A look into the Freudenberg Group's corporate archive

International Archives Day

The cliché of the somewhat quirky archivist with nickel glasses and sleeve protectors, working his way through musty mountains of files in dark cellars, still haunts some people's minds today. Reality paints a completely different picture. "Nowadays, we spend most of our working time at the computer," Dr Michael Horchler explains. He heads the Freudenberg Group's corporate archive in Weinheim and is also responsible for the Freudenberg family archive. Since 1962, Freudenberg's corporate and family history has been systematically documented by experts.

Horchler also immediately dispels another prejudice. "We don't think backwards. We think ahead. With its approach to documenting company history, the company archive reaches into the present and the future. The information relevant for the future is made accessible today. In this way, what happens today can be historically documented tomorrow and knowledge can be derived from it," he clarifies.

Making digital history

Once a year, on 9 June, the International Archives Day pays tribute to the work of archivists and broadens the view of their multi-layered tasks. At Freudenberg, too, care and knowledge of the material play a major role in the preservation of historical sources, for example when it comes to conserving old documents, photos or films. Digital archival material is becoming increasingly important; today, for example, a recent photograph is hardly ever available as a print. "Digital archiving is seven times more time-consuming than analogue archiving," says Horchler, giving a rough idea of what will increasingly have to be done. 

Additional space in the archiving work in the company is taken up by advising the individual group functions and business units on systematic and legally compliant document management as well as document management in the run-up to the actual archive transfers. "Ultimately, only about one per cent of the data that is created in a company is worthy of archiving, i.e. either historically or legally relevant." Filtering out precisely these is one of the archivists' core tasks.

Telling history(s)

The Freudenberg corporate archive is also a treasure trove for scientists and business historians. About one third of the 250 to 300 research requests per year come from external interested parties. Around 150,000 archive units on 3,000 linear metres of storage space - whether written documents, memorabilia, awards or product samples - tell countless company stories. 

Time and time again, these provide evidence of Freudenberg's special identity as a value-oriented technology company, with many instructive examples for the present and the future. For example, the archive contains originals of the first seals and the first Simmerring, which Freudenberg produced at the end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s respectively. "We don't just have the objects, but the closed documentation for them. We can show why Freudenberg started making seals," Horchler explains.

Not to be forgotten: The tasks of the Corporate Archives also include looking after the company exhibition. Although it is - attention, cliché! - in the basement of the visitor centre in the Weinheim industrial park. But it too is bright, friendly and modern and forward-looking in its presentation of the past.