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A family business that started up in bilbao more than one hundred YEARS AGO
FOUR GENERATIONS OF SOMMES MANUFACTURING CAN SEAMERS
THE EARLY YEARS
In 1891, the Norwegian Johannes Kielland Somme (a relative of the novelist Alexander Kielland) and his wife Anna Petersen arrived in Spain from the city of Stavanger.
Johannes had been hired by the Norwegian timber company Sorensen Yakhelln & Cia ("La Compañía de Maderas") which was founded in 1874 and had offices in several Spanish cities. In 1904, he was made manager of the Bilbao office. Its central warehouses were located on the site now occupied by the Guggenheim museum.
At that time industrial development in Bilbao was in full swing and there was a need to import Scandinavian pine wood for both mining and shipbuilding.
In 1905 Norway became independent from Sweden. In the same year, Johannes founded the company "Sömme & Sundt" together with a partner. From their workshop at Hurtado Amezaga 11 in Bilbao they manufactured mills for crushing rocks, rubber rings for cans, gas generators and represented various Norwegian companies. Among these were Grei (engines for land and sea), Balata Atlas (transmission belts) and C. Middlethon (can seamers for non round cans).
C. Middlethon was the manufacturer of the new Reinerts non round can seamer, an improvement on the earlier machine patented by Soren Opsal in 1900. This machine could seam 8,000 cans a day, a real revolution. Until that time cans were soldered one by one, so the introduction of the Reinerts was to lead to the disappearance of the anciente trade of can soldering.
In 1906 Johannes Kielland Sømme became the first consul general of Norway in Bilbao.
In 1908 Sömme & Sundt reached an agreement with C. Middlethon to start manufacturing the Reinerts can seamer under license in Bilbao (model S-135).
Shortly afterwards they also began to manufacture seamers for round cans. These were all manufactured under the brand name SOMME. More than 500 Reinerts can seamers were sold in Spain and Portugal.
In 1930 Johannes Kielland Sømme died at the age of 60. His sons, Jan. K., Carlos and Jacob continued the family business by creating a new company called "JUAN SOMME, Sucesor de Sömme & Sundt" (subsequently renamed SOMME S.A.) They moved to new workshops in Bilbao at Iparraguirre 62-64 street with offices at Marcelino Oreja.
During the Spanish Civil War (1936 - 1939), the Somme brothers sold portable stoves to the soldiers on both sides. After the war Spain was isolated, so there was a need to manufacture all kinds of machines and gadgets. This was the most creative period for the company.
During that time they manufactured the semiautomatic can seamer models S-220 / S-222 / S-230 / S-250 and the fully automatic S-312, S-316, S-318 and S-320.
In addition to can seamers they also manufactured:
- Crushing mills for grinding flax seed and mustard (foodstuffs)
- Presses and folding machines
- Disc shears (sold to SEAT and Barreiros)
- Can body welders
- Marine engines (up to 12 HP)
- Irrigation pumps (the pitch at the San Mamés football ground, the home of the Athletic Club de Bilbao, was watered for many years by one of their pumps)
- "Cervera" brand gas generators fired by charcoal or anthracite waste
- Portable camping stoves
They created a can manufacturing plant and a plant for compounds that was later sold to "La Artística de Vigo".
In 1960 the company moved to larger facilities on the outskirts of Bilbao, in the municipality of Erandio (Ibarra 7 street) beside the river Nervión. Carlos and Jacob left the company and embarked on new business projects. Jan K. Sømme now had sole responsibility for the family biusiness and was the major shareholder.
In 1972 Oscar Sømme (Jan´s son) joined the company. It was during this period that development of the modern can seamers currently made began. More than 30 different models were designed and manufactured, with the stand-out models being MARINA 424, 444, 434, 343, 333, Elsa, Diana 353/363/383, Galicia, Fortuna 363/383, Nora, 323, etc.
New mechanisms were added:
- The 6 pistons rotary clincher
- The short cycle seaming head
- Stainless steel finish
Focusing on a booming canning industry SOMME S.A. manufactured more than 6000 can seamers, the majority of which were exported.
The work-force grew to 200 and the firm became world-wide benchmark for the manufacture of non-round can seamers.
In 1990, after almost one hundred years, SOMME S.A. closed down due to the effects of a lack of workforce flexibility and a slump in its traditional markets.
The family saga was reborn in 1997 when Oscar Sømme founded JK SOMME, a company that took its name from the initials of Jan Kielland Sømme.
JK SOMME returned to manufacturing the SOMME flagship models, under new, more commercial names, and introduced numerous technical improvements. The MASTER 446 (ex-S-444) and VIKING 465 (ex-Marina 424) non-round can seamers began to be produced. Both machines featured ingenious new heads with dragged seaming rolls, which improved the seaming quality.
In 2000 Axel Sømme (Oscar´s son) joined the company, making him the forth generation of Sommes to work there.
In 2005 the company celebrated its centenary by launching the BOX class. Over its six-year commercial life-time over 100 MASTER 446 BOX and VIKING 465 BOX were sold.
Due to the rapid growth of the company, it was decided to move the entire operation to new, larger facilities on the industrial complex of Santecilla, 25 km from Bilbao.
2011 saw the launch of the In Blue range in a clear commitment to quality and design. The first In Blue seamers were installed in France, Portugal and Brazil.
In 2012 the number of JK SOMME can seamers working in Morocco exceeded 50. The country remains the world's largest producer of canned sardines in 1/4 club cans. The most recent Moroccan canning factories located in Laayoune, Dakhla and Tan Tan are all equipped with In Blue can seamers.
After 15 years of intense activity, JK SOMME is once again the world leader in non-round can seamers.