Zima Corporation, Spartanburg, SC
Kurt Zimmerli was born May 16, 1928 and raised in Zofingen, Aargau, Switzerland. He attended the local public schools and graduated from the State Technical College, State of Berne, Switzerland with a BS in Mechanical Engineering in 1954. He married Nelly Bugler. His first job was with Frauchiger Machine Works, a home town company which built dyeing machines. Over the next six years, he designed machines and worked in Switzerland and Milan, Italy. He thought about expanding his horizons.
At the request of an uncle who lived in New York, he was sponsored and came to the United States in 1956 without speaking a word of English. The uncle wanted him to come to work with him. Smith Drum of Philadelphia made him an offer if ever he came to the US. With his diploma and college notebooks in hand, he went door to door looking for work. He soon began one-week probation as a Design Engineer with Alco (American Locomotive) Products, Schenectady, NY, designing coal-burning gas turbines. At the end of the week, no one said leave, so he came back. He kept a list of English words on his drawing desk and added to the list as quickly as he could. After a year and a half, he looked again for work, this time in a textile-related field. He was hired and quickly worked his way up the ladder: Director of Manufacturing and Chief Engineer for F. Perkins & Son Inc., Holyoke, MA for four and a half years; Director of Engineering and Vice President of Engineering for Butterworth Manufacturing Co., Bethayres, PA, for four years; and with Universal American Corp., Philadelphia, for three years as Director of Engineering and Vice President – International. During his time with Perkins, he found time to earn an MBA from Western New England College.
B.F. Perkins Letter to Kurt Zimmerli 1957
In 1958, he read in the Melliand Textilberichte that a small German firm, Eduard Küsters Maschinenfabrik, Krefeld, West Germany, had developed a new adjustable deflection “Swimming Roll or S-Roll” textile padder. Zimmerli wrote a letter to Küsters and decided to visit Krefeld during his vacation trip home that summer. He spoke with Valentin Appenzeller, the inventor of the S-Roll, and also with Mr. Küsters, since a development such as this could be sold by B.F. Perkins to American customers. Mr. Zimmerli tried unsuccessfully to convince management at Perkins that they should license the technology for $1,000,000 and manufacture and sell in the US. Küsters brought their ideas to the ATME show in Atlantic City in 1960 and began working with Louis P. Batson of Greenville, SC to represent the company in the US. Kurt maintained an informal contact as a technical consultant to improve Küsters equipment, notably during the Magnolia Plant start-up for Milliken in 1963.
Kurt also continued to assist Batson with contacts in the paper industry where the first s-roll was sold to Fitchburg Paper in 1962. Butterworth was granted to rights to represent Küsters in the textile industry. The year 1967 was an exciting year and the beginning of the continuous carpet dyeing era. After rounding up notable carpet executives at the ITMA show in Basel, and giving a demonstration in Krefeld, E.T. Barwick bought the first range.
Kurt Laying Blocks 1969
First Zima Building 1970
Eventually, in 1969, Kurt secured the right to represent Küsters in the United States and established Zima Incorporated in October, 1969. He initially purchased a ten-acre piece of property along I-85 in Spartanburg and built Zima Park; a first building included office and erection space. This building was expanded twice. Eventually the complex included a secluded office building at the rear of the property. Over the years, Zima grew to become the largest textile and carpet wet processing sales firm in the United States. Zima represented many important wet-processing manufacturers. Zimmerli remained as Chairman of Küsters Corporation through 1999 and was elected Chairman Emeritus in 2000.
Kurt, second from left, and Peter Leijdekkers, Stork, center
George Cocoros, Kurt and Roger Milliken, ITMA 1979
In addition to his interest in textile machinery sales, Kurt found time to become interested in community service. He served on the Chairman of the International Committee of the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce for twenty years. (4) He tackled many public projects; the landscaping and statues at the Spartanburg County Headquarters Library; the interactive fountain and Zimmerli Amphitheater at Barnet Park; Helvetia Island and Gazebo at Cleveland Park; and provided funds for the completion of the design and development of the Chapman Cultural Center’s plaza, in addition to an original monetary pledge for the project. (7)
Zimmerli Amphitheater, Barnet Park
Circle of Friendship, Barnet Park
Mr. Zimmerli’s commitment to Converse College began with his love of music and his commitment to Spartanburg. Starting with his first term on the Board of Trustees in 1983 he enthusiastically provided countless hours of dedicated service to the fulfillment of Converse College’s mission, to its financial health and its physical appearance. In 2002, he was awarded the highest honor awarded by the college when he was presented with The Dexter Edgar Converse Award. (5) The award honors Mr. Converse, an early textile mill pioneer, so it is appropriate that Mr. Zimmerli, a textile pioneer in his own right, be so honored. He also served as Chairman of the Building and Grounds Committee. He and his wife, Nelly, endowed a scholarship. (6) In 2009, it was noted that several Steinway pianos were donated. (7)
Kurt married Nelly Bugler Zimmerli in 1954. They have two children: a daughter Kathy Zimmerli Wofford and a son, Mark Jakob Zimmerli.
- Zimmerli, K., personal communication, Sep. 1996.
- Küsters, E., Melliand Textilberichte, Vol. 39, No. 1, January 1958, p88.
- Sherrill, D., personal communication, Jul 2012.
- Corbin, Laura Hendrix, “An International Influx,” in Textile Town: Spartanburg County, South Carolina, Hub City Writers Project, Spartanburg, SC, Betsy Wakefield Teter, ed. 2002.
- Personal communication, November 2012.