In combination with its forward-looking decision of declaring itself to be "fundamentally in agreement with the organisation of a Swiss sample fair", the Basel-Stadt cantonal government also appointed a "spiritus rector” for the new sample fair in 1916. He was Jules de Praetere. The first director (and executive manager) of our company was a Belgian artist, an innovative thinker and a skilful organiser all in one. Before coming to Basel, he had worked as a lecturer in the art colleges in Krefeld and Düsseldorf (Germany) and in 1905, at the age of only 26, he had been placed in charge of reorganising the Trade School (Gewerbeschule) and the Museum of Arts and Crafts (Kunstgewerbemuseum) in Zurich.
In 1914, the Basel-Stadt cantonal government called de Praetere to the banks of the Rhine to be director of the trade school and the museum of arts and crafts in Basel. His remit was to breathe new artistic life into the two institutions. However, the innovative thinker wanted to make use of the experience he had accumulated in the organisation and staging of commercial exhibitions in Basel too. His idea was to create a trade fair, in Basel. He cherished a vision of a "product sample market" that would take place every year along the lines of the Leipzig fair, and it was not long until he had built up massive support for the idea in the political circles of Basel.
So when the first Sample Fair saw the light of day in Basel in 1917 it was a completely novel (commercial) platform, which had drawn on the universal and national exhibitions, the fair already established in Leipzig and various sample fairs in France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Instead of making direct, on-the-spot purchases, customers at such fairs used to place orders on the basis of the samples exhibited. That greatly simplified life for the exhibitors in planning their production and the transport and distribution of products. The main aim of the sample fair was to act as an intermediary between producers and traders. By the way, the organising committee imposed a rule that the exhibitors had to present their products as originals, samples, models or photographs.
Jules de Praetere remained in charge of the Swiss Sample Fair until summer 1917, when he resigned, because he wanted to dedicate more time to his artistic projects once again. He was succeeded by Wilhelm Meile (1886-1973), who had a doctorate in macroeconomics.
Photo: Staatsarchiv Basel Stadt/Privatarchiv MCH Group