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Dunkers

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Dunker´s Arts Centre in Helsingborg is a willed present form one of Sweden´s richest families. The fortune was made via the rubber cartel Tretorn, which had plants in Helsingborg as well as Elsinore.

The arts centre is designed by the Danish architect, Kim Utzon.

The Galosh King
Dunker, the family that founded and developed the Tretorn-empire, came to Helsingborg from Denmark.
A new method to process raw rubber into a material, which was soft, waterproof and durable, gave opportunities for exploiting rubber industrially, for instance to produce galoshes, rubber shoes and other kinds of modern goods of quality.
“The rubber age” had arrived to the Sound. It turned out to be a fortune for the Dunker family, but later on also for the cultural life of the region.

The Rubber Age
Rubber had been used for a long time and it worked very well – as india rubber. The American Charles Goodyear discovered a method, which opened up for completely different possibilities for the utilization of rubber in 1839. He had succeeded in processing raw rubber into a material, which was soft, waterproof and durable. The method was called retreading , and was, technically the heating of a mixture of caoutchouc and sulphur.
This method gave completely new opportunities for exploiting rubber industrially.
One idea, among many others, was to produce a protecting shoe, which was to worn on elegant shoes when it rained. The galosh, the French name for overshoes, was born. The winters by the Sound would now be bearable with the new wind- and waterproof shoes. Galoshes became extremely popular and were manufactured all over the world. Sweden imported the new idea from Russia.

Johan Dunker – the Beginning
In Helsingborg there was a harbour master called Johan Dunker. He was originally from Schlesvig-Holstein. The Dunker family lived in Esbjerg, when the son, Henry, was born in 1870. Johan, who was active in the Helsingborg economic life, understood that the demand for rubber would increase. With the optimism for the future of the age in mind, he built a rubber factory in the expanding Helsingborg. With the support of Petter Olsson, among others, he founded Helsingborgs Rubber Factory Inc. in 1891.
Johan Dunker
Johan Dunker

Henry Dunker – a Man for Development
Johan Dunker´s son, Henry, went to Russia to find know how for his new factory. In St. Petersborg he did not have much luck, but in Riga, which belonged to Russia at the time, he came into contact with a chemist, who was interested in developing the factory in Helsingborg. His name was Julius von Gerkan and he was instrumental, when it came to the quality of the Helsingborg galoshes.
Henry Dunker became a sub-manager in 1984 and after some troubles in the beginning the factory expanded. He worked for his position in relation to other rubber factories. Thus he took over the rubber factory, Velox, in Trelleborg of founded Trelleborg´s rubber factory in 1905, which became a part of Dunker´s expanding empire. One of his ideas was to start his own sales offices, and thus avoid selling via wholesale dealers. In that way he could gain control over a bigger part of the chain from producer to consumer.
Sales offices opened between 1910-20 in all parts of Sweden, but also abroad, for instance in Copenhagen in 1909, Berlin in 913 and Vienna in 1913. Not only the company expanded but also the range of goods. What began with galoshes and other kinds of rubber shoes, now continued with balls, bathing caps and tyres. Henry Dunker realized the value of specialisation and moved the production of tyres to Trelleborg.
Henry Dunker
Henry Dunker

Cartel and Group
In order to obtain a better competition situation abroad and avoid competition in the home market, he established a cartel in 1912. The result was that the prices could be raised in Sweden and lowered abroad, which resulted in a higher profit.
During the depression of the 30´s many states wanted to protect their own production by way of customs duties and import prohibition. Henry Dunker built factories in Hamburg and Elsinore and could maintain production and sale in Germany and Denmark. The factory in Elsinore, which was founded in 1935, grew steadily and at the end of the 50´s it was the second largest place of work in the town with more than one thousand employees. The old “Helsingborg Rubber Factory Inc.” had grown into a multinational group and the company had changed its name into Tretorn Inc., in order to get rid of the provincial ring of the old name.
Tretorn Factory in Elsinore
Tretorn Factory in Elsinore
Tretorn poster from 1939
Tretorn poster from 1939

The Richest Man in Sweden
The demand for rubber products was enormous. From being used only as india rubber, the range of goods grew via rubber shoes to tyres, bicycle tyres, rain clothes, balls, gym shoes, rubber bands, weather strips - the list was almost endless, and the 30´s and 40´s were rightly called “the rubber age”. The fruits of this success made “the galosh king”, Henry Dunker to the richest man in Sweden.
Henry Dunker´s villa, ”Hevea”, which was built in the 20´s in northern Helsingborg, gives an insight to the environment of the well-to-do.
Villa Hevea
Villa Hevea
The Working Class District
The Working Class District
Shower Room
Shower Room

Dunker, the Employer
The management skills of Henry Dunker can be described as tough on the tough, but somewhat softer on the weak. The higher the position in the company, the more Dunker demanded. He was no friend of unions and strikes either, and naturally he did not engage himself in big business in order to play the part of the benefactor.
When he established a private kindergarten in 1911, it was in order to employ more women. In the 1930´s most of the employees in the company in Helsingborg were women.
The Unions
The Unions
The Nursery
The Nursery

The Municipality as Heir
From time to time Dunker displayed good will and released somebody from debt, but that was only his own workers. The staff in his villa, Hevea, liked him.
Dunker´s fortune was, at his death, willed to the Helsingborg municipality and his villa was made into a nursing home. In that way his money was given back to the people in town. Without these means it would not have been possible for Helsingborg to offer its citizens the theatre and arts centre, which now adorns the town. However, one should not forget the thousands of people who worked and slaved in dirty and evil-smelling factories.
Dunker´s Arts Centre
Dunker´s Arts Centre

©  Øresundstid 2009