200 Years GOWI

The founding years
The history of GOWI begins in the year 1825 in Graz. It was the time of preindustrialisation, and new inventions and ideas radically changed the lives of people all over europe. But despite all these innovations, the Styrian economy was mainly characterised by skilled crafts and trades. Rich ore mines in the surrounding mountains had led to the foundation of countless metal workshops in Graz since the middle ages.

Alois Witiz grew up in that time and as a young master girdle maker, he opened his own metal workshop in 1825. He mainly produced typical hardware, but only four years later, in 1829, he also started to manufacture tin toys on the side. The business grew steadly, so his son Gottfried Witiz decided to learn the trade of metal-working as well. When he received the title of master craftsman in 1869, he took over his father's company and put his own stamp on it.

The Gottfried Witiz era - the man with the earring
In the following years, Gottfried Witiz expanded the business step by step. He experimented with new products and modernised the workshop. By 1888, the company had grown so much that he had to move it into new buildings at the Klosterwiesgasse, which remained its home for almost a hundred years. Only one year later, he opened his own shop at the Jakominiplatz - one of the busiest places in Graz - where the products of the Gottfried Witiz Company were sold. By 1900, his father's small workshop had grown to be one of the most respectable metal-working companies in Graz. In 1902, the city administration noticed the solid work of Gottfried Witiz and his employees and placed numerous orders with the company until the outbreak of the First World War. Gottfried Witiz had become a respected person in Graz. In a portrait from that time, he is shown with a golden earring - a sign of honour, worn only by the most respeted citizens.

Times of war - with a steady hand through the crisis

In 1914, just before the outbreak of the First Warold War, Gottfried Witizdied at the age of 70. His son Oskar took over the family business now in its third generation. Due to the high profile of the company and also in honour of his father, Oskar Witiz kept the old company name "Gottfried Witiz". 

Henceforth, the company tried to establish the production of toys. But just before Oskar Witiz was finally able assume responsibility, the First World War broke out on the 3rd of August, 1914. For the next four years, the company became subject to military demands and a lot of workers were ordered to the front. When the guns finally fell silent 1918, Austria was governed by political and economic chaos and the peace treaty had prescribed severe sanctions on the metal-working industry. Therefore it took some years before the Gottfried Witiz Company recovered from the problems the war left behind.

Thanks to a careful course, the company grew and was even able to stand through the world economic crisis of 1928. Meanwhile, the production of metal toys had become so successful that Oskar Witiz was registered as a toymaker in the address book of Graz.

From a toymaker to a strategically important company

In 1938 Austria became a part of Germany. In the first year, only a few things changed for Gottfried Witiz Company and production went on as before. But when the Second World War broke out with the invation of Poland on the 1st of September, 1939, the military took control of the economy of Graz. The Gottfried Witiz Company was declared a strategically important company and was ordered to produce measuring instruments for the production of grenades until the end of the war.

When Oskar Witiz died in 1942, his daughter Christine and her husband Leopold Schuster took over the company and led it through these hard times.

Once the Allied forced took control of Graz in May, 1945, it became apparent that the Gottfried Witiz Company had come through the war without severe damage. To create a home for refugees, Christine Schuster turned the empty storerooms into small flats. It took until 1946 before the first production of metal goods, which were urgently needed to build up the destroyed city, could be started. No one thought about toy production at that time.

New brand name and new direction - the Georg Schuster era

It took until 1950 before Christine and Leopold Schuster received offical permission to restart the company. When Georg Schuster entered management after the death of his father in the 1950s, the economic situation had clearly stabilised.

Meanwhile, toy production had become the most important branch of the Gottfried Witiz Company and Georg Schuster undertook his first attempts to produce plastic toys. On the basis of this successful development, the first participation in the International Toy Fair, Nuremberg in 1958 was decided. In order to present the company in a more modern light, the name Gottfried Witiz was shortened to GOWI. Due to the high standards of quality and the new product line of plastic toys, the company gained a lot of interest.

It quickly became clear that the future of the former metal workshop would lie in the plastic toy market. GOWI started with the production of sand toys, like buckets, spades and sand moulds. Soon, toy tea service and toy kitchen equipment were added to the product line. Even the company's most famous collector's item, the Puch 500 model car by GOWI, was developed at this time.

From Styria to the world

When the first GOWI catalogue was printed in 1960, it was mainly filled with metal and plastic toys. In addition, the constant appearance at the International Toy Fair, Nuremberg led to a steadily growing list of clients from all over the world. In Austria and Germany in particular, GOWI soon became a well-known symbol for quality toys.

Because the traditional company buildings in the Klosterwiesgasse quickly became too small, GOWI moved to a newly built factory in the south of Graz in 1970. At that time the decision was made to finally shut down the production of metal goods. On the other hand, the product line of plastic toys was expanded and divided into summer and winter toys. Meanwhile over 100 employees worked for GOWI. The continuous success and long tradition of GOWI was also recognized by the public and in 1978 the company finally received the award of the Austrian national coat of arms.

Wave of success and deep fall

In the 80s GOWI had a wave of success. Sand toys, play kitchens, tea services, vehicles and educational toys were developed and sold in new and different forms and colours. Since the begin of the 1980s, Georg Schuster minded that all products were environmentally friendly produced with harmless ingredients.

In 1990, during the German Reunification GOWI increased their sales. New products, especially the speed-buggy line and the super-kitchen were the bestsellers of the 90s. At that time, all traditional products were re-designed and got modern shapes without sharp edges. Also well-known logo was designed in those days.

But the 90s brought competitors from Asia and Eastern Europe to the middle of Europe. In 1996, the sales of GOWI were fallen. Because of these decline in sales, the company had to outsource parts of the production in the East in 2003. These changes were so efficient, that GOWI was successfully again. Due to the global economic crisis in the winter of 2008 GOWI had to give up all efforts.

The restart - an awareness of tradition combined with modern structure

In the spring of 2009, it seemed as if the long tradition of the GOWI Company had came to an end. However, Rolf Krämer, a former longterm customer, showed an interest in the company. The possibility to continue running this long-standing company and to lead GOWI back to success caught the attention of the German businessman. As a result, in April 2009, the GOWI GmbH under the leadership of the Toy World Association was founded as the legal successor to the former company.

In autumn 2009, after only a half year of loss of production, the GOWI GmbH was at least able to deliver its usual quality products again to its customers. In the following years, GOWI worked successfully to create more efficient structures and in respositioning the brand in the toy market. Today, GOWI has managed to become a modern company with innovation and quality that continues the long tradition of the family business in Graz.

CEO Rolf Krämer received the award of styria in 2016

The award of styria is a special honor. After a 190 years company history is GOWI pleased to received this award. Following criteria have to be conform for this award:

„As a sign of solidarity, is the award the epitome of the styrian road to success: The combination of tradition and innovation. The strict criteria ensure the high quality of the products and services.

Rolf Krämer has got a strong connectivity to Mariazell. So GOWI moved in 2017 from Graz to Mariazell, which is the most significant place of pilgrimage in Austria.

Keeping up with the times
As GOWI always wants to keep up with the times, the company launched a new product line called BIO by GOWI in 2019. The BIO by GOWI range consists of sand and water toys as well as a stacking pyramid. These products are made from sugarcane-based plastic and are 100 % recyclable. Sugar cane is a renewable raw material and therefore a more environmentally friendly alternative to conventional plastic products.

2020 the first antibacterial stacking pyramid of GOWI was developed, which is a self-cleaning pyramid that constantly reduces the collected bacteria on the surface.

In 2022, the agency HolyPoly approached GOWI on behalf of NUK with the idea of a recycling initiative. The company NUK collected old baby bottles, dummies and cups that were no longer needed by children in various kindergartens and selected public collection points with the help of a collection box, the “Schnullermonster”. These were sorted and recycled, paying particular attention to quality and product safety, so that they could be used to make toys. Finally, GOWI used the recycled material to produce new sand moulds for NUK, which are made from 100 % of the collected baby bottles, dummies and cups. The campaign was so successful that another collection campaign was launched in 2023. The entire project was developed in cooperation with HolyPoly, a full service agency that supports brands on their journey towards a circular economy.

GOWI is also very involved in product development, therefore, new products are added to the GOWI range every year. The GOWI fishovel and the GOWI diggershovel are the company’s latest toy developments. The fishovel is a shovel designed like a fish with an opening at the front where water can be scooped into the fish’s mouth. At the bottom of the shovel is a pouring spout, which can then be used to pour the scooped water out again. The diggershovel is a handy shovel that can be used to dig like an excavator. It is designed in such a way that the children have to move the shovel towards their bodies, allowing them to dig with more force.

In autumn 2023, GOWI finally launched „reGowi”, a new toy line made out of at least 95 % post-consumer recycled material. All reGowi products are tested and comply with toy guidelines and meet high safety standards. The reGowi toys differ from the GOWI standard range primarily in the material which is used. Furthermore, the colours and colour gradients make the difference, as these can vary and new colour combinations are created. Like the GOWI standard range the reGowi toy line convinces with its high quality and robustness. GOWI is very concerned about the future and the conservation of important resources, therefore, the company is testing different recycling materials in order to constantly expand the reGowi range.

first catalogue of Gowi from 1960