BURGERGROUP – Die Familie Thomas Burger

Where it all began – in the vaulted cellar at Villa Burger on Schonach’s main thoroughfare, which still stands today in witness of the company’s more than 165-year history. Photo from left to right: Manuel, Thomas, Silke, Josi and Fabian Burger. Thomas and Silke Burger embody the 5th generation of managing directors for the tradition-rich company. Manuel, Fabian and Josi Burger are at the starting line as the 6th generation. The historical portraits show company founders Josef and Eugenia Burger.


Over 165 years of Burger tradition:
From the foundry to the BURGER GROUP

1856: Founding year

  • Josef BurgerJosef Burger (1823 - 1888)
  • Born in Yach, Germany, Josef Burger moved from Schönwald to Schonach where he married Eugenia Kuner and established a foundry. He had previously worked for many years as a foreman at Vinzenz Siedle in Schönwald, where he had gained comprehensive know-how. He completed training as a foundryman in Schönwald.

  • Erste FabrikThe first factory on Schonach’s Main thoroughfare
  • Step by step, Josef Burger built up the foundry in a former farmhouse in the centre of Schonach, where he produced chiefly gear wheels for clocks at first. The factory soon bore the name “Factory for Clock Components & Metals Foundry”. Consequently, Josef Burger played a significant role in the industrialisation of the clock making sector in the Triberg/Schonach/Furtwangen region. Soon after its founding, the foundry had 8 employees.

1879: The new factory

  • Bauplan Schonach
  • Continuous growth demanded the construction of a factory building in the Untertal district of Schonach – one of the first in the Triberg / St. Georgen region. In addition to water power, energy was supplied by a steam engine. Initially the company had 20 employees including newcomers to Schonach from Elztal, to which the Burger family had long-term relations due to the fact that Josef Burger came from Yach.
    The factory building in the Untertal district was continuously expanded, and the number of employees grew steadily as well. Soon, Burger was not only one of the oldest clock components factories in the Black Forest, it was one of the largest too.

1885: Company health insurance fund

  • Giesserei Arbeiter Schonach
  • Work in a foundry is physically strenuous and not without danger. Already at an early stage, Josef Burger und Eugenia Kuner were concerned about the health of their employees and founded a company health insurance fund in order to diminish the economic consequences of accidents and illness, and to improve opportunities for treatment with the favourable conditions provided by health insurance.

    The company health insurance fund existed for 117 years! On the 1st of January 2003, the Josef Burger company health insurance fund was absorbed by the Kassenverbund BKK Schwarzwald-Baar-Heuberg (an association of insurance funds).

1872: The era of Hermann and Hartmann Burger

  • Hermann Burger

    Hermann Burger (1854 - 1920)

    Hartmann Burger
    Hartmann Burger (1859 - 1936)

  • Josef Burger’s oldest sons, Hermann and Hartmann, joined the company in 1872 and 1876 respectively. Hermann Burger had completed training in business administration in Karlsruhe and Hartmann completed an apprenticeship at the F. L. Sauter straw hat factory in his home town of Schonach.

    In 1886, two years after the death of their father and 30 years after the company had been founded, they took the reigns and directed the company under the name “Jos. Burger Söhne” (Josef Burger Sons) as a general partnership. The takeover price was set at a value of DM 60,000 which clearly indicated that the company had developed successfully and enjoyed a firm financial basis.

    This success was followed by a sharp upswing in the decades to come. Several building expansions were undertaken and the number of employees climbed to 300 in 1913.

1884: Remodelling measures – a growing factory

Bauliche Veränderungen - Die Fabrik wächst
Letterhead from the 1890s – the foundry had long since evolved into a factory.

  • Turmbau
  • "Jos. Burger Söhne GmbH Schonach" completed an imposing add-on in the 1880s which was considerably larger that the original building. Today it’s the largest building of the plant in Untertal. This was followed by construction of a foundry hall in 1889 and a stationary steam boiler in 1893, both as separate buildings. The next tract was added as an extension of the old factory in 1896.

    A striking tower was built in 1911: the clinker brick tower is adorned by a clock from Turmuhrenfabrik B. Schneider Söhne in Schonach (a tower clock factory). Today it serves as an industrial landmark for Schonach.

1888: Josef Burger’s death

  • Familie Josef Burger
    Eugenia and Josef Burger and family in 1875.
  • Company founder Josef Burger died at the age of 64 as an esteemed entrepreneur and citizen of Schonach. Having come to Schonach as an outsider, he integrated himself into the town remarkably quickly and became politically involved at the community and regional levels– as municipal councillor, as lay judge in Triberg and as a representative of the district health insurance fund. He was also nominated as elector for the delegates of the 2nd chamber of the Baden provincial legislature.

    With his multifaceted social commitment, Josef Burger established the company’s tradition of assuming responsibility for its employees which continues even today. Josef Burger, designated in the city records as "foundryman and citizen of Schonach", was a resourceful small businessman who counted on a staff of capable employees.

The 1880s: Expansion of production activities

  • Lyraform Messingguss Schonach
    A typical Burger mounting plate in the shape of a lyre, brass casting, circa 1890.Zählwerk Werk Schonach
    Mechanism for a gas meter.
  • The company expanded its production activities to an ever greater extent during the second half of the 1890s. Clock components, clock chains, sprockets and spring barrels were produced almost exclusively up through roughly 1890. In order to become more independent of the clock business, “Jos. Burger Söhne GmbH Schonach” diversified by getting involved in related manufacturing sectors, e.g. the production of mechanisms for gas and water meters, as well as for pressure and vacuum gauges.

    Burger also manufactured spring operated drives for gramophones. In 1908 this involved parts only, but before long the factory in Schonach was producing complete drive units and quickly recognised the significance of this young industry sector. Demand for the gramophone drive units came above all from the emergent Berlin phonograph industry, as well as from foreign countries including Italy.

1906: Construction of Villa Burger

  • Villa Burger
  • The success of the factory found expression in private life as well: after the original house in the centre of Schonach was torn down, Villa Burger was erected on the same site. Hartmann Burger built the villa and it retained the vaulted cellar in which his father Josef started the foundry in 1856. Meanwhile, Hermann Burger and his family built an impressive house on the factory grounds in the Untertal district.

    Villa Burger is the archetypal centre of family life for the Schonach factory owners, and serves at the same time as an hospitable social centre for the town. It’s also home for the deaf-and-dumb siblings Frieda, Rudolf and Elise.

1910: Becoming a GmbH (limited liability company)

  • Franz Kramer Franz Kramer
  • The company was transformed from a general partnership into a limited liability company in 1910 with equity amounting to DM 800,000.

    Franz Kramer, son in law of Hermann Burger, became managing director along with the two Burger brothers Hermann and Hartmann.

    After Hermann Burger suffered a stroke, son in law Franz Kramer took over an ever greater share of the business operations. Franz Kramer proved his worth and also became involved in Schonach’s social and political life. In 1922 he died suddenly and entirely unexpectedly due to the consequences of a ruptured appendix. The company lost an aspiring manager as a result. 

1914 to 1918: World war I

  • Firma SBS-Feintechnik 1920
    Burger's factory, circa 1914.
  • Roughly 300 persons worked for the company which had evolved into one of the largest in the region. The outbreak of World War I abruptly changed the daily routines at the company: a large portion of the male employees were conscripted into military service. With a primarily female staff, Jos. Burger Söhne GmbH begins producing wartime goods.

    The family suffered a terrible stroke of fate in 1918 when Hartmann Burger’s son Arthur fell as a officer in Flanders – he had been chosen to manage the company upon returning home from the war. Son Ernst was a prisoner of war until 1920.

    Hermann Burger, Josef Burger’s adopted son, died in 1920 at age 66.

The 1920s: Ernst Burger as managing director

  • Ernst Burger 
    Ernst Burger
  • As part owner of the company, Hartmann’s son Ernst became managing director at the side of his father in 1923.

    A new building was constructed during the years of hyperinflation (1923) and Untertal Road was rerouted along side of the plant so that it no longer ran through the grounds. As a consequence of the world economic crisis, staff was reduced from 400 to 250 persons.

    Hartmann and his wife Josefine Burger settle the matter of succession by means of a transfer agreement in 1936 shortly before her death. Ernst Burger became primary shareholder and sole managing director as well. He continued to manage Jos. Burger Söhne and SBS for a total of 46 years.

The 1930s: New construction and times of war

Neubau und KriegszeitenThe Burger factory after completion of the new building.

  • Fabrik Schonach im Dritten Reich
  • In the years 1937 and 1938, a new building replaced the initially constructed and later extended factory building in Untertal. When World War II broke out in 1939, the company in Schonach was required to change over to the production of armaments.

    The hydroelectric power plant was expanded in 1940.

    A branch factory was set up in Steinach/Kinzigtal, which would have been able to continue with production to at least a given extent in the event of an air raid in Schonach.

    When the French occupied Schonach at the end of the war, the newer machines were dismantled.

1948: Zero hour and the economic miracle

  • Kuckucksuhr
  • The company’s upswing would have been inconceivable without the transformation of the politico-economical setting during the years of the “economic miracle” after the currency reform in 1948 and the founding the Federal Republic of German in 1949, as well as the Marshall Plan.

    The company benefited above all from interest in the Black Forest, i.e. cuckoo clocks, which can be traced back primarily to the American soldiers who frequently brought two or three clocks back home from Germany as souvenirs.

1955: the round building

  • Rundbau Schonach 1955
  • In 1955, the “round building” designed by Freiburg architectural firm Astfalck sprang out of the factory grounds and was praised by the state monuments office as “demanding industrial architecture” with a local, contemporary character.

    The building provided 1.500 square metres of new production floor space. The urgently needed, new 3-storey building accommodated a stamping department, a machine hall and assembly workstations.

1955: The Butoba tape recorder

  • Butoba Tape Recorder
  • The company was flourishing and growing, but lasting success was not achieved in all sectors. Gramophone production was dwindling, which didn’t stand a chance without the combination of spring operated drives and electric motors as was the case with Dual in St. Georgen.

    At times, SBS-Feintechnik exported the mains-independent BUTOBA tape recorder to more than a hundred countries, for which Ernst Burger had high hopes at the end of the 1950s. He had filed a patent for a portable tape recorder on the 19th of October 1955, which was capable of making recordings without electrical energy thanks to an integrated clockwork.

    But despite technical perfection, costly production of the tape recorder was stopped in the mid-1960s.


A reporter interviews French film pioneer Abel Gance with a BUTOBA.



1956: Managing director Rolf Burger

  • Rolf Burger 
    Rolf Burger
  • Ernst Burger’s son Rolf joined the company in 1956. The trained tool maker was employed by Bosch in Stuttgart from 1949 to 1950 and attended the technical institute in Stockach and the commercial college in Freiburg from 1953 to 1955. He took advantage of the opportunity to gain personal experience with the important American market: he spent several month in the USA in 1954 and repaired mechanical clockworks there for clock customers.

1958 to 1968: Splitting of the company

  • Butoba Tonbandgeräte
  • The company was split up into two independent enterprises: "Josef Burger Söhne" was divided into "Burger Industriewerk" (BIW) and “Schwarzwälder Uhrwerke-Fabrik Burger Schonach”, now known as SBS-Feintechnik.

    At that time, the shareholders of SBS included Ernst Burger, Rolf Burger, Gisela Schacht, Heinrich Stoeckhert, Leoni Haas, Gertrud Faller and vineyard operator Bruno Schneider.

    The staff consisted of more than 300 qualified employees. SBS remained true to its original philosophy: precision mechanics is the one and all. Schonach’s largest employer manufactured primarily clockworks at this time, as well as modules, turned parts and gearing components.

    The company expanded again and added another 2,000 square metres of floor space.

    After the death of Ernst Burger, his son became sole managing director in 1968.

The 1970s: Predominantly clockwork production

  • Uhrwerk Kuckucksuhr
    Fully mechanical and highly precise: Cuckoo clockwork.

  • By 1973, the number of employees had grown to 535 persons thus achieving the highest level in the history of SBS. Profitable production of clockworks continued as the main field of business until the middle of the 1980s, accounting for more than 70% of the company’s turnover.

    A branch factory was set up by SBS in Unterprechtal. Clocks and clockworks were assembled here as of 1971, as well as frequency scanning drives for car radios and drive units for tachographs. During peak times, the Prechtal branch factory employed as many as 40 persons. Successful recruitment of immigrant workers began in the 1960s and encompassed 47 employees in 1965.

    Already in 1973, 125 immigrant workers were employed by SBS-Feintechnik. Nearly half of the women working in production were foreigners.

1980 to 1990: With vision for the future

  • Luftbild SBS-Feintechnik Schonach
  • The company’s 5th generation began with Thomas Burger in 1982. He reorganised SBS-Feintechnik into a specialist company for customer-specific drive solutions which are in great demand in the techno-motive and automotive sectors.

    SBS-Feintechnik acquired an insolvent clock factory (Badische Uhrenfabrik Furtwangen) in 1983 and finally rose to become the global market leader for the production of mechanical cuckoo clockworks.

    Further expansion of the plant ensued once again – continuing growth of the production department necessitated repeated readjustment of the factory infrastructure. Already in 1975, the 3-storey building had been enlarged with two additional storeys, and in 1987, as an extension to this building, another new building was constructed with two storeys and 2,000 square metres of production floor space.

1990 to 2000: BURGER GROUP founded by Thomas Burger

  • Thomas BurgerThomas Burger, Managing Shareholder

  • In 1993 Thomas Burger took over the reigns at SBS-Feintechnik as managing director.

    Precision plastic parts were becoming more and more important for drive solutions, for which reason Thomas Burger founded KBS-Spritztechnik. At the same time, this heralded in the birth of the BURGER GROUP.

    Already in 1999, KBS-Spritztechnik moved out of rented space and built a production hall in Schonach with 1,200 square metres of floor space, to which 1,800 square metres were added just five years later.

    Tooth in tooth to success: continuous growth increased demand for new employees. In order to provide them with housing opportunities in addition to work, the Burger housing association invested in seven apartment houses from 1957 through 1990 – a total of 50 company flats are available to SBS employees.

2000 to 2010: Strong growth

Starkes Wachstum Luftbild

  • KBS-Spritztechnik Switzerland, SBS-Mechatronics, SBS-Mechatronics Switzerland and Grässlin-KBS were founded in 2001.

    The addition constructed in 1987 was expanded with a further storey, thus creating 1,400 square feet of new production floor space. Continuous expansion of production floor space to its current level of more 16,000 square metres illustrates the lasting growth experienced by SBS-Feintechnik.

    In 2006, SBS-Feintechnik celebrated its 150th company anniversary. The erstwhile clock components factory founded by the Burger family is one of the oldest companies in the Baden Black Forest.

    The first decade of the 21st century has been distinguished by an entirely positive sales trend and several distinctions. In all areas of business, the BURGER GROUP can lay claim to concepts and solutions that take hold: both SBS-Feintechnik and KBS-Spritztechnik have been awarded the "TOP 100" and "Top Job" distinctions on more than one occasion, as well as the ASS award for their training concept. Furthermore, SBS was declared "TOP Innovator" and won the "TOP 100" award in the "Innovative Processes and Organisation" category in 2009. And in 2010 it was deemed "TOP JOB Employer of the Year" and won the special "Health" prize awarded by SchmidtColleg, as well as the "365 Landmarks in the Land of Ideas" distinction, and was once again pronounced "Top Innovator".

2010 to 2015: The BURGER GROUP unites seven brand names

  • Burgergroup vereint sieben Marken (2010-2015)
  • SBS-Feintechnik placed a new plant into operation in 2011. 10,500 square metres of production floor space are available at this location.

    WEDO-Antriebstechnik in Triberg, with 26 employees, became a member of the BURGER GROUP in 2012.

    In 2014, Nepron in the Czech town of Kaznejov was integrated into the BURGER GROUP as SBS-Nepron. SBS-Nepron’s core field of business is manual and semiautomatic assembly of electronic and mechatronic products in large quantities.

    Hugger GmbH in Deißlingen joined the BURGER GROUP as its sixth member company in 2015. Hugger assures innovative tooling concepts and high-quality moulds.

    At the end of 2015, LEBER GmbH & Co. KG in Schwaig was incorporated into the BURGER GROUP as well. For more than 25 years, LEBER GmbH & Co. KG has been providing services and products covering all aspects of electronics – from the preparation of circuit diagrams and layouts, as well as hardware, firmware and software development, right on up to complete product development with all of the necessary approvals. The BURGER GROUP now includes seven companies.

    Annual sales has surpassed €120 million. The BURGER GROUP has a total of 850 employees at seven locations in Germany, the Czech Republic and Switzerland.