1945 he remained in that position under the Soviet occupying power and pressed ahead with the company’s civilian reconstruction.
A fresh start in Hamburg
In July 1946, Kurt A. Körber began repairing cigarette machines and manufacturing hand-operated tobacco cutters in Hamburg. The eastern part of the Hanseatic city had remained intact, and so had Hamburg-Bergedorf, which was where he rented his first premises and founded the company Hauni Maschinenfabrik Körber & Co KG. Thanks to support by local politicians, Körber was able to expand his company on the Kampchaussee (today Kurt-A.-Körber-Chaussee) from 1952 onwards.
A global group is born
All the Körber companies were combined in 1987, and the Hauni-Werke reorganised to form Körber AG. By 1992 Körber had developed his company into a globally active corporate entity with nearly 6,800 employees and a turnover of DEM 1.5 billion. Today, Körber Group is an international technology group with about 12,000 employees and more than 100 locations worldwide. Körber AG is the holding company of the Körber Group which is active in five Business Areas: Digital, Pharma, Supply Chain, Tissue and Tobacco. The Körber Group generated sales of EUR 2.0 billion in fiscal year 2021.
Entrepreneur and founder/benefactor
Körber created the foundation to Rebuild the Thalia Theatre in Hamburg in 1957, then in 1959 he formed the Kurt-A.-Körber Foundation with the aim of establishing a Technical Academy to train management staff for practice-oriented industries. The Hauni Foundation came into existence in 1969, and the two foundations were combined in 1981 to form Körber-Stiftung. Körber provided more than DEM 200 million between 1959 and 1992 for the advancement of culture and science.
Commitment and honours
Körber struck a balance at an early stage between entrepreneurial gain and investments for the common good. He once described the founding of the Bergedorf Round Table in 1961 as his most important invention. This gathering initially took place in Bergedorf Castle, and discussed questions relating to the free industrial society. Körber’s first honour was the award of an Honorary Doctorate rer. pol. by Friedrich-Alexander University, Erlangen, in 1960. This was followed in 1965 by the Diesel Medal in Gold from the German Inventors’ Association. He received the Association of German Foundations’ Medal for Merits in the German Philanthropic Sector from German Federal President Karl Carstens in 1983. Körber’s later honours turned the wheel full circle and back to his beginnings: he became an Honorary Doctor of the Technical University of Dresden in 1989, and Hamburg’s Mayor Henning Voscherau conferred the Honorary Citizenship of the City on him in 1991. Kurt A. Körber died in Hamburg on 10 August 1992.
Der Anstifter. Was Kurt A. Körber bewegte (German)
Further publications (German)
Josef Schmid/Dirk Wegner:
Kurt A. Körber - Annäherungen an einen Stifter
edition Körber-Stiftung, 2002
Hier in drei Teilen zum Download:
Vom Techniker zum Unternehmer (PDF)
Als Kapitalist für das Gemeinwohl (PDF)
Das Engagement des Stifters (PDF)
Josef Schmid/Frank Bajohr:
Gewöhnlicher unternehmerischer Opportunismus?
Kurt A. Körber und die Dresdner »Universelle« im Nationalsozialismus
Zeitgeschichte in Hamburg, 2011
Kapitalist mit Gemeinsinn. Ein Essay über Kurt A. Körber
edition Körber-Stiftung, 2009