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Design history: Midgard’s adjustable light – the rediscovery of a classic

© Midgard
© Midgard

Curt Fischer is today regarded the inventor of directional light. When he took over a machine factory for the production of industrial porcelain in 1919, he was unhappy with the lighting situation in his factory. In the same year he found a solution and established the Midgard brand and started to produce lamps with his company Ronneberger und Fischer. And that in a time, were electric light was in its infancy.

© Midgard
© Midgard

With the end of WWI, industrialisation picked up pace again. People worked long hours until late in the evening. However, for the work in the evening hours one needed light, much light. Since it was considered safer and more economical than gas lighting, electrical light quickly gained popularity. The then-typical ceiling and pendant lamps cast light from above only, with the effect that the shadow of the worker’s body and head would obscure the piece he was working on. For an inventor like Curt Fischer, who had transformed horse-drawn coaches into mobile radio stations during the war and who had participated in the development of the communication devices for the Zeppelin, this situation posed an intriguing challenge. It wouldn’t take him long to come up with a solution: in November 1919, his famous Scissor-arm Lamp was born, which also went under the names of ‘Light Arc’ or ‘Adjustable Wall Arm’. With this lamp, workers could pull the light towards them and cast it at the desired angle. If the lamp’s arm was released, it would not snap back but stay exactly in the desired position, and so would the light. On 26 November 1919, Fischer had his design patented by the Reichspatentamt.

© Midgard
© Midgard

This first design was followed, at the beginning of the 1920s, by more lamps: the most famous ones are the No 113, which was also referred to as the ‘Whip’ due to its curved arm and the No 114 models. The models also had the first glare-free, rotatable and asymmetrical reflectors, which provided perfectly directed light and protected the eyes of those working in it. Walter Gropius was really sold on the Midgard lamps, so Fischer’s designs were fitted in the Bauhaus’ metal workshop and later even at the reading rooms of the General German Trade Union Confederation in Bernau near Berlin. Based on the successful design of these models, around 1930, Fischer developed the Machine Lamp, receiving another patent for its maintenance-free joints.

Midgard was able to continue its lamp production during the Third Reich as the company although Curt Fischer distanced himself from the Nazis as best he could. After the war Curt Fischer continued to produce new lamps, although materials were in short supply, and he refined his designs. One version of the Scissor-arm Lamps featured an almost two meter-long wall arm, perfect for illuminating drawing or gaming tables. Besides work lamps, Fischer also designed lamps for the home.

© Midgard
© Midgard

When Curt Fischer passed away in 1956, his son Wolfgang took over, heading the company until, after the founding of the GDR, Ronneberger and Fischer and the Midgard brand were taken under state control. The company renamed into VEB Industrieleuchtenbau Auma. The factory continued to produce the Machine Lamp, albeit to such an inferior standard of quality that not much was left of Fischer’s ingenious design. While the original two-bolt joints used to be truly maintenance-free, the models produced during the GDR era had to be delivered with screwdrivers because the joints, now only held together with only one bolt, were so badly finished that they had to be constantly retightened.

After the reunification of Germany in 1989, the company was reprivatised and salaries and materials were no longer subsidized, so that the production costs soared. However, even during the difficult period from the 1970s to the 1980s, Wolfgang Fischer secured the rights to the Midgard brand, which involved quite considerable payments to the patent office. But it was the only way to enable him to rename the reprivatised company to Midgard Licht GmbH. Another of Wolfgang Fischer’s decisions was to return, in the 1990s, to his father’s original design for the production of the Machine Lamp. But the economic success was missing, in spite of compassionate support, the extension of the product portfolio and several design prizes.

In 2015, David Einsiedler and Joke Rasch, the founders of Hamburg-based furniture and lighting company PLY, acquired the rights to the Midgard brand, including all existing tools and lamp parts, as well as the huge company archive containing hundreds of Curt Fischer’s original drawings, photos, letters and documents. The two entrepreneurs relocated the production from the Thuringian town of Auma to Hamburg. In January 2017, they restarted the production of the Midgard lamps TYP 500 and TYP 550, formerly known as Machine Lamp, but still using the original tools, machines and techniques: die-cast aluminium joints and hand-cast shades. “We build in keeping with the historical context”, say David Einsiedler and Joke Rasch, thus bringing to light a piece of forgotten design history. The Midgard Machine Lamp is still being built in the spirit of its inventor, as a modular and configurable design and comes as a table, wall, ceiling or floor lamp. Re-editions of the Adjustable Lamp and the Spring-balanced Lamp will follow during the course of 2017.

Further information:
midgard.com