The Braun company was founded in Frankfurt in 1921 by Max Braun (1890–1951), an engineer from East Prussia. It originally produced connectors for machine belts and later moved into components for radios and gramophones in 1923. By 1925 the company was producing many of its own plastic components, and by 1929 it had begun to make complete sets. Braun became one of Germany’s largest radio manufacturers. It began to innovate during the 1930s, introducing a combined radio and phonograph in 1932 and a battery powered portable radio in 1936. By 1938 its modern Frankfurt factory employed 1,000 people.

During the postwar reconstruction it added domestic appliances and electric razors to its range of products. The Braun S50 shaver and the Multimix appeared in 1950. In 1954 Braun struck a deal with the Ronson Company, who were licensed to manufacture Braun shavers in the United States.

Max Braun was succeeded in the early 1950s by his sons Artur and Erwin, who were interested in design and brought in a range of talented designers to work on their products. Dieter Rams joined the company in 1955, along with Hans Gugelot, Otl Aicher, and Gerd Alfred Müller. The following year it set up its own design department, which Rams headed from 1960.

The result of this corporate approach was a unified range of products that possessed a sculptural simplicity. The electronics of razors, food mixers, and heaters were enveloped in white metal or plastic covers with minimal, easy-to-use controls. The KM 321 Kitchen Machine of 1957, a food mixer, exemplified this approach. This “neofunctionalist” approach could also be seen in the audio products such as the Phonosuper of 1956, nicknamed “Snow White’s Coffin” because of its rectangular shape, white body, and clear Perspex lid. Braun set a standard that influenced other companies to take design more seriously. Its products were selected by the New York’s Museum of Modern Art and praised at the 1958 Brussels World Fair as “outstanding examples of German manufacturing.”

The aesthetic merit of Rams’s designs was reflected in the work of U.K. “Pop” artist Richard Hamilton in his Toaster screen print and collage of 1967. He stated, “My admiration for the work of Dieter Rams is intense and I have for years been uniquely attracted towards his design sensibility; so much so that his consumer products have come to occupy a place in my heart and consciousness that the Mont Sainte-Victoire did in Cézanne’s.”

The controlling interest in Braun was bought by the U.S. Gillette Company in 1967. Since then its style has become a little diluted but the ET22 calculator and the Micron shaver have ensured that Braun products remain distinctive. Braun has, more than probably any other company, managed to successfully marry modernist principles to industrial production. The results have largely been just what Erwin Braun wished them to be: “honest, unobtrusive, and practical devices.”