Preamble :

After buying my coffee machine branded «Vassal», few questions raised. Especially concerning its lever group that can be found on other mysterious machines such as the « Lépine » or the « Régina ». Unique models for the « Vassal » and the « Régina » and only few replicas existing for the « Lépine ».
Several were embarked on a historical quest about the presence of this lever group on different brands.
Who could have build it, how many copies and for whom?
My friend Sébastien, intrigued more than any other, even started a real and monumental research that led him to retrace the history of coffee machines in France. Just that.
But we were still stuck “ rue du chemin vert Paris XI”, the Vassal address until 1975, without any new elements concerning our peculiar lever-group.

Until the day when another friend, Pascal, had a brain wave and said « but I already saw this group somewhere! » and, as a matter of fact, seeking his personal pictures archive he found a beautiful Reneka machine with 2 groups and these 2 groups were exactly the same as the one we were looking for.
Damn, we were in front of the missing link! Champagne for everybody!

I rapidly contacted the Reneka company and received an extremely warmed and gracious welcome from Valérie Egelé.
Unfortunately, we learned that this particular group was a group manufactured by another company, a company outsourcing various parts for the industry.
A company that certainly disappeared by now.

The story may have ended there with Reneka, but the contact was so friendly that, one thing leading to another, they give us access to their private archives.
Then Sébastien, with his narrative verve, couldn’t resist retracing the story of the Reneka company, which follows.


Known today for its range of professional coffee machines and technological innovations, always toward the easiness of use and quality of extraction (such as the « micro sieve » filter recently launched), Reneka is one of the last French companies working in the field of (true) espresso machines. It is also one of the first, that started building percolators in the 30s alongside Grouard Frères, Chabaud, Devos, Bertrand, Baudon and Maréchal, Janet, Loupot, Smoliak and other Roch, Sonnet, Langlois and Vienne or Vassal for which only remains today the name and some coffee machines classified into collectible antiques.
It is impossible to separate the brand Reneka from its founder, René Kauss, a brilliant businessman from Strasbourg, who took risky decisions that brought its small shoe fabric to the production of espresso machines, following a tortuous path, but based upon impeccable logic.
Looking back to his record, is like looking at an elephant walking with a stomping but sure beat, that flies away from time to time as light as a feather...

Master elephant, sat on a globe, holding a shoe on his trunk...

The business started in the Strasbourg region, in 1919, when François-Xavier Briswalter and René Kauss (respectively trader at Strasbourg and Eckbolsheim) registered « la Manufacture Alsacienne de Chaussures et de bandages » (the Alsacian factory of shoes and bandage) on the basis, apparently, of a fabric founded in 1905.
About three month later, Briswalter is repealed and René Kauss becomes the unique manager of the company.

Journal officiel de la République française, May 21th and July 8th 1919 

The company is dissolved in 1921 to become « René Kauss, manufacture d’appareils orthopédiques Manachau » (René Kauss, orthopedic equipment factory Manachau) or simply « Manachau » (contraction of the original name, Man-A-Chau). Moving towards the fabrication of orthopedic equipment, the company grows by providing braces to war-disabled, since Strasbourg and its neighborhood were in the front line of the two French-German wars (of 1870 and 1914-1918).

Site of the 3, route des Romains around 1860 (from «Strasbourg illustré», by Frédéric Piton).
In the backgroung, the Strasbourg cathedral.

In the wake, the brace factory from Schiltigheim (located 5 rue de Lauterbourg) is transferred to Koenigshoffen, nearby René Kauss village (3 route des Romains, taking place into buildings that were used as lodging since 1870), a site that his company will keep all along its evolution up to 1985.

Ad published in « La Cordonnerie Française » September 1922.
It seems that the lithography represents the factory located 3, route des Romains as it was at the beginning of the XXe century.
We can see the Strasbourg cathedral in the background at the streetcar line that passed on the north side of the road.

The orthopedic equipment fabrication required the use of chrome-plated metal pieces. Concerned about controlling its product from beginning to end and eager for new challenges, M. Kauss creates a new division on the same site : the Société Alsacienne de Galvanisation Moderne « le Chrome ».

« Machine Moderne », p.92, january 1930

The company is specialized in the chrome plating of prosthesis, but also of parts for the automotive industry that was just taking off (in particular for the Mathis society of Strasbourg and Bugatti, located in Molsheim since 1909, very close from Koenigshoffen).

The Bugatti society also used an elephant as a mascot for its prestige model : the 1926 Bugatti Royale
(the 1904 artwork is from the sculptor Rembrandt Bugatti, Ettore’s brother who self-murdered in 1916)

This decision will change the trajectory of the company, since galvanization will soon become the main activity of the Koenigshoffen’s site.
The factory is adding to its machine shop used for parts production and polishing, a chemical lab for the preparation of plating solutions, tanks for hot galvanization then tanks for electrolysis.
This is a small revolution for the time.





The pre-existing buildings are destroyed in 1922 to home a brand new factory (the main house is preserved, this one constituting the employer’s house).
Some other buildings dedicated to industrial goldsmithery are added the following year and the new factory is expanded again in 1924.

Master elephant throw away his shoe...

New reorientation in 1927, the prosthesis fabrication is abandoned in favor of the silver silverware for the restaurant industry.
This transformation is officialised by the creation of the goldsmithery company «Renéka» (contraction of the founder’s name RENÉ KAuss).

Machine Moderne, p. 851 november 1930

The Manachau company refocuses its activities on the production of orthopedic insoles and accessories for the feet (Duralumin, Argentan, Nickel plated steel and StainlessSteel).
It is left in 1930 under the management of a person called Burck.

But René Kauss do not abandon the lead of Manachau, keeping its participation into the company and ensuring its smooth running. Some minutes of justice tell us that in 1935, he revoke Burck the irrevocable because of his behavior towards customers and employees and its dubious management (in 1937, the Colmar Court of Appeal precedent by reversing an earlier decision of Justice who had reinstated Burck). Without his founder’s tenacity, the company would have undoubtedly collapsed.
Manachau, the first company of René Kauss, is still active today, it is installed near Saverne.

Exposition of silver and goldsmith from Reneka’s shop.
This showroom was certainly located on the first floor of the employer’s house, used as a store.

Répertoire Industriel Didot et Bottin from 1935 and 1938

Spurred by its director’s decisions, omnipresent and benevolent patriarch, Reneka’s destiny was also on a roll. The company soon diversifies its offer. It appears in the industrial repository (Répertoire industriel) in the early 30s, under the category « Toilet accessories Silverware », « Goldsmith for office equipment » (Inkstand and office accessories silverware), « Small table silverware » (timpani, cups, coquetiers, cups, spoons, tongs) and « Cutlery ». At this time, the Reneka company was known for its coffee machines only by the hotel industry, for which it began to make large percolators, as was done at the time.

The company takes its marks in 1935, with the introduction of a small size coffee percolator (but still around 1m 20 tall). This professional machine is fully chrome plated, wall mounted and electric. Its brewing group, very clever for the time, is equipped with an adjustable and rocking circuit breaker, signaled by an indicator light that stops the heating element after extraction. Its principle is described in the first patent filed by René Kauss in 1935:
« The novelty of the device, subject of the present invention, lies in that the rocker is coupled with a compensating system, preferably springs, controlled by a lever and cooperating with the rocking of the beam, the system being capable of receiving an adjustable pre-tension, so that the tilting of the container heating for the switching of the heating elements, is more or less delayed according to the magnitude of the load that the water container must receive. In this way, the operation of the device is made ​​fully automatic. »
Extract from Patent FR799575A, « Appareil électrique pour la préparation d’infusions de café, thé et autres boissons analogues »

We found in this patent the concern of René Kauss to always make life easier for the user and enable any bartender to get the best result without much fuss.


« Appareil électrique pour la préparation d’infusions de café, thé et autres boissons analogues »,
Patent FR47375E by René Kauss in 1936

«Perfectionnement aux Appareils électriques pour la préparation d’infusions de café,thé et autres boissons analogues»,
 Patent FR815990A by René Kauss in 1937

Koenigshoffen, route des Romains towards the village.
The arrow certainly points to the Reneka repair service, that was located N. 86


The business is flourishing; Reneka is looking for salesman to cover the French territory. In 1935, while the Ouest-Éclair journal worries about the German rearmament and that both Hitler and Mussolini pictures appear on the front page, the classified ads inform us that Reneka is looking for salesman for its automatic coffee machines.
Another classified add from 1938 specifies that the « Electric and automatic coffee-filter » are « enormously successful ».

The Ouest-Éclair of may 31st 1935 and january 1st 1938

The arrival of the war interrupted this momentum; the activities are suspended from 1939 to 1946.
The factory suffered only little damage and the activity can start again in 1946. The building modification due to the war damages is completed in 1950.
Meanwhile, Reneka is busy with the (re) conquest of a market that extends throughout France.

Master elephant takes off...





Governor of Algeria's visit at the Reneka factory (1947)

Reneka factory workshops, the boss ensures the smooth running of operations (1950 ?)

Achille Gaggia’s patent, released in 1946, marks the arrival of espresso, which caused a tidal wave in Italy and France. The phenomenon is due to two key factors:
the possibility to prepare coffee especially (expressly) for the client, but also the new principle that extracts the full aromatic richness of coffee through the use of mechanical pressure and an independent temperature control, the only way to get the « crema di caffè ».

To make its entry into the world of espresso, Reneka, while continuing to produce its percolators and wall mounted electrical coffee-machines, develops a small counter machine, based on a piston lever:
the « MAJOR ».
It quickly became a symbol in the world of café and restaurants in its lever or percolator version.
Gradually, its range will expand and provide horizontal models with multiple groups, of the percolator type (the « Hotel » group) or combined with levers. For some limited editions and for the addition of grinders to its offer, Reneka collaborates with Italian brands such as Rossi and Bezzera and some other manufacturers of coffee machine equipment.

Strasbourg trade fair, 1951, René Kauss son’s appears at the center of the picture




René Kauss, proudly posing next to its brand new lever machines at the Strasbourg trade fair.


1952, the espresso machines range extends offering bar coffee machine with up to 4 groups

Very present in trade shows, Reneka forges tight links with hotels and resorts. Its development directly benefits from it and its range of coffee machines is expanding. While keeping his two types of brew groups, the machine design varies to meet the different modes of the time.
The work does not prevent to stop for a break from time to time and enjoy the factory’s park.

René Kauss makes a point of honor to acknowledge the work of its employees

We can see him taking part of a party organized in the park behind the factory in 1954, the company employs about a hundred persons at that time

« Doseur pour machine à café électrique »,
Patent FR1125228A, May 24th 1955

« Machine à café ou à thé »,
Patent FR1161560A, October 20th 1956

Designs and Models, INPI Archives, 1956

Designs and Models, INPI Archives, 1958

Salon Equip’Hôtel, 1958

At the end of the 50s (and the end of Gaggia’s patent) the market of espresso machines coming from Italy expanded and Reneka had to face the competition from other French manufacturers (Unic in particular). Reneka has to react with some innovation. In order to do it, they hire an Italian engineer named Pietro Moretti who developed a new piston group entirely automatic.
This first bar espresso machine is achieved in 1959 and released in 4 versions (having from 1 to 4 groups). The “Européenne”, that’s its name, with its clever hydro compression system, is inaugurated on September 8th, 1959.

« This novelty is a coffee machine with a revolutionary technical conception. This machine is equipped with one or more piston groups entirely automated that allow, upon pressing of a single button, to automatically obtain two cups of coffee, whereas up to now it took, in order to obtain 2 cups, two or even more moves.
This advantage, however, is not the main novelty of this automatic piston group, which reside in the automatic infusion of the grinded coffee. Let me explain: by pushing a button, an injection of hot water, not boiling, occurs on the ground coffee. This ground coffee absorbs a given quantity of water that depends on the finesse of the grind and the sort of coffee that can be dry or oily. It therefore automatically creates, in a few seconds, a maceration of the coffee that will determine the real brewing process. When this ground coffee has absorbed the water required and is sufficiently inflated, it is this expansion that automatically triggers the piston to expel the brewed liquid through hydraulic pressure. This pressure is calculated such that it allows the complete extraction of the aromatic and tonic essence of the coffee, while preventing a large portion of the caffeine to pass through the compressed coffee grounds. »
Thus, the great secret of this piston group is in the automatic adjustment of the infusion duration, a duration that varies depending on the organic qualities of the coffee, this automatic adjustment of the infusion is the incomparable superiority of our new piston group because the infusion is not made ​​at the good will of a bartender, more or less in a hurry. An infusion of short duration prevents aromatic oils to extract completely, and a too long duration of infusion can evaporate them. With our new group, using of course a good quality coffee and appropriate grinding, it is absolutely impossible to get anything else than a perfect coffee.
Another unique advantage of this new coffee machine is to normally operate from 0.8 kg of city water pressure, whereas until now it was a minimum of 1.5 to 2 kg of pressure; for this reason, this new type of machine works without motor, compressor and without pump, but only with the pressure of the city water.
On the other hand, other automatic piston on the market takes about 48 seconds to get 2 cups of coffee, while with our new group it only takes 22 seconds, which provides a performance of 130 to 150 cups per hour and per group.
A machine like the one presented here can easily make between 500 to 600 cups per hour, depending on the skill of the person who uses it.


To this new type of machine, we gave a name: The "EUROPEENNE“. Why the "EUROPEENNE" ?
For many reasons:
1°) Because it is built in Strasbourg
2°) Because it was presented for the first time at the European Trade Fair of Strasbourg
3°) Because within a few days it was presented simultaneously to three trade fairs in Europe: in Strasbourg on September 5th, September 6th in Austria at Vienna Fair and today, September 8th, in England at the Manchester Fair.
The “EUROPEENNE" was entirely designed and built in our Koenigshoffen workshops and I would like to congratulate and especially thank our Technical Director, Mr. Moretti, an Italian engineer, specialized for many years in the manufacture of coffee machines, who designed this machine. I also want to thank all his colleagues from the technical office, our foremen and all workers in our company that, I can assure you, worked with great enthusiasm to this new realization which, I think, RENEKA Company has all the reasons to be proud of. »

Extract from the allocution of M. René KAUSS SON, Chief Executive,
at the «EUROPEENNE» presentation, September 8th 1959.

This group was patented by Reneka the same year and has been used until 1984.
The release of the Européenne also marks a handover between René Kauss and his son, who took over the company while keeping the spirit of his father: the desire to produce machines that are simple to use, economical, and capable of extracting the best from the coffee aromas.
We also recognize the desire to point out the employee’s role to the success of the company.

« Vorrichtung zur selbsttaetigen Kaffeezubereitung », Patent DE1404788A1 from Pietro Moretti, Septembre 16th 1959.

Different versions of the Européenne, the bar machine from Reneka

Another innovation arrives in 1970 with the first fully automatic espresso machine, called the « Hydrauto ».
Its distinctive sign is a kind of treadmill that positions the cup below the spout without any human intervention (system patented by Moretti).

«Einrichtung zum Füllen von Tassen, insbesondere Kaffee-Aufgußmaschine»,
Patent DE2119993 from Pietro Moretti, April 23d 1970


The winged elephant to conquer the world ...

From 1974 up to now, the Reneka company enters into a modern era. This starts with the installation of offices above one of the manufacturing workshops and the incorporation of electronics into coffee machines.
The "DV" model released in 1976 is the first traditional machine completely controlled by electronics. Followed by the "PA" and "GAV'D" fully electronic and automatic machines, which will replace the Hydrauto in 1984.


Reneka, GAV’D model

The Koenigshoffen site is definitively abandoned in 1985

A page is definitively turned in 1985, when the activities are stopped on the original Koenigshoffen site.
But the production does not stop during this period, several models are released before the company becomes "Reneka International" (in 1997) and move to a new factory in Rosheim (in 2002) where it is still located today.

Reneka, Plus prestige model

The « Basic » and « Plus » series are launched in 1986; they use a thermo-controlled injection system and offer a choice of color (red or blue) with an enamel finish. Ten years later, the "Viva" series is equipped with an optimized injection system, followed by the "Viva S" (2004) where the arrangement of the machine is redesigned to facilitate maintenance.

Reneka, Viva model

Finally, to remember the long history of Reneka, in 2005, year of the 100th anniversary of the René Kauss shoe factory creation, marks the release of an espresso machine that combines modernity and retro line with great elegance:
The «Atalante ».

The winged elephant today...

Reneka is continuing to produce « Made in France » espresso machines, entirely assembled by hand at the Rosheim factory. The Koenigshoffen factory that was abandoned in 1985, doesn’t exist anymore: the 3, route des Romains is now just a wasteland owned by the city of Strasbourg (a site that was used to store collected garbage containers when they were renewed).
Part of the buildings (on rue de l'Abbé Lemire side) was sold to the Scheurer transport company.




The building that was painted with the « Reneka » advertisement (located 2, route des Romains) was also destroyed, in may 2013, for the new layout of the village entrance and the return of the streetcar in 2016 (as in the old picture, proving that history is an eternal resumption).

The elephant has lost his shoe and his globe, but kept his wings...


Additional references:
- Archi-Strasbourg, Architecture et photos à Strasbourg
- Inventaire général du patrimoine culturel, Direction de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine
- Gallica, Bibliothèque Nationale de France
- Dessins et Modèles, Institut National de la Propriété Intellectuelle
- Reneka brand private archives

Acknowledgements :
The Reneka brand, especially
- Valérie Egele, Marketing & Administration Director for its kindness and the opening of the brand's archives
- Jean-Paul Farrugia, prevously in charge of R&D at Reneka, today « coffee-machines retired technician », for his technical clarifications.

Wirting :  Sébastien (alias Pootoogoo) 
Vignette : Geoffrey

Puzzle Assembler: Vincent

Rédaction :  Sébastien (alias Pootoogoo) 
Vignette : Geoffrey

Assembleur du Puzzle: Vincent