Saurer Museum

Rudolf Baer


Saurer Museum

Weitegasse 6 CH-9320 Arbon Swiss

Arbon, Switzerland

European Museum Forum / Silletto Prize 2014

Work With Volunteers, A Special Challenge

Saving the heritage at the eleventh hour

„The SAURER Museum Arbon fulfils the three conditions any museum needs to fulfil:

• A unique and highly valuable collection
• An archive, active research and hands-on work on the collection itself
• An attractive and appealing presentation of the collection, accessible to the public, combined with a gastronomic element – simply wonderful [wunderbar]!

25saur2xThe achievement of this large collective of volunteers, lead enthusiastically and pro-fessionally by Ruedi Baer, President of the Oldtimer Club Saurer, is astonishing and touches me on a personal level. This museum is of unquestionable value to the city of Arbon, both for its relationship with our history and understanding of our heritage ...

At the eleventh hour, the knowledge, insights and wisdom of the last generation of SAURER employees were saved alongside many pieces of the museum’s collection, providing a younger generation access to this legacy. This will help to strengthen Ar-bon’s identity and will allow us to positively connect with and relive the history of SAURER.
(Extract from the honorific speech of the mayor of Arbon, Martin Kloeti, on occasion of the re-opening of the SAURER Museum Arbon, may 1st 2010)

The Project

On February 27, 1987, the last SAURER 10DM heavy goods vehicle leaves the produc-tion line in Arbon. Painted in standard camouflage green and built for the Swiss Army, it represents the disheartening end of an area of industrial production in Arbon. And with it a workforce of 6’000 strong in a town of 13’000 inhabitants loses their jobs. At the cen-tre of this project stood therefore the task to give back to the citizens of Arbon a heart and soul by re-discovering the history of Arbon and restoring pride in its connection to 150 years of the SAURER Corporation. The search for an ideal location for the museum had to be aligned with this intention and took several years to complete as the museum needed to find a place close to the city centre, in a historical location and close to the main tourist attraction – Arbon’s beautiful lake front.

The result

It needs to be borne in mind that this project is the work of amateurs – in the true sense of the word. The results are impressive:

• The museum has played and plays an important role in restoring the connection between Arbon’s citizens and their industrial heritage, restoring pride in their past and their achievements.
• At the very last minute, the museum succeeded in saving a number of invaluable engineering feats from the scrapyard, such as an embroidery machine from 1932, controlled by a mechanical computer. Yet the salvaged machine doesn’t just rest in the museum. The volunteers have managed to re-assemble it; bring it back to life and it now produces a wide range of laces. Upon seeing the machine in action and the SAURER trucks alongside, a former SAURER employee who had lost his job in 1986 proudly proclaimed: “You’ve given me back my soul”.
• Experts from both the noisy textile domain and the noisy and smelly combustion engines working alongside each other enriched the experience of all volunteers involved. One big team has been formed.
• The entire museum can be enjoyed independently, with all objects carefully la-belled with their most important characteristics. Additionally, the three genera-tions of the Saurer family are portrayed and the foyer provides historical back-ground to the industrial revolutions important period, stretching both beyond the content of the exposition and almost beyond the workshop walls themselves.
• The museum also caters to the youngest fans of heavy machinery – several times a year, the museum welcomes school children of all ages for dedicated tours, adapted to the age of the visitors. After observing the production of a piece of lace, the school children cut and paste the band according to their own tastes before going on a tour with one of the world’s tiniest postal busses.

The museum very much represents a European history lesson, now more relevant than ever. Founded by the German immigrant Franz Saurer, both sales and production be-gan to spread and by the time Hippolyt Saurer took the helm, trucks and buses were exported to more than 50 countries and produced in France, Germany, Austria, Italy and the United Kingdom, making SAURER one of the world’s most important Heavy Utility Vehicle manufacturers before WW1. After WW2, the weaving machine production was exported to nearly all countries of the world.

25saur3xThe Heritage

A dedicated group of enthusiasts tried to save the heritage of 150 years of technological leadership. Today, the Saurer Museum shows the history and the main technical devel-opments in the three branches heavy duty vehicles, embroidery machines and looms of SAURER, representing the growing importance of the engineering industry in Switzer-land from 1860 to 1986. The museum shows:
• A representative collection of heavy utility vehicles from the beginning of motori-zation until 1983, including a carefully conserved truck dating back to 1911 and repatriated from Brazil; fire engines, several military vehicles, a gigantic snow blower, a truck cut in half for demonstration purposes et al;
• Embroidery machines of all generations, all saved from the industrial shredder and brought back to life inside the museum. This includes the first “Chlüpperli-Maschine” of 1860 and a unique “mechanical embroidery computer”.
• Looms of all generations, including the initial spark to the SAURER industrial empire, a loom based on an improved English blue print and equally a high end high speed loom of the 80’s.
• All objects are still in use, producing wonderful tea towels sold in our shop. All machines and vehicles are ready for demonstration.
• A complete documentation of all products produced by Saurer.

The museum is 100% based on voluntary work; from the office work, publishing our quarterly magazine, marketing, to technical maintenance and support, museum tours, archive work, demonstrations of all machines, driving the trucks and buses at shows: Without exception, everything is voluntary work. Many of the supporters are veterans of the SAURER factory and used to work on a regular basis with the looms and trucks on display, which gives the museum depth and character hard to find elsewhere.

In summary, the biggest achievement of the new SAURER museum has been to unite a diverse group of almost sixty enthusiasts with a shared passion and incredible dedica-tion, supported by over six hundred sponsors to pursue the common goal of preserving not just beautiful pieces of engineering, but the heritage of generations of the SAURER engineers and the lasting impact they have had on the town of Arbon, Switzerland. With the result that its citizens can once again be proud of the achievements of the SAURER Corporations and its founders.


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