Brief History of Liebherr: Pioneers in Cranes

Liebherr was founded in 1949 by Hans Liebherr, making its start by building affordable tower cranes in Germany. Today, it is an international company with a wide range of products.

The company consists of thirteen divisions: earthmoving, material handling technology, mining, deep foundation machines, mobile and crawler cranes, tower cranes, concrete technology, maritime cranes, gear technology and automation systems, components, refrigeration and freezing, as well as hotels.

In this article, Plant Planet will take you through the history of Liebherr, highlighting its milestones in the earthmoving industries.

After the Second World War, Germany’s building and domestic construction industries were under pressure to begin rebuilding. In response to this, in 1949, the company founder Hans Liebherr developed the TK10 the world’s first mobile tower crane. The crane was able to be erected on-site, allowing for quick and low-cost construction projects.

1950s: Milestones in new technology

1954The company produces Europe’s first hydraulic excavator – the L 300. 
L 300. Image courtesy of Liebherr.

1955Company presents their first in-house reverse drum mixer.
1958First ship crane developed in Biberach. The year was also important for international expansion as Hans Liebherr commissioned the first factory abroad.

The end of the 1950s saw a mass shortage of gear wheels (the main component of crane gearboxes), leading to the founder developing a gear cutting machine to circumvent this issue and continue producing cranes. This successful move led to the company gaining a large share of the market.

1959The company launch the world’s first hydraulic crane. According to Liebherr, the machine was a “hybrid of modified excavator uppercarriage and mobile excavator chassis and the forefather of one of the most powerful mobile crane programs in the world.”

1960s: Expansion of product catalogue

1961The company opened a new production site for crawler excavators in Colmar in Elsass, France, allowing it to enter a new market. The site ends up being a major production hub for advanced crawler excavators.
1969Liebherr-Werk Ehingen GmbH is founded, focusing on production and development of mobile and crawler cranes. Today, the product range has over forty different types of cranes.

The 1960s ended with the enterprise in strong financial standing after two decades in business, with 6,000 employees worldwide and 400 million Deutschmarks in turnover.

1970s: Entering new markets

In this decade, Liebherr made the leap across to the Americas, as well as continuing expansion in Europe.

1970Liebherr-America Inc. founded in Newport News, Virginia.

The creation of Liebherr-America paved the way for the company to supply the North American market with crawlers, wheel loaders, and hydraulic excavators.

1974Following suit, Liebherr-Canada Ltd. begins trading hydraulic excavators in Ontario. New company also opens in Guaratinguetá, Brazil.

The steady demand for Liebherr products leads to the company opening new production sites in Switzerland and Austria.

1977Liebherr presents the first all-terrain mobile crane in the world – the LTM 1025, featuring an impressive telescopic boom length of 24 meters, with a load bearing capacity of 25 tonnes.
LTM 1025. Image courtesy of Liebherr.

The LTM 1025 impressed the industry, establishing Liebherr’s image as pioneers in crane design. The model served as a blueprint for the later LTM 1500-8.1, which became the best-selling large crane of all time.

1980s: Diversification

All existing branches of the company converged into one in 1983, creating Liebherr-International AG.

1980Liebherr creates the first hydraulically driven and electronically controlled rope crawler in the world.
1984Liebherr begins series production of diesel engines.

The company focused on creating reliable construction plant by designing engines that work in the toughest environments. With Hans Liebherr stepping back from business operating duties to concentrate on company management strategy, the company focused on championing their values of “reliability and continuity”.

The decade saw Liebherr increasingly focus on vertical integration, expansion, and sustainable growth, with a turnover of over three billion Deutschmarks.

1990s: Legacy

In 1993, founder Hans Liebherr passed away, leaving the company to his children. The new generation of leaders was in charge of 15,000 employees and a company with annual turnover of four billion Deutschmarks. Following the founder’s footsteps, the company continued in the direction of further expansion.

1996First joint venture with a Chinese company, entering the Chinese market with concrete mixer trucks and stationary mixing plant.
1997The company sets up Liebherr-Mietpartner GmbH, a rental branch answering to increasing demand for earthmoving machinery.

2000s: A new millennium

The 2000s were a time for the company to excel on the world stage. Between 2003-08, the company’s turnover doubled to reach 8.4 billion euros.

2001The company opens Liebherr-Elektronik GmbH, focusing on the development and manufacturing of electronic assemblies and systems for Liebherr’s construction plant, mining equipment, and more.

During this period, Liebherr invested 2.8 billion euros to construct new production sites and extend existing ones.

2010s and onwards: Consolidating strength

Liebherr live up to their status as one of the market leaders in construction and mining equipment, investing in production facilities and green energy construction projects. In 2020, Liebherr achieved a turnover of over ten billion euros.

The company has continued to release new machinery in 2021. In May, it unveiled the new T 274 mining truck, with a capacity of 305 tonnes, as well as a new, lighter member of its telescopic crawler crane series – the LTR 1040.

Liebherr have also launched the next generation of hydraulic mining excavators: the R 600 is a 600t excavator set to enter the open mining market.

April saw the reveal of the all-new R 928 G8 crawler excavator, and the company displayed their green ambitions with two zero emission electric crawler excavators: R 976-E and R 980 SME-E.

R 976-E. Image courtesy of Liebherr.

Liebherr has also updated their world-famous range of crawler cranes, with the new LR 1700-1.0 designed to lift 700 tonnes.

The industry recognises Liebherr’s innovation, as their new TA 230 Litronic articulated dump truck has recently won the Red Dot Award for Product Design 2021.

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