The First 20 years
In celebration of Jurgens Ci’s 60th anniversary, over the next few issues we’ll be telling you about their proud history. This month we start right at the beginning, way back in the 1950s.
While the Jurgens story in South Africa starts in November 1950, Jurgens caravans actually date back to 1938 in Holland, where Mr Geert (‘Oubaas’) Jurgens, a coachworks and truck body builder who ran his own business, constructed his first caravan . Even he couldn’t have dreamed where that act would take him.
The Jurgens family arrived in Johannesburg in 1950 without much money, but with a determination to make a life for themselves in their new home. For 18 months they worked in the truck body building trade, learning the South African way. In 1952 they were ready to ‘show South Africa what we can do’, and opened their own factory in Germiston. It had three employees, the father and his two sons. Three months later a tradesman was added, and a year later the staff complement was 25.
The highlight of 1952, besides the start up of the business, was the production of the first Jurgens caravan in South Africa – ‘Bokkie’, as it was affectionately known. This was indeed a family effort, as the interior cushions and curtains were hand-sewn by Mrs Jurgens. The business in the early 1950s was primarily focused on vehicle body building, and it was not long before Jurgens-built bread delivery vans could be seen on Johannesburg’s roads. Those of us with long memories may remember the mobile libraries that were handcrafted in the Jurgens factory. In the mid-1950s caravan production began on a serious scale, as the public of South Africa took to this new form of recreation. The staff complement at Jurgens had now grown to 48, and they were unable to employ any more – not because they didn’t have work for them, but because they had run out of space! The search for new premises got under way. At this time the company was doing body building, producing caravans and trailers, plus motorhomes. The late 1950s saw the arrival of Caravans International with the Sprite marque: the first real competitor to Jurgens had arrived.
1960 was notable for two major events in the caravan industry. One was the birth of the first magazine dedicated to the coverage of caravaning and outdoor pursuits, Caravan magazine (now Caravan & Outdoor Life), which later that year became the official organ of the Caravan Club of Southern Africa. The other was the launch of the iconic Sprite Alpine. Incidentally, 1960 also saw the introduction of the Valiant – an essential car for caravaners. It was in the early 1960s that caravaning really took off. Jurgens were stretched to the limit to fulfil the orders they were generating, so in 1963 they moved to their new headquarters in Kempton Park, adjacent to Jan Smuts Airport. Just 18 months later, Jurgens had to more than double the size of their factory to cope with the demand. Then, in 1964, Caravans International acquired Gypsey, and Jurgens now had two major competitors. The same year saw the introduction of the crown into the Jurgens logo, which in time would give rise to the slogan ‘King of the Great Outdoors’.
The mid-1960s saw the caravan boom continue, and in 1967 Jurgens celebrated the manufacture of their 10 000th caravan. By the late 1960s Jurgens led the pack with the introduction of a side tent on their caravans, and in 1969 you could buy a Jurgens 13A with a tent and a fridge for R1540 plus tax! The caravan industry looked forward with confidence to the 1970s. Little did they know how harsh the next decade would be. To be continued …