Eighty-six years…since 1919. That is how long Brandtjen & Kluge, LLC. has been manufacturing equipment for the graphic arts industry. It is significant that the 2005 FSEA Lifetime Achievement Award goes to Henry Brandtjen for it was under his tenure as president that the company moved from being a printing press manufacturer to the world’s largest manufacturer of foil stamping and embossing equipment.
Delving into a bit of history, Brandtjen & Kluge was formed in St. Paul, Minn. by John Brandtjen, his son, Henry Brandtjen, Sr. and Abel and Eneval Kluge to manufacture and sell the world’s first successful automatic feeder for printing presses. Over the next 12 years, automatic paper feeders using the vacuum principle were built to adapt to different popular presses. With their innovation, Brandtjen & Kluge Inc. became very successful, and by 1929, the company had moved to a three-story building in St. Paul, which would become its home for the next 50 years.
Although feeders provided the company its primary business, the real interest among the brothers Kluge and the Brandtjens was to create a faster printing press that would incorporate their feeder technology. In 1931, the company introduced its own 10×15 Model “M” and 12×18 Model “N” sheet-fed automatic platen printing presses. With speeds of up to 4,000 impressions per hour, improved inking and greater impressional strength, the KLUGE Automatics represented another quantum leap for the industry.
Through the 30s, 40s, and early 50s, KLUGE Automatic platen presses dominated the industry. In fact, during World War II, there were KLUGES operating on almost every U.S. armed forces base, and on many sea-going vessels and warships where they played an important role in wartime communications. Following the war, the booming economy created an unprecedented demand for KLUGE Automatic Presses that was met by assembly line production of over 300 feeders per month from the St. Paul facility. In 1948, John Brandtjen passed away, and was succeeded by his son, Henry, Sr., who served as president until 1958 when he passed the torch to Henry Brandtjen, Jr.
Henry was a graduate of the University of Minnesota with a degree in mechanical engineering. He went on to earn his masters degree in the same field, graduating in 1952. In 1953, Henry was drafted into the United States Army and served a two-year tour of duty. In 1955, Henry went to work in the family business, concentrating his efforts both in engineering and in sales.
Henry became the third family member to become president in 1958. The company, along with the entire printing industry, was at a crossroads. As the technology of offset printing began to take hold, Henry needed to decide if the company should stick to its roots and expand on the platen press design or pursue offset printing. “There were two or three companies already manufacturing offset equipment; we were literally being driven out of that market,” Henry recalled. “The question was, did we want to enter a market where competition already existed or did we want to forge into new markets?” With the emergence of foil stamping and embossing and the need for a stronger platen press design, Henry made his decision.
The decision to focus on its existing platen press knowledge and expand the product’s potential energized the company with a keen sense of direction, and by 1959, Brandtjen & Kluge introduced the Model “C” Automatic with innovative sealed ball bearings that increased maintenance intervals and a constant speed motor drive system. This was the forerunner of Kluge’s most popular presses-the 11×17 and 13×19 “D” Series sheetfed printing presses. The company’s decision to pursue its traditional stronghold would prove sound, as it soon became apparent that the emergence of foil stamping and embossing would again expand the markets for the company.
Henry recalls the first time he saw one of their printing presses being used to foil stamp. “I walked into the plant to make a sales call and saw that the Kluge printing press had been retrofit with a foil unit,” stated Henry. The company was utilizing the press for cosmetic label applications, as the oils from the cosmetics did not dissolve the foil as they did the ink. “I talked to the pressman about what he liked and disliked about the foiling capabilities, and he told me that the foil mechanism was bad,” recalled Henry. “That’s when I decided to make it a point to always talk to the users of the equipment to see what they need – what the industry needs.”
Seizing the opportunity to surge ahead of would-be competitors, in 1963 Kluge introduced the “HD” 13″x19″ press that would specifically fulfill the strength and capabilities demanded by the emerging foil stamping and embossing industry. The new, eye-catching techniques of foil and embossing were gaining acceptance, and Kluge’s new press met the need with a three-draw leafer, die heating plate and extraordinary impressional strength.
Reminiscing about the early days of the HD series, Henry chuckled as he recalled a conversation he had with his Western District Manager, Bob Lehman, “On our way out west to make sales calls on our platen letterpresses, I turned to Bob and said, ‘You ought to start selling these stamping presses in your territory,'” Henry recalled. And Bob replied, “There will never be more than two or three stamping presses placed on the west coast.” How quickly ‘never’ changes!
It was also at this time that Henry took the company international. When, in 1964 the company recorded a 1,500 percent increase in overseas exports, Brandtjen & Kluge, LLC. was recognized by President Lyndon Johnson, and Henry received the “E Award” for export excellence. In 1971, by again doubling export sales, the company received the “E-Star Award” and was cited for excellence in developing export markets and contributing to the U.S. economy. The “E-Star Award,” the highest award a company can receive, is a proud accomplishment for Brandtjen & Kluge, LLC. and to this day, Kluge flies the flag that signifies the receipt of such a prestigious award.
With the call for larger dies and more detailed work, the demand for an even stronger and larger press was satisfied by Kluge in 1967 with the EHD Series Press. The economical EHD turned out to be exactly what the growing industry needed. The use of foil stamping and embossing jumped dramatically, as did sales of the Kluge EHD, whose popularity and reliable performance earned it a singular distinction among the graphic arts community: the work horse.
Henry also saw the emerging continuous forms market and introduced the web-fed platen press design in the 1960s. The WFD, as it was called, proved to be equally popular for foil stamping and embossing on a continuous web of paper. As the market grew, the demand came for a faster, stronger machine. In 1983, Kluge introduced the WFE Series Press capable of foil stamping and embossing at speeds up to 8,000 impressions per hour.
It was also in the 1980s that National Geographic, a world-renowned magazine, for the first time allowed its cover to include something more than printing. Working with a company in New York called American Bank Note and utilizing Kluge presses around the United States, the March 1984 issue showcased a hologram of an eagle on the cover. Seemingly overnight, the use of holograms for security and promotional use exploded and, again, Kluge presses were ready to catch the wave.
As Kluge established its reputation as the world’s leading platen press manufacturer, Henry was proud of the fact that he had close relationships with both users and competitors. Kluge press users have always been Henry’s number one source for product enhancements and new product lines. It was by listening to Kluge users that today’s presses have electronic foil control systems, adjustable impression and an improved dwell system.
Henry also attributes the long history of the company to being close to the customer. Early on he installed a philosophy of fairness and cooperation in regards to sales and service. It is a proud fact that he says he has yet to have a customer approach him at a tradeshow and claim he was not dealt with fairly. “Treat people as you would want them to treat you” is a motto he often relates to the employees at Kluge.
Henry also held fast to the philosophy that the company would not ‘negotiate on price.’ “I believed that everyone should have the same opportunity and the same burden of purchasing our equipment, no matter the size of the company or its geographic location,” Henry explained.
In 1982, Henry became very active with NPES, specifically in dealing with issues of safety standards. He became a member of the B65 committee, which develops standards that promote the safe use of equipment and more uniform competitive conditions worldwide. Henry sat on sub-committee 1, which was responsible for drafting and updating the B65.1 ANSI safety standards for printing presses; and in 1993, started and co-chaired sub-committee 4, which was responsible for drafting the B65.5 ANSI safety standards for platen presses.
As for competitors, Henry believes that there is nothing to be gained by not being friendly. At DRUPA 1982, Heidelberg announced the discontinuation of the GTP platen press line. When Heidelberg agents around the world, like the East Asiatic Corporation, asked what they should do to satisfy customer demand, it was Heidelberg that introduced Kluge as the manufacturer of choice. Today, Kluge still enjoys the sales relationship set up by Heidelberg.
Although retired since 1993, Henry remains active in the industry and continues to serve as Chairman of the Board for Brandtjen & Kluge, LLC. Today, the daily operation of Kluge has been passed to his son, Hank Brandtjen III. What Henry now focuses on is what he calls yet another crossroads for the company: product liability issues and the threat of cloned competitive equipment from overseas markets.
Henry remains active in the business as a spokesperson for current OSHA and ANSI standards and still is an active member of NPES and of the B65 committee. Henry also has been very proactive in communicating with Kluge users on the importance of press safety and proper guarding that meets compliance, and is working with the U.S. Senate and Congress to get needed tort reform.
As for competition, Henry enjoys the challenge of competing with fellow press manufacturers. Rightfully so, Kluge is proud of its reputation and the look and function of its presses. Henry has always placed tremendous value on the importance of “American made” and to this day, is active in making sure the rights of his employees and products are protected. He is proud that Kluge has survived as one of the few, if not only, American made press manufacturers.
Outside of the industry, Henry remains very active in sports and enjoys skiing in the winter and bicycling in the summer, cycling some 1,422 miles last summer alone. In addition, Henry continues his quest for knowledge in the area of psychology, having earned two masters in this field: one in psychology from Lone Mountain College in San Francisco in 1984 and the other in pre/para natal psychology from St. Mary’s University in Minnesota.
It would be unfair to say that Kluge only manufactures equipment for foil stamping and embossing. As Henry is quick to acknowledge, though, “when you mention the trade name Kluge, almost always they are referring to our platen presses.” Today Kluge manufactures a complete line of folding and gluing equipment as well as sells and supports a line of blanking machines manufactured by Kawahara in Japan. “We remain true to our core competency,” commented Henry. “Yes, we have expanded our product offerings, but we remain focused on the finishing end of the printing process.”
As the foil stamping/embossing niche of the graphic arts industry continues to evolve, Henry remains steadfast in his support and loyalty to the FSEA. He has made life long friends within the foil stamping and embossing industry and always looks forward to trade shows and industry gatherings so he can remain current with what is new. By working together, he believes the next turn the company makes will again be the right one.
Henry will officially receive his award at the IADD-FSEA Odyssey in June at Atlanta, GA.
This article was provided courtesy of InsideFinishing Magazine – the official publication of the Foil Stamping & Embossing Association. They can be reached at 785-271-5816 or visit http://www.fsea.com/.