Our history—our timeline - Our history—private office of Bernhard and Heinrich Draeger

Our history—our timeline

Lubeca valve

Foundation of store and workshop

On 1 January 1889, 42-year-old Johann Heinrich Dräger founded the company “Dräger und Gerling” in Lübeck with his business partner Carl Adolf Gerling. Born the son of a watchmaker in a small village on the German river Elbe, the gifted and ambitious precision mechanic achieved an exemplary rise to fame. It all started with small repair orders and eventually led to the foundation of the successful Lübeck-based company. The new business was founded as a company for the sale of equipment and innovations, such as beer tap systems. The beer tap systems used compressed carbon dioxide.

Johann Heinrich Dräger

Johann Heinrich Dräger founds the company

Johann Heinrich Draeger was born on 29 July 1847 in Kirchwerder, south of Hamburg, Germany. After training as a watchmaker, he founded the Dräger company in 1889. The invention of the Lubeca valve, a pressure reducing valve, laid the groundwork for the company’s success story. Johann Heinrich Dräger dies on 25 May 1917, in Lübeck.

Lubeca patent

The first patent

Though it had been possible since the second half of the 19th century to fill steel cylinders with high-pressure gas, removing the gas in a controlled and safe manner at low pressure was still a problem. Even the equipment sold by Dräger did not live up to its task sufficiently: the flow of the gas, and therefore the beer, was uncontrollable and uneven, and the valves were often faulty.

Unhappy with the technology available, Johann Heinrich Dräger and his son Bernhard, who had just qualified as a mechanic, began working on a new innovation. The result was the “Lubeca valve”. For the first time, this new valve makes it possible to precisely control the removal of carbon dioxide from a high-pressure tank. Moreover, the new valve weighs only two kilograms, while the competitors’ products are considerably heavier. Johann Heinrich Dräger patents this innovation straight away. With this first patent, the young company’s business purpose changed. Johann Heinrich Dräger makes a risky decision: Instead of selling his development, he begins to manufacture and market it himself. And with success at that—the former wholesaler flourishes and becomes a successful manufacturer.

Dräger subsidiary in New York

Establishment of the first foreign subsidiary in New York, USA

Johann Heinrich Dräger takes the opportunity to show Hamburg-born Walter E. Mingramm his new breathing apparatus when Mingramm visits the Dräger factory on behalf of a Mexican company. Excited by the new technology, Mingramm returns to Mexico and makes the bargain of his life. With the thought of opening a Dräger subsidiary in the United States, he returns to Lübeck.

Bernhard Dräger seizes this opportunity and accompanies him on the trip to America to see the situation on the ground for himself. Just a short while later, Bernhard Dräger and Walter E. Mingramm open the Draeger Oxygen Apparatus Co. in a skyscraper at No. 11 Broadway. In 1908, the branch relocates to Pittsburgh.

Dr Ing. h.c. Alexander Bernhard Dräger

Dr Ing. h.c. Alexander Bernhard Dräger becomes sole owner of the company

Bernhard Dräger was born in Kirchwerder on 14 June 1870 and joined his father’s company in the spring of 1889. In 1912, he became the sole owner of the company. He died in Lübeck on 12 January 1928 after a serious illness.

First World War respiratory protective device production

First World War: Production of respiratory protective devices and beginning of mass production of respiratory protection masks

Heinrich Dräger, the eldest son of Bernhard Dräger, was drafted into the Imperial German Army and served in a field artillery regiment on the Western Front. The young soldier survived several gas attacks—equipped with filter devices produced by Dräger. As early as 1915, Dräger began developing respiratory protection equipment on behalf of the Prussian War Ministry.

During the war, a total of 4.6 million of these respiratory protective devices were produced. Enormous demand from the military and civil defence led to further growth: The workforce expanded, new buildings were constructed and production output increased. The end of the war in 1918 meant a sharp decline in production and therefore the contraction of the entire company.

Hyperinflation of 1923

World economic crisis: closed for 7 days

In the months of hyperinflation in 1923, the value of German currency fell so rapidly that in many places wages were paid daily. People collected their banknotes in bags and suitcases and rushed to the stores to exchange the money for goods as quickly as possible. Since the German Mark was rapidly losing value almost every day, shopkeepers were constantly raising their prices. Many of them exchanged goods and services only for food and coal, or closed their stores altogether. The situation created serious social tensions.

Dräger did not escape inflation and the economic crisis unscathed: the plant was shut down for a week for restructuring reasons. After the end of the war, the market for Dräger equipment had become tight, and in some cases the company had to switch to manufacturing alternative products such as linen, clothing and curtains.

The situation was compounded by the loss of foreign patents: Many competitors had copied devices designed in Lübeck. Bernhard Dräger countered this challenge by intensifying product innovation. The company was only slowly able to regain a foothold in the old markets.

Dr Heinrich Dräger

Dr Heinrich Dräger joins the company

Heinrich Draeger was born in Lübeck on 2 July 1898. After studying and earning his doctorate, the agricultural economist takes over management of the company in 1928 following the death of his father. He manages the company until 1984, and died on 28 June 1986.

Forced labourers

Second World War: Conversion to armaments production, people’s gas mask

For Drägerwerk, the general economic upswing that started in 1933 led to an increase in sales in the civilian customer areas of mining and medical equipment. However, the share of military production in relation to the civilian sector rose immensely once the Nazi government began forcefully pursuing its rearmament policy in the mid-1930s.

The number of employees increased and production capacities were expanded. Without a doubt, the company benefited from the development. Nevertheless, Drägerwerk faced the risk of potential overcapacity and increased official influence due to the dominance of military orders. Rearmament was also associated with a policy of autarky that led to Dräger once again losing the position on the global market that it had only just regained.

Among the government orders was the people’s gas mask, or Volksgasmaske, introduced in 1937. The people’s gas mask was intended for the civilian population and had no designated martial use. As a result, Dräger considered it to be a civilian device, and its sales were not included in the figures for military equipment.

Dr Christian Dräger

Dr Christian Dräger joins the company

Christian Dräger was born in Berlin on 13 July 1934. He studied business administration and economic history. He joins the company in 1961 and takes over the chairmanship from his father in 1984. In 1997, he hands over the chairmanship to his brother Theo.

Theo Dräger

Theo Dräger joins the company

Theo Dräger was born in Berlin on 19 February 1938. After studying economics and social sciences, he joins the company in 1968. He was Chairman of the Executive Board from 1997 to 2005.

Dräger’s Initial Public Offering (IPO)

Initial Public Offering

Drägerwerk AG went public with the issue of preferred shares. From now on, it was both a family-run company and a corporation. The distinction is drawn quite clearly: the capital stock is divided into half common shares and half preferred shares. The common shares are owned by the family who have sole voting rights. The preferred shares, which carry a higher dividend, are freely traded on the capital market. The good of the company always comes first. This means that at Dräger, decision making and responsibility, sustainable success and liability in the event of failure lie with the CEO.

Stefan Dräger

Stefan Dräger joins the company

125 years of Dräger

125 years of Dräger With heartfelt dedication

When Johann Heinrich Dräger founded a company for beer tap systems on New Year’s Eve 1889, he laid the foundation stone of Dräger as we know it today. The Lubeca valve, the first reliable carbon dioxide pressure reducer, revolutionised the world of compressed gases. The basic technique found its way into a wide range of fields, where it made things that had previously been impossible, possible.

Today, Dräger is a company that makes Technology for Life. Technology that protects, supports and saves lives. In hospitals, mining, rescue services and industry, with well over 10,000 dedicated employees in over 50 countries. Dräger is a company that remains true to its roots and has its headquarters in Germany’s Hanseatic city of Lübeck.

The logo for the anniversary consists of 125 spheres. One for each year in the company’s history. None of the spheres is like the other, neither in terms of size or colour. They are as unique as the history of Dräger.

Dräger’s factory of the future

Opening of the “factory of the future”

Almost two years after the start of construction, Dräger completed its “factory of the future” and put it into operation on schedule. The company now has a central production and logistics site in Lübeck. The project involved the construction of approximately 30,000 square meters of new built-over space and the reworking of approximately 17,000 square meters of existing space.

Production of ventilation systems

Coronavirus pandemic

The worldwide spread of the coronavirus is also a concern for Dräger. Demand for ventilators and personal protective equipment has increased significantly. Dräger’s primary objective is to maintain its business operations and fulfill its social mission to supply these goods.

Related pages

Company history of Dräger

Company history

Dräger during National Socialism—forced labourers 1942

Our past—our responsibility

Our milestones—our most important product developments

Our milestones—our most important product developments

Contact Dräger


Drägerwerk AG & Co. KGaA

Moislinger Allee 53–55

23558 Lübeck

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