Brothers Philips and Van Dooren brought mobility to the region

As many entrepreneurs know: Brainport and the Eindhoven region are inspiring. They stimulate the imagination and open up fantastic opportunities. Where does this fertile Eindhoven soil actually come from? In the upcoming issues, we will be delving into the history of the region. We’ll take a look at the ‘original’ entrepreneurs of bygone days. How did they do it, and what can we entrepreneurs learn from them now, an era later?

Text: Ronald Frencken
Image: DAF museum and Koninklijke Philips/Philips company archives/Meave Aerospace

Brainport region has all the ingredients for a great start. But even in ‘pre-brainport’ times, the region already showed promise. Gerard, Anton, Hub and Wim, inspirational forces behind the two Eindhoven primal start-ups Philips and DAF, saw that potential. Welschap also contributed to the region’s development by enabling a new dimension in mobility: air transport.

Exactly when the seeds of aviation were first sown in the region is unknown. Was it in 1905 when a hot air balloon was first launched on the Vestdijk in Eindhoven at Apollo’s Lust, a club frequented by a good many entrepreneurs? Perhaps it was in 1919 when Jos van der Meulen, descendant of another famous Eindhoven entrepreneurial family, set his sights on a flight service near Mierlo? Or was it during the ELTA, the first air transport exhibition in Amsterdam in 1919, where Anton Philips, advocate of a regional airport near Eindhoven, was forging his plans together with aviation pioneer Albert Plesman.

However enterprising and foresighted, the Philips and Van Doorne families could never have imagined at the beginning of the 20thcentury that ‘their’ Gerard and Anton (Philips), or Hub and Wim (Van Doorne) would be laying the foundations for the Brainport region. The similarities between them are quite remarkable.

Anton and Gerard Philips

In the year 1891, Gerard Philips from Eindhoven decided to focus on the technology of using electricity to generate light in light bulbs. Not long after, the scientist was joined by his flamboyant brother Anton. That combination of characters helped them turn the humble light bulb into a commercial success.

Gerard and Anton got on well together. Their involvement with the staff and commitment to them undeniably contributed to the company’s success.

Hub and Wim van Doorne

At the beginning of Tongelresestraat, near the Eindhoven Canal, Hub van Doorne started a machine and construction company in 1928. A few years later, his brother Wim joined the business. Van Doorne’s Aanhangwagenfabriek (trailer factory) began manufacturing trucks from 1932, and later also passenger cars.

The two brothers brought out the best in each other and always felt a closeness towards the staff and their families.

‘Two families, lots of parallels.’

Philips lights the way for mobility

Eindhoven set its sights on aviation in the early 1920s. “In the rural landscape of Schiphol, just outside Amsterdam, where Fokker was already doing pioneering work, a need was arising for domestic air travel,” Gijs Vrenken explains. “Albert Plesman and Anton Philips were already in close contact at the time. Together they sparked the interest of the municipal decision-makers.”

In early 1922, the Eindhoven city council invited KLM chief Albert Plesman to come and inspect suitable locations for an airport. It would be my pleasure, he had replied in his letter to the municipality, albeit on the condition that they would send someone to the railway station, “either with an ordinary bicycle, a motorcycle sidecar or an automobile”, in view of the sites under consideration being so scattered. After his visit, he found the site near the Strijp mining area, also known as Welschap, to be the most suitable.

Flying, yes. But paying, no

The municipality of Eindhoven has an important role as facilitator and driver in the development of Brainport. How different it was in the pioneering years. “Sure, the city council wanted an airport in the 1920s,” says Sergio Derks, “but they preferred to pass on the costs, which they couldn’t. For instance, the newly founded I.L.V.O., the International Air Transport Company, which would operate flight services. A proposal by the municipality to charge all operating costs of the airport to Philips also failed. Anton didn’t need the airport that badly and at such high costs.

Providing employment

The economic crisis of the 1930s was the deciding factor. Gijs: “The city council had come to the conclusion that the country’s seventh city could no longer do without an airport. A happy circumstance was that the government launched job-creation projects to combat unemployment. The construction of Welschap airport was one such project.” It opened in 1932, measured 63 hectares and cost 160,500 Dutch guilders. And, as was often heard back in the day, it was one of the most well-lit airports.

Power plug

“Before the war, Philips had already grown into an international company with several foreign subsidiaries,” says Sergio. “But the aeroplane was not yet a widely used means of transport. Anton and other executives mainly travelled by train and car.” That changed after World War II.  Philips was making just about everything that could be plugged in. Prosperity was increasing and the company was spreading its wings to all corners of the globe. This reinforced the need for its own flight service.

Philips Vliegdienst

Frits Philips, Anton’s son, had a keen interest in flying from a very young age. This passion manifested itself in, among other things, the Noord-Brabantsche Aero Club that Frits Philips co-founded in 1932 and where he was a sports pilot himself. Sergio: “Frits Philips became a major advocate for setting up the company’s own flight service. He saw transport by air as the ideal way to bring senior management to their business destinations quickly and thus win contracts. In 1955, the Philips Vliegdienst began its flight service at Welschap, where it had its own hangar.

‘Philips was involved at key moments in getting the region ready for civil aviation’

Co-pilot Frits

Philips Vliegdienst had eight aircraft at one point: single- and twin-engine propeller aircraft, jet aircraft and a helicopter. There were 70 ground staff, cabin crew and pilots to keep the fleet in the air. Frits had a pilot’s licence to fly twin-engine commercial aeroplanes and was regularly in the cockpit as co-pilot. In the 1990s, the flight service quietly disappeared from the radar. It is said that it became too expensive, too inefficient in a time when scheduled services were gaining in popularity and airports were easier to reach.

Cow on the runway!

Flying was a very primitive affair in the 1920s. It was basically run from a field that was flat enough for planes to land on or take off from. The runway was marked out so the pilot could get his bearings. And it usually had a hangar of sorts, as well. Aviation rules prescribed that ‘whenever a flying machine departs or approaches for landing, the manager must ensure that all livestock are driven to behind the fences.’


They were spotted in abundance along Spottersweg in Eindhoven: Philips planes with the distinctive PH country code – which, incidentally, was in no way a reference to Philips. A three-letter combination such as LPS or IPS usually followed the code. If you glanced quickly, it seemed to say ‘Philips’. Guerrilla marketing avant la lettre, you might say.

Many a spotter feasted their eyes on the Philips fleet. Besides Cessnas, there was the more serious stuff as well: Beechcrafts, De Havillands and the luxurious Dassault Mystère-Falcon business jet. Travelling must have given the Philips managers a jet set-like feeling in those days.


Looking back, you can see that the Philips Vliegdienst was the prelude to the civil air traffic as we know it today at Eindhoven Airport. Gijs: “Philips was involved at key moments in getting the region ready for civil aviation. First during the early pioneering years, and later in the years after the war from the moment that non-military people were allowed to use the airfield again. Philips established the connection, always with the idea of making the region accessible by air.”

DAF manufactures mobility

 When Van Doorne’s Machinefabriek en Constructiewerkplaats was founded in 1928, it took its first steps towards the DAF brand in later years. Hub was the technical brain, Wim looked after the finances and orders. Trucks and passenger cars were still only a dream; that intention took time to mature.

“Hub’s technical gift already emerged at a young age in the late 1920s,” says Ton Kropff. “For example when he was able to fix the engine of Mr Huenges’ Stearns-Knight from Brewery De Valk, which was constantly misfiring. It earned him a 10,000 guilder loan from the beer boss to invest in the construction workshop.”

From Trailers to Cars

Van Doorne’s machine factory and construction workshop ran like clockwork, Ad can tell us. “In just a few years, he had paid back the loan in full and the brothers employed 52 people. This is also around the time when the idiom ‘difficult is done at once; the impossible takes a little longer’ came about. The focus gradually shifted towards trailers and semi-trailers, and in 1932 the name DAF appeared: van Doorne’s Aanhangwagen Fabriek. Even then, the brothers were probably toying with the thought of one day building cars; from ‘Trailer’ to ‘Car’ was only a small step!”


When the first truck drove out of the factory in 1948, the focus had definitely shifted to trucks. “And yet, entrepreneur Hub always remained the enthusiastic technical hobbyist who looked for ways to make life easier,” says Ton, “after which his brother Wim would sometimes have to bring him back down to earth. But some inventions actually brought real progress. Like the Variomatic, the stepless automatic transmission, the ‘Clever Gearstick’ that is still popular as CVT. DAF was also the inventor of the lightweight chassis, which was welded together instead of riveted with bolts.”

Ingenious simplicity

DAF always had the image of a reliable family car. Ad: “They presented fully fledged modern cars with a fully automatic transmission, an air-cooled engine and plenty of luggage space. However – and this was particularly true for the Netherlands – people didn’t always see the ingenious simplicity of the cars. It is evident today that most DAFs were way ahead of their time. Sales figures were more than satisfactory until the oil crisis in 1973. But what you see now is also what you saw then: especially in Europe, a manufacturer of small cars has hardly any chance of survival.”

Project Raincoat

Hub foresaw a time when everyone would want to get from place to place comfortably and dry. That’s why he designed the ‘Driving Raincoat’ during the war years. It was a small one-seater car that, at just 80 centimetres wide, would fit through the front door and was supposed to cost a mere 400 guilders. The little car would never make it to the production line. The prototype was later used by the Deurne amateur circus ‘t Hoefke, and is now proudly on display at the DAF Museum.

DAF 600 Variomatic

In order to move ahead, the enterprising brothers had acquired a nose for finding specialists in engine technology, propulsion, aerodynamics and design. They were eagerly brought on board. Ton: ‘They managed to develop and build the first DAF passenger car, the DAF 600 Variomatic, in four years. 4,000 cars were pre-sold at the RAI automotive trade fair, while the production line at Geldropseweg still had to be set up.’

VIPRE: personnel from far and wide

 Prosperity increased in the decades following World War II. This was also felt at Philips and DAF, where staff shortages increased. Philips found the solution in VIPRE, the Transport for Industrial Personnel in the Eindhoven Region. Later, DAF also participated in the initiative.

“A new phenomenon appeared on our rural roads: dozens of DAF trucks towing a semi-trailer resembling a bus – with windows and benches – and later normal buses as well,” Sergio outlines. “Their purpose was to collect personnel from far and wide, even from Belgium. They were picked up in the morning and dropped off at home again after work. And in the time that the semi-trailer for passenger transport was uncoupled, the driver could use the truck for goods transport.”

Spreading production locations

VIPRE transport was successful but cost handsomely, Sergio explains. “Imagine immense car parks full of VIPRE buses in Eindhoven to meet the huge need for labour,” he says. Philips would later spread its production facilities throughout the Netherlands. This meant that the work could be brought closer to the employees and employment and prosperity was distributed more evenly. For example in Drachten, where there is still a Philips factory today.”


Ton doesn’t believe the Philips and Van Doorne brothers had a lot of contact on a personal level. “They did in a business sense, though. The Van Doorne’s made bicycle racks, warehouse cabinets and shelving for Philips. And they later also built trailers for Philips and, even later, DAF supplied trucks. An important collaboration was the VIPRE bus transport. Both parties had an interest in that.”

In-company schools

One thing that Gerard and Anton Philips had in common with Hub and Wim van Doorne was their social character. Like Philips, DAF did a lot for the staff. “During festive events for the employees and their families, for instance, the factory was closed. The company had an active staff association and even its own sports club for staff. Hardly a day went by that Wim and Hub weren’t seen on the production floor: having a chat, handing out smokes. It was their way of keeping the staff loyal. And children of Philips personnel went to the Philips Company School, those of DAF went to the DAF Company School.”

Pioneering in 2022

 Philips, DAF and Welschap played a major role in Eindhoven’s development through their entrepreneurial spirit. It offered ‘the backward South’, as Schiphol regarded the region, enormous opportunities. You can’t compare the modern-day Philips and DAF with the companies of yesteryear. Both are fully engaged in future-oriented, sustainable developments.

“The same is actually true of Eindhoven Airport, formerly Welschap, a public organisation with a solid sustainability task,” says Gijs. “The focus is on reducing CO2 emissions. There are opportunities in that area by using sustainable fuels. But we’re also looking at our role to help make electric flying a reality. Brainport has an important task here. We apply the knowledge and experience from the automotive directly to aviation.”

Mobility menu

Gijs: “The development of electric flight brings new opportunities to the region’s accessibility. Within the next few years, people can travel on short business flights to cities like London, Paris, Hamburg. They are a wonderful addition on the already interesting mobility menu. Electric flying could become an excellent alternative to travelling by train, another more sustainable reason to leave the car at home.”

These are positive developments that make you realise that a lot has changed, but not everything. We are still pioneering, in the spirit of Albert Plesman and Anton Philips who cleared the path in this region for a new dimension in mobility.

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