When the 42-year-old businessman Johann Heinrich Dräger founds “Dräger und Gerling” with a business partner in Lübeck on January 1, 1889, he can already look back on what for his time is an exemplary career. After the premature death of his father, a watchmaker, he is raised by his mother in modest circumstances in a village on the Elbe, where he attends the local school. The Industrial Revolution and period of promoterism, however, hold opportunities of which the talented and ambitious mechanic does not fail to take advantage. Starting with minor repairs, he eventually carves out a niche for himself in Lübeck society as a businessman dealing in all types of machines, which earns him the name “self, the made man” in his lodge. Yet his career is merely a portent of things to come in the Dräger success story.
The business of the newly founded company is the sale of equipment and innovations, such as beer tap systems that use compressed carbon dioxide. Though it has been possible since the second half of the 19th century to fill steel tanks with highpressure gas, the problem of removing the gas in a controlled and safe manner at low pressure remains. Even the equipment sold by Dräger barely lives up to its task: the flow of gas, and therefore of beer, is uncontrollable and uneven; the valves are often faulty and require repair. Dissatisfied with the available technology, Mr. Dräger and his son Bernhard, who has just qualified as a mechanic, begin searching for a solution. The result, the Lubeca valve, is far superior to its predecessors.
For the first time, it is possible to precisely control the removal of carbon dioxide from a high-pressure tank, even though the Lubeca valve is very light: Dräger’s product weighs just two kilograms, while competitors’ are considerably heavier. This first patent changes the fledgling company’s business. Heinrich Dräger, a mechanic at heart, makes the risky decision not to sell his invention, but rather to produce and sell it himself. And rightly so – the trading company consequently flourishes to become an industrial enterprise.