Before World War II

During his military service in the First World War Louis had, at the request of his father, carried out literature research into blueprint at the University of Amsterdam and had also become familiar with light-sensitive diazo chemicals. When he started working in his father’s company after the war, he immediately began research into blueprinting materials. These were already produced on a very small scale by the company of his father. In 1919 Louis began the production of blueprint material on his own coating machine. He made a copying fluid that was more sensitive to light and had a longer shelf life than the usual materials. This new material was a success, but the researcher Louis was still not satisfied with it. Blueprinting produced a copy of white lines on a blue background. That was not easy to read. Louis was looking for a method to get black lines on a white background.

A patent application from the German company Kalle from 1921 for making copies with diazo chemicals aroused Louis’ interest. He focused on diazo compounds and that was not without success. In 1927 he introduced his first product: “Primulin”. From that moment on the company made two products for copies in the drawing room: blueprint material and Primulin.

Primulin paper, however, came into conflict with the Kalle patents, and Louis worked hard to make a diazo material that would not do so. Soon after the introduction of Primulin paper, Louis introduced a diazo material that did not make use of a coloring component. In 1930 Van der Grinten even gained a patent on this new invention.
The new material was named “O.C.”, “Ohne Componente”. Later this product name, with an added “é”, would become the name for the entire concern: Océ.

In addition to Louis van der Grinten, brother Karel began to play a major role in the expansion of the company into a worldwide producer of reproduction materials. Karel was also a real researcher. He spent many hours in the laboratory and time and time again managed to make his brother Louis’s inventions ready for production.
He also invested a lot of energy into extending the international network of their company. He made a number of major journeys, to Eastern Europe, South America, Africa and even the Far East. Thanks to Karel’s efforts, the company acquired a many distribution channels for products for the semi-dry diazo process. The brothers built good relationships with many licensees.

The tasks were clearly divided among the three brothers. Louis was the researcher who specified the technical direction. He also drew up the contracts with licensees. Karel helped Louis with his research and also toured the world, building up a sales network. Piet’s butter coloringfactory ensured that the necessary funds were coming in and also carefully watched that the money was not squandered. By working well together the brothers were able to build an organization, one step at a time, which would come to be regarded across the world as a top quality company that offered unique products on a respectable and honest commercial basis.

The Japanese connectie – presence of Océ in Japan

Océ’s relationship with Japan has a long history, which began with an adventurous journey by Karel van de Grinten to the Far East in 1934 and ended with Canon Inc. acquisition of the company in 2009-2012.

In the summer of 1934 Karel van der Grinten left for Japan. The van der Grinten brothers had thought that ‘Japan and China were very important countries for reproduction purposes in connection with their type of writing. To copy something in that script, by hand or with a typewriter, was an awful lot of work.’

And Karel would also use the trip to see what was going on in the reproduction industry at all intermediate stops along the way’. He did business in Athens, Jerusalem, Calcutta and Rangoon (Yangon), and also made numerous touristic stops.

In Japan, he visited the family business of Sakurai and entered into an agreement for the distribution of Océ products. And with Shiro Sakurai, who also spoke a little English, he struck up a lasting friendship.

Karel van der Grinten with the family Sakurai

For the demonstrations of his products, Karel needed chemicals to prepare paper suitable for the diazo printing machines he wanted to sell. He then went with Shiro Sakurai to a paper manufacturer, but there was considerable disagreement.  Océ van der Grinten’s paper needed a certain degree of acidity. The director refused to make that, because that would affect his machines. “A little more acid, what harm can that do?” exclaimed Karel.

Thanks to Shiro’s mediation, the director of the paper manufacturer was convinced.

Karel was very impressed by ‘what kind of culture was behind [the Japanese] way of life’. And so  “some of my self-confidence was lost. I felt that when we were still walking around here with bear skins, they were already a cultivated people. They had values that they held up that I didn’t really know about, like meditation and things like that. I wanted to incorporate those values.  Yes, I’ve been refined there.’

What also made an ‘untold impression’ on Karel in those weeks in Tokyo was the ingenuity of the Japanese. To see if the Océ paper had a certain humidity level, they used a scale in the Netherlands that they did not have in Japan. But fortunately Karel had a brochure with him of such a scale. ‘I showed them what it looked like. It was a very simple picture, really just a sketch. In one night, they made that scale and it also worked.’

As early as 1934, Karel van der Grinten predicted on his return from Japan that this country would be a major factor in business in the future.

The cooperation with Sakurai continued in a satisfactory manner after Karel’s visit. Sakurai sold Océ materials and over time showed great interest in the Rétocé products, which they also wanted to manufacture themselves.

Océ label materiaal, 1934. Translations have been added in pen.

But due to the start of  World War II, contacts with the Sakurai company were diminished, and only after a few decades Océ began to expand its activities in Japan, through other representatives. This led ultimately to its own branch organization; Océ Japan Corporation.

Source: Partially taken from Ron Kosterman; Elsevier Weekblad; 2014 Ed. 70; Nr. 3