The story of Window Blinds
You’ve just got to hand it to the Germans, the world leaders in science and technology! No argument there! Think brain, think German – they gave us the Mercedes-Benz and the Beemer; they gave us Einstein, for heaven’s sake. And not to forget the infamous Hitler and the Aryan Angst! They also gave us Hunter Douglas, leaders in the Window Coverings Industry.
A brilliant entrepreneur, Henry Sonnenberg started a machine tool distribution company in Dusseldorf, Germany (1919), and soon followed through with manufacturing machine tools, but moved his entire operation to the Netherlands (1933) as a result of the Nazi’s coming into power with divisive politics. With the outbreak of WW2, he moved to the US of A in 1940 and started the Douglas Machinery Company. Not happy with his apparently parochial sounding name, Sonnenberg is said to have flipped through a telephone directory and picked the name ‘Douglas’ at random. Between 1943 and 1946, he is said to have forged a relationship with Joe Hunter, who supplied low-cost aluminum to the aviation industry (primarily to Lockheed), for the manufacture of fighter jets. They established a company casting and fabricating aluminum strips and related rolling and coating processes, which in turn led to the production of lightweight slats. This saw the establishment of Hunter Douglas, manufacturers of lightweight 1 inch aluminum blinds called ‘Flexalum’, the Venetian Blinds as we know them today. There you have it again – German technology at work! The year was 1946, folks! All operations were moved to Montreal in Canada, in 1956, due to unfriendly business policies. They eventually did resume operations in America.
Well, not to allow Sonnenberg all the glory, in a Wisconsin home in 1939, John N. Graber is said to have been unhappy with the way his Venetian blinds looked askew at his windows. He came up with the ‘Badger Crane’, a metal drapery crane as a solution to sagging drapery end panels as they hung over the Venetian Blinds. Before he could say Jack, he was booking orders from department stores across the mid-west, and Badger Crane Drapery Hardware was churning out at full production capacity! Soon, wood replaced metal in the production due to the scarcity of materials during the WW2. After the war, the Graber Co. was the first to introduce traverse rods and nylon slides to hang drapery, to move them easily across windows. By the late 60’s, they added roller shades and vertical blinds to their product lines. After Springs Mills had absorbed Graber Co., they began the production of pleated shades and in 1984, the Graber Co. was awarded the exclusive contract for drapery hardware by Sears. On their 50th anniversary in 1989, Springs Window Fashions added the brand ‘Bali’ to their repertoire.
In 1985, Hunter Douglas herded in the next generation in window shading with their innovative Duette, the world’s first Honeycomb shades. One must remember that that wooden shutters were already in use since the first Spanish settlers brought them to America, and the wooden Venetian blinds existed in France as far back as the middle ages, when freed Venetian slaves tried to make a living out of stringing 2 inch wooden venetian blinds together with ribbons, known as ‘les Persiennes’, hinting at their perhaps Persian origins.
Back in Europe, curtains and drapes started replacing the wooden shutters that were in existence in the time before glass was used to cover window apertures. This trend was set off (during the Renaissance) by the French and Italian fabric manufacturers who were in intense competition with each other in bringing out exquisite fabric. By the 18th century, they started adorning the windows of stately homes, and with the advent of lace curtains, drapery started becoming ornate and elaborate. At this time, roller and Venetian blinds started making an appearance in England, the hub of all trade in the age of neo-classicism. Up until the 19th century, only the royalty found use for shutters, blinds and drapery. Once mass production caught on, window coverings became affordable to the common man as well.
Coming back to the present, I always grew up with curtains adorning windows with no particular style in mind but to create privacy. As we grew older, the parents invested in curtain rods for the living room and drapery rails for the bedrooms, and layered sheers with heavier, insulated drapes. As adults, we have become conscious of the variety of window dressings available to us, and variations of the Silhouette window shadings are so enormously fascinating – the combination of sheer drapery with fabric vanes – that one really doesn’t have to settle for the now seemingly pedestrian drapery anymore!
With brilliant innovation in window dressing operations, we are spoilt for choice as each type of blind, shade or drapery has its own set of pros and cons. With John Hampson of New Orleans setting off the trend in rotating blind vanes with a rod, and keeping them in the position that gave most light or privacy, it was only a matter of time before blind and shade operations became automated to provide users unmatched ease of use and energy efficiency.
No doubt all window coverings have their own uses, but certain types suit certain requirements the best, for e.g., as honeycomb shades are made with layers of horizontally structured cells that trap air, they provide the best option for insulating homes in winter or summer; roller solar shades are best for use in homes with enormous windows that need to be shaded to prevent interior sun decay while not compromising a view of the outside; in commercial establishments, aluminum mini blinds with inverted slats angle light into interiors with precision, so as to cut down the use of artificial lighting and saving energy; for the ultimate in elegance for a multitude of settings, wood blinds and shutters serve multiple purposes of light control, privacy, and insulation; for the ultimate in blocking out daylight for a peaceful sleep, one could opt for the blackout Slumber Cellular Shades from Comfortex that are provided with side tracks to prevent even the most of miniscule light seepage; opt for dual shades for room lightening and a view during the day, and insulation and privacy at night.
Well, that’s the window dressing world at your feet, folks! The only limitation that exists is the lack of trying! So, browse through www.zebrablinds.com for an intensive education in the types of blinds available to you.