The year 2020 marks the start of our anniversary year. A century ago, in 1920, the foundation of what we are today was laid. Enjoy reading about our history. We will update this story biweekly.
How it al began
Jacobus den Hartogh, known as Ko, was born in Ouder-Amstel on 5 March 1894 and married Grietje Cornelia Schuurman, who was the same age, in Abcoude. His occupation shown on their marriage certificate was that of shopkeeper. According to the Hillegom municipal register, the couple moved to Hillegom on 18 February 1919, where Jacobus acquired a grocery store on Beekkade. In October 1922, he sold the shop to concentrate on the transport activities that he’d established in the meantime.
Established in 1920
According to a report dated 24 August 1960 in the NieuweLeidsche Courant newspaper, Jacobus made his first voyage on Friday 27 August 1920 in a rented barge, the Niets zonder Gods Zegen (Nothing without Gods blessing), from Hillegom via De Kaag to Leiden, to deliver miscellaneous cargo goods there for various small businesses in Hillegom. This was the start of his inland shipping activities. Om 28 October 1920, he bought the boat from the owner for 9,750 guilders - a considerable sum of money at the time. Business was clearly going very well. When he registered his company with the Chamber of Commerce Trade Register in 1924, he gave 1920 as the year of the founding of the company. The company operated a regular inland shipping route to and from Haarlem to Hillegom and Leiden and was based at Beekkade 1 in Hillegom. The ship was renamed Hillegom.
Jacobus transported regular goods like sugar, flour, beets and miscellaneous cargo. Pleasure cruises were also organised from Hillegom to Katwijk aan Zee. It wasn’t long before a 40-ton deck barge was hired as well. The fleet was mainly used for sailing between Leiden and Hillegom, but by the late 1920s, the Zaanstreek area had also joined the range of Den Hartogh’s activities, with Amsterdam (Damrak) being added shortly after that.
A horse and cart soon followed, as did a T-Ford lorry in 1924. The years of economic crisis in the early 1930s were difficult, but Jacobus still managed to slowly expand his modest business. At the time, the company only employed a few people, including skippers De Wit and Van ‘t Woud and Ko’s son, Anthoon, who joined the firm in 1933, at the age of 13. A significant factor in the company’s growth was that of Peka, the manufacturer of canned goods in Hillegom, who became a major customer in 1937. At the end of the 1930s, Den Hartogh had three Ford V8 models in its fleet.
In September 1939, when the United Kingdom and France declared war on Germany and the Dutch army was mobilised, one of Den Hartogh’s lorries was requisitioned by the State. During the occupation, Jacobus buried one of his remaining lorries in a beet pit. By the end of the war, however, it amounted to little more than a pile of rust. The third lorry had been stored at the premises of a friend, a coal merchant. Jacobus had been forced, with a gun to his head, to reveal the hiding place of this lorry to the Germans. Anthoon’s car had also been concealed. When it was discovered by the Germans, Anthoon struck a German soldier. He was immediately arrested but released following payment of several bottles of Dutch gin. Another car was fitted with a wood gas generator and a trailer. This enabled the company to continue its operations, even if it was at reduced capacity.
By 1940, Den Hartogh was firmly established on the market, especially in the Bollenstreek region. This was also the year in which Ko’s second son, Piet, joined the company. However, the Second World War put a temporary stop to the continued development of the business.
At the end of the war the country was in ruins. Transport had ceased. Den Hartogh no longer had any operating vehicles. With a GMC and a Fordson, from the ‘Marshall plan’, Den Hartogh & Zonen started a new period of growth. Two years later, the first, new, post-war truck was purchased – a Chevrolet Loadmaster.
Even before the war, the phenomenon of courier and scheduled services had existed - fixed routes within a region for which a transport operator needed a license. The practice was resumed after the war. But the licensing system hindered expansion; the only way to operate with more vehicles was to take over other transport companies, including their licenses. This marked the start of a period of expansion for Den Hartogh. In 1949, Den Hartogh took over Van Trigt and Van Zelst, with services operating to The Hague and Rotterdam.
Further acquisition of transport companies (Zuidam in 1959, Kempenaar and Kooimans in 1963) enabled Den Hartogh to reinforce its position in the market. Initially mainly in the western Netherlands. Expansion of the parcel delivery service meant that the rest of the country gradually became included in the operating territory.
In 1968 also Rossenaar in Purmerend (two lorries) was taken over. To keep up with the growth of Den Hartogh, a building was constructed on the Van Meerbeekstraat in Hillegom in 1948. Over time (1953 and 1957) this was regularly expanded, and in 1963 Den Hartogh built a distribution warehouse of 2000 M² on the Industriekade in Hillegom.