100 years of VILSA – a history

The history of the VILSA spring does not actually begin in Vilsen, but more than 6,100 km away in New York. In 1908, after five years in the USA, the 31-year-old emigrant and engineer Johnny Dörgeloh decides to make a long-awaited trip back home to the old country to visit his family. Following his arrival in Vilsen after two weeks traveling by ship and train, he finds more than he bargained for: an effervescently pure spring that yields a mineral water previously untouched for thousands of years.


Center stage for nature

VILSA Mineral Water, a delicious gift of nature.

The biggest challenge facing Johnny Dörgeloh in 1908 was to get the newly discovered spring and untamed flow of mineral water under control, to tame and to collect it. Today, more than 100 years later, our fight is not so much “with” nature as “for” nature. After all, our company owes its existence to nature.


Changeover to PET

Plastic, for the sake of the environment.

With its lush meadows, extensive forests and pure springs, Bruchhausen-Vilsen officially becomes a climatic health resort in 1978. And in the midst of it all is Germany’s best and purest mineral water. VILSA is conscious of its great responsibility to nature and to keeping it unspoilt. So it is not surprising that the environment is a key factor in any business decision that VILSA-BRUNNEN makes. This also applies to the development of new products and processes. At VILSA, nature has the last word – and has had for over 100 years.


Joining the GDB and mineral water boom

VILSA-BRUNNEN’s history is such that it is only in the mid-1970s that natural mineral water prevails over soda production. Up until then, soft drinks accounted for up to 80% of production at peak times. In 1979, VILSA becomes a member of the Genossenschaft Deutscher Brunnen (German Cooperative for Spring Water), GDB for short, and is permitted to introduce the standard mineral water bottle – also known in refreshing German officialese as a Brunneneinheitsflasche. By the way, such bottles can be identified by the characteristic 230 nubs on the glass.


Vehicle fleet and low-flying aircraft

VILSA-BRUNNEN attracts new customers.

And goes deeper. During the 1960s, American and British pilots fly low over the Heiligenberg in their supersonic aircraft. The convulsions triggered by these thunderously loud exercises drive sand into the spring water near the ground. Otto Rodekohr subsequently has a hole drilled in order to withdraw the mineral water from the protected depths of the earth.


Post-war era

The war comes to an end and VILSA is on the road to success.

In 1950, Otto Rodekohr returns from imprisonment to his beloved Vilsen. The long years of waiting are behind him. Time that he must have used to make plans for the future of his business: in the same year, Otto Rodekohr obtains a license to bottle the new fashionable drink, Sinalco.


VILSA overcomes tough times

Europe at war, women in charge at VILSA.

Although work comes to a standstill at the site, the VILSA spring continues to flow unabated. In December 1937, Anna Rodekohr finally hands over control of the company to her son Otto. Together with his wife Margarethe Rodekohr, he quickly turns around the fortunes of the company. But when war breaks out in Europe a short time later, Otto Rodekohr receives his call-up notice. This leaves Margarethe in charge, so once again a woman is managing VILSA-BRUNNEN on her own.


Global economic crisis

Fighting the global economic crisis with Apfelsinchen.

On October 24, 1929, Anna Rodekohr is only at the helm of VILSA-BRUNNEN for a year when Black Friday casts its shadow from New York over the tranquility of Vilsen. Yet Anna and her 17-year-old son Otto, Operations Manager from day one, bounce back and get to work: in 1930, Apfelsinchen (orange soda), the first popular soda, is launched. Unfortunately, it does not achieve the hoped-for success. Their application for surety is turned down in the same year. In 1933, they finally notify the Lord Mayor of the small town of Bruchhausen-Vilsen that the bottling plant will cease trading.


VILSA-BRUNNEN sold to the Rodekohr family

Johnny goes, Anna Rodekohr arrives.

The deprivations of the First World War are followed by the Golden Twenties. Germans have plenty to eat. Art, culture, and science are flourishing. And VILSA Mineral Water and VILSA Soda are on everyone’s lips in and around Vilsen.


Product range and distribution

Mineral water increases in popularity.

The watchword for the summer of 1913: VILSA-BRUNNEN and lemon fizz are a must in every house! This is how blunt and direct VILSA’s first newspaper ad sounds. And not entirely without cause: at this time, drinking water is frowned upon. Old domestic wells are frequently polluted by agricultural and domestic waste water. The newspapers make every effort to allude to the necessity of drinking enough water, for example to guard against heat stroke.


Entered into the commercial register

Johnny Dörgeloh – from hotel owner to spring owner

The hotelier Johnny Dörgeloh knows better than anyone how to pay court to his resort guests who seek respite in the extensive forests and hills around Vilsen. However, he does not have the slightest idea how the millennia-old, untamed flow of crystal-clear water can be tamed and bottled. But Johnny Dörgeloh accepts the challenge of his great discovery: the first bottling plant is built three years later. On August 8, 1912 he officially registers his spring in the commercial register.