The origins of Océ
he history of Océ begins when Lodewijk van der Grinten starts a pharmacy in 1857 in Venlo. In addition to his pharmacy shop, Van der Grinten is also interested in chemistry, and in the seventies of the 19th century he develops a substance to give margarine, a cheap replacement of butter that was recently invented, the color of butter. In 1877, the year that is considered to be the year the company started, Van der Grinten begins to market his product. The butter dye is in great demand. When Van der Grinten dies and his third son Frans van der Grinten takes over the pharmacy business, he decides to specialize the company into a butter color factory. The pharmacy is taken over by his brother Wiel.
The recipe for butter coloring was sold to Unilever in 1970.
Based on the profit Van der Grinten made with his company, research could be done to develop new products. Through the invention of a substance to preserve blueprints longer, the company developed all kinds of techniques for reproducing and printing text and images. The best known is the current technique with colored toner. Meanwhile, the company has grown into a family business that is passed on from father to son.
“Boterkleurselfabriek L. van der Grinten” grew in turnover and number of employees, and also started experimenting with other applications of dyes, such as the coloring of curtains. When a loss was made for the first time in the company’s history in the financial year 1918 (due to the lack of raw materials in the First World War), Frans van der Grinten decided to use the knowledge of dyes in research into blueprint materials. Blueprints were a very new technique at the time, and the Van der Grinten family was eager to experiment with them. The first blueprint paper was sold in 1920. This was produced until 1946.
Louis and Karel van der Grinten, two of Frans’s children, have in the meantime received a thorough chemistry education abroad, and in 1927 they succeed in applying for a patent on the “semi-dry diazo process” that they developed, a new copying system that was marketed under the brand name “Océ”, a brand name that was nothing more than an abbreviation of the German “Ohne Componente” (O.C.). Four years later, the company focused almost entirely on the production of Océ materials. The advantage of this new technology was that a positive rather than a negative image emerged.
In 1928 the company was converted into a public limited company.
In 1935 a technology was developed to also copy non-translucent documents, the so-called “raster reflectography”. This was outclassed by the “electrophotography” invented in the United States in 1938 by Chester F. Carlson. In 1956 the “electrostatic copiers” came on the market, which made the raster reflectography obsolete.
Copiers were not originally manufactured by Van der Grinten, but by “Machinefabriek Emwee”, founded 1931 in Venlo by L.P. Grothauzen. In 1958 this company, which at the time had 220 employees, was included in the Van der Grinten group.
During the Second World War, employee Th. Sanders started “The Guthery Company for Van der Grinten products” in the United States, allowing production to continue while work in the Netherlands stagnated.
In the 50s of the 20th century, other times dawned for “Chemical Factory L. van der Grinten”. The company expanded and sales organizations were set up. In 1956, for the first time a member of the Board of Management not belonging to the Van der Grinten family, took office. Two years later, the company went public, and in 1959 the first (not counting an earlier failed attempt in the 1930s) foreign branch of the company was opened in Mülheim (Germany). At that time, the factory was almost exclusively concerned with the Océ brand. Blueprint production had already been stopped in the 40s of the 20th century, and butter coloring was discontinued in 1970. The recipe for this was transferred to Unilever. As a result of this specialization, the company decided in 1970 to incorporate the brand name of its product into the company name and a name change followed from “Van der Grinten N.V.” to “Océ-van der Grinten N.V.”. Numerous takeovers took place as well as the establishment of sales organizations, first in Western European countries and later all over the world.
Olav van der Grinten, son of Piet van der Grinten, was the last member of the family who was active in the management of the company. He retired in 1988 and subsequently became a member of the Supervisory Board of Océ N.V. In 1996 he left the company. The following year it was decided to remove “Van der Grinten” from the name of the company and the company became known as “Océ N.V.”.
Other top executives of the company were Jan Kaptein from 1974 to 1987, Henk Bodt from 1987 to 1990, Harry Pennings from 1990 to 1997, and Jan Hovers, who had to leave in 1999 and was succeeded by Rokus van Iperen. In 2012, Anton Schaaf became chairman of the Océ board of directors, until 2019.
In 1996, the printer division of Siemens Nixdorf was taken over, as a result of which Océ also became active in the printer market. The bright outlook became less favorable, because the competition with a number of much larger players in the market (Canon, Rank Xerox and the like) could be lost. This was followed by the relocation of production to low-wage countries and the reduction of the number of leased-out machines. As a result, the suppliers in the region also lost many orders.
The American dealer Imagistics was bought in 2005, giving Océ the right to sell the simpler photocopiers of Konica Minolta in Europe. Océ focused on niche markets, and only produced large format copy machines, advanced color printers and copiers for large volumes.
Although assembly work is still taking place in Venlo, the most important activity there ever since has been the research and development laboratory. It was in particular the knowledge present in this laboratory that proved attractive to Canon, the company that announced on November 13, 2009 that it would take over Océ.