From the Archives no. 26—Helvetica and Univers addendum

Indra Kupferschmid was in New York today and we had lunch. She provided me with a document that indicates that the idea for renaming Neue Haas Grotesk as Helvetica did not originate with Walter Cunz as the Mergenthaler Linotype advertisment states but with Heinz Eul, a sales manager at D. Stempel AG. (Eul gave the document to Erik Spiekermann who kindly provided a scan of it to Indra.) The story is told in Helvetica Forever: The Story of a Typeface (English edition, 2009), p. 47.

However, another name had to be found for the new typeface because Linotype [German Linotype] felt that the name New Haas Grotesk [sic] would “not exert enough appeal in Germany. [Heinz] Eul suggested naming the new typeface “Helvetia,” in reference to its country of origin. [Eduard] Hoffmann was not very impressed with the idea since a sewing machine and an insurance company already carried the same name. Instead he suggested “Helvetica,” an elegant inspiration that did not offend Eul, satisfied Hoffmann, and was immediately accepted by Stempel. Only [Rudolf] Hörter [director of Linotype GmbH] had reservations; he thought that Helvetica might “sound too nationalistic to foreign ears” and he wanted to avoid “raising the issue of nationalistic feelings.” [It should be remembered that this was only fifteen years after the close of World War II.]

Not reproduced in Helvetica Forever is the document supporting this narrative, a general letter or memorandum from Heinz Eul to the management at Stempel dated 16 June 1959. Indra has translated the letter into English and I quote part of it here.

Over the course of the past three years the so-called “Swiss Typography” [has] also gained considerable influence on the German advertising industry through the usage of old grotesque-styles. This has been fueled in particular by the undeniable Futura-fatigue. Both Berthold’s Akzidenz-Grotesk and the recut “Venus” by Bauer (now [called] “Folio-Grotesk”) most closely match the demand of German typographers for typefaces in the original grotesque style.

Currently, D. Stempel AG does not have any typeface at its disposal that matches the character of the aforementioned old lineal [grotesque sans serif]. Out of these considerations I propose the inclusion of “Neue Haas-Grotesk” into our line.… I’m bringing the introduction into the German market [of Neue Haas Grotesk] under the designation HELVETIA up for discussion.

Heinz Eul letter 16 June 1959

Eul saw Folio from Bauer (Konrad Bauer and Walter Baum, 1957) as a more significant rival than Univers from Deberny & Peignot. This was because Bauer was a German foundry and thus a direct competitor to Stempel while Deberny & Peignot, as a French foundry, had no impact on the German printing market at this time. Eul’s reference to “Futura-fatigue” was surely true. New members of the Futura family continued to be issued during the 1930s even though Paul Renner, its designer, had been accused of being a Bolshevik sympathizer by the Nazis and prevented from teaching. The typeface was probably the most widely used sans serif in the world by the end of the 1950s—available in both Didot and Anglo-American sizes—thanks to Bauer’s long-established sales offices in the United States, England and Australia; its subsidiary Fundición Tipográfica Neufville in Spain; and the licensing of the design (under the name Europa) to Deberny & Peignot for sale in France.

Note: Helvetica Forever (p. 40) says that the year that Linotype GmbH gained majority control of Stempel was 1954, not 1941 as I indicated in From the Archives no. 26. My date came from online sources and I trust Helvetica Forever as being more accurate in this matter.