The Gotthard breakthrough

Kaspar Winkler founded his business in 1910. His first inventions were agents to protect and clean granite (Conservado, Purigo) and a mortar waterproofing agent called Sika. In 1911 he entered his firm, Kaspar Winkler & Co., into the Commercial Register. Together with a chemist as his limited partner, he tried marketing his construction chemicals. For the first few years the work was very difficult. Winkler was in the red, especially during World War I. Things did not begin to pick up until 1917. His breakthrough came in 1918 when the Swiss Federal Railways ran successful trials using Sika to waterproof the tunnels of the Gotthard section. This became necessary so that electric trains could also be used. The Swiss National Railways waterproofed 67 tunnels with Sika during the following years.

After this success the Kaspar Winkler & Co. building construction chemicals tried its potential abroad. Going beyond casual exports, however, was a difficult undertaking. A first attempt to sell licenses worldwide failed. A second attempt did succeed: in 1921 a subsidiary with its own, small-scale manufacturing facility was founded in Southern Germany. But leadership capacity and connections were insufficient for determined expansion. This was remedied by hiring a Director for Foreign Operations, who founded subsidiaries in England, Italy and France between 1926 and 1928, and took part in their operations. Through clever agreements the director made it impossible that he be fired. In 1928 Winkler’s son-in-law, Fritz Schenker, joined the firm’s executive board. He made it clear to his father-in-law that the agreements he had made with the Director for Foreign Operations were not very advantageous. The parties litigated for three years until a 1932 divestiture ruling: the Director for Foreign Operations retained ownership of the German and Italian subsidiaries as well as trademark rights in a number of other European countries. Admittedly the European market was now shared, but Schenker single-mindedly pursued worldwide expansion. By 1935 Sika had a presence in Europe, South America and in Asia.