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Witkowitz Mines and Iron Works

The "K.A Witkowitzer Bergbau und Eisenhütten Gewerkschaft" (the Witkowitz Mines and Iron Works] of Witkowitz [Vitkovitz / Vitkovice], establihed in 1828, was the only Austro-Hungarian naval armor producer through the end of the Great War. The chief coal mines and iron-works at Witkowitz, in Moravia were owned by the Austrian Rothschilds in partnership with the brothers Wilhelm and David von Gutmann. The complex consisted of "das Eisenwerk" (the iron works), "die Eisensteinbergbau" (the foundry) and "die Steinkohlengruben" (the coal mines).

Witkowitz was the oldest and most important coal and steel companies in the former Danube monarchy. Even before the end of the 19th Century, the Witkowitz Mines and Iron Works at its coal mining and iron works employed over 10,000 people. Moravia (Ger., Mdhren; Czech, Morava), was a margraviate and crowniand of Austria, bounded E. by Hungary, S. by Lower Austria, W. by Bohemia and N. by Prussian and Austrian Silesia. Area, 8583 sq. m. Physically Moravia may be described as a mountainous plateau sloping from north to south, just in the opposite direction of the adjoining Bohemia plateau, which, descends from south to north, and bordered on three sides by mountain ranges.

The mineral wealth of Moravia, consisting chiefly of coal and iron, is very considerable. Coals were extracted at Neudorf, Leiitz, Ratilkowitz and lignite at Rossitz, Oslavan and Misch-Ostrau. Iron-ore was found at Zoptau, Blansko, Adamsthal, Witkowitz, Rossitz and Stefarfau. The chief iron-foundries were to be found at Witkowitz, Stefanau~Zoptau and Rossitz.

Rudolf's Iron Works, 1828 - 1843

A plan to build an iron-works centre near the coking coal at the Ostrava district was prepared by a Scottish engineer John Baildon in 1810. In the mid 1820's, the Olomouc archdiocese decided to modernize and expand its iron works in Frýdlant. A part of the reconstruction project was prepared by Frantisek Xavier Riedl, a professor of the Polytechnic School in Vienna, and involved in the construction of a puddling works with a rolling mill, where pig iron would be refined with new technology to produced rails for the construction of a north-south railway that would come to be known as the Northern Ferdinand Railway.

The puddling works in Vítkovice were established in December 1828 by the Olomouc archbishop, Archduke Rudolf Jan. The first puddling furnace in the Austrian monarchy was placed in the Rudolf's Iron Works, as the iron and steel works was called, in September 1830. From 1835-1843 the iron and steel works were leased to the Viennese bankers, as Vítkovice Mining. This leasehold company continued building the iron and steel works ac-cording to Riepl's project, and put the blast furnace facilities, the rails rolling mill and other workshops into operation.

In Possession of the Rothschilds, 1843 - 1873

In 1843, Salomon Mayer Rothschild became the owner of the iron and steel works in Vítkovice. At that time, the Vítkovice Plant consisted of a blast furnace with a foundry, pud-dling shop and rolling mill, forging shop, boiler plant, a drilling shop and a lathe workshop with a machine shop, as well as a plant for making bricks.

The Vítkovice Iron and Steel Works were built vertically from the very beginning - along with the establishment of the metallurgical plant and mechanical workshops, bituminous coal and ore mines were exploited, as were limestone and other raw materials necessary for manufacture.

As manager of a lime-works the attention Wilhelm von Gutmann was directed to the coal-deposits of Silesia, and he planned for their development. In 1853 he and his brother David established the firm which, during the war of 1859-60, despite the difficulties then surrounding business ventures, supplied coal for all the railroads, for all the great factories throughout the empire, and for the cities of Vienna, Budapest, and Brünn. Gutmann Bros. leased some coal-mines from the Rothschilds in 1865, and purchased outright other valuable carboniferous properties in Silesia, Galicia, and Hungary. The close connection between coal and the production of iron easily led the Gutmanns to combine their interests with the Witkowitz iron-works, which they afterward owned conjointly with the Rothschilds and the counts Larisch and Andrassy. At first, the Rothschilds and the brothers David and Wilhelm Gutmann were partners in mining companies, later in the construction of the Sophy's Iron Works.

The company of the United Coal Mines of Vítkovice and Austro-Hungarian Blast Furnace Company that built the Zofínská Hut (Metallurgic Plant), were established. By the year 1865 the Bessemer process was firmly established on the Continent. Krupp, of Essen, had installed a plant; the Bochum Works had four 3-ton converters; the Hoerde Company, near Dortmund, had two converters; a steel works in Dusseldorf was completed with two converters; the Neuberg Works, in Styria, works at Grasse and at Witkowitz, all made Bessemer steel; as also did many others.

Vítkovice Coal and Ore Mining (VHHT) 1873 - 1918

In 1873, the Rothschilds and the brothers David and Wilhelm Gutmann established Vítkovice Coal and Ore Mining. At this point, Vítkovice consisted of the Iron and Steel Works, the Louis, Hlubina, Teresie, Anselm, Oskar and Bettina bituminous coal mines and the Karolina and Vítkovice coking plants. In 1876, Paul Kupelwieser was appointed as general director for the next seventeen years. He played an important role in huge technical progress, enormous grow of production and timeless social program development. The first Tube Rolling Mill in Austria-Hungary Monarchy was commissioned in 1883. After the start of steel production in Talbot furnaces, the Vítkovice Iron Works took the lead among the European Iron Works.

The iron and steel works were developed in the last quarter of the 19th century thanks to the central Director, Paul Kupelwieser who engineered a principal reorganization. In 1883, he built the first tube rolling mill in Austria and implemented the production of side products in the coke and iron producing process. In 1887, a new plant for cast steel was built and arms production was expanded.

The working-class movement entered a new phase in the latter half of the 1870s. The stand taken by the proletariat and its revolutionary militant potential were becoming an important factor of public life. "... The working-class movement has forced itself more and more into the foreground of every day politics," Engels wrote in 1878. The strike movement, which assumed colossal proportions and strength, was an indicator of the changes that were taking place. A feature distinguishing many of the strikes at the close of the1870s and in the 1880s was their dimension and duration. Violence accompanied the strike struggle in the Czech lands of Austria, where the strikes were in most cases started by miners. Interference by troops and police compelled them to end a strike that commenced in early 1882.

In April 1890 the center of interest as regards the impending May Day troubles shifted from Paris to Vienna. Accounts portrayed an unprecedented condition of affairs throughout large portions of the loosely-connected Austrian Empire. In the Reichsrath Dr. Plener, the leader of the German Opposition, traced a sinister parallel between events and the initial stages of the French Revolution. This by no means exaggerated the situation in the mining and industrial districts of Bohemia and Silesia At one place in the latter province, the center of a section producing half of the total output of coal in the empire, there were 40,000 strikers encamped in an open stretch of fields flanked by thick woods, whence raiding parties went out in force to pillage the surrounding country, bringing in cattle and supplies, quite often after bloody encounters with the military. The whole district was being filled with troops to protect the mines and factories, and there had been fatal collisions in half a dozen different villages. One of the most painful phases of this outbreak of disorder was that the rabble of Czechs, Poles, and Socialist refugees from Germany who were leading it were striving hard to turn it into an anti-Jewish crusade. Many mill and mine owners in this locality were Jews, the biggest iron and steel works at Witkowitz being the property of the Rothschilds, which made it easy to mix up the Judenhetze vith the strikes. One Galician town which was almost wholly inhabited by Jews, was destroyed by fire, several hundred Jewish families camping in the fields in utter destitution. Throughout these provinces there was scarcely a town where, during the last fortnight of April, Jewish shops had not been broken open and looted, and on May Day there threatened to be a universal attack made on the Hebrew.

Even greater tensions were generated by the events in the industrial region of Witkowitz and Moravska Ostrava in April 1892, when miners and metalworkers demanded a shorter working day and permission to mark May Day. Troops were called, and in the clashes with them nine workers were killed and many wounded. The strike spilled over into the Plzen mining region, where troops fired on strikers, killing 13 and seriously wounding three But even after these atrocities the strike,in which 30,000 workers were involved, continued and was ended only after the owners 213 promised to meet the workers' demands (this promise was never fulfilled).

The Sophy Iron works was bought by Vítkovice Coal and Ore Mining in 1889. In 1897, the first ship shafts were made in the cast steel foundry, and the manufacture of steel cylinders dates back to 1906.

From the mid 1890's, the Vítkovice Iron and Steel Works, joint-stock company, established iron ore mining companies in Sweden and Slovakia. In December 1897 the Witkowitz Iron and Steel Works purchased large iron mines in the Swedish-Lapland provinces. The ore was to be brought to Austria and thence on the River Oder as far as thence by raft, would come to the works cheaper than Styrian ore, although the latter has to travel less than 200 miles and the former about 2,500 miles. The Witkowitz works were using some 400,000 tons of iron ore, of which from 30,000 to 40,0O0 tons were already being imported from Sweden.

The Vítkovice Iron and Steel Works participated actively in the foundation of the first production and trade corporations in the iron industry. They assured sales of their products not only through cartel shops, but they gradually built up their own network of sales offices and agencies throughout the monarchy and abroad.

At that time, independent workshops were separated from mechanical workshops: the bridge building works, a boiler shop and an engineering plant were also established. Commencement of operation in the new steel works and rolling mill built in Ostrava - Hulváky from 1909-1912 put the Vítkovice Iron and Steel works among the top European iron companies.

VHHT from 1918 - 1945

After the establishment of the Czechoslovak Republic in 1918, Vítkovice Iron and Steel Works continued to be in the possession of its existing owners. In 1919, a benzol plant was put into operation, and one year later a cold rolling mill. Vítkovice's central sales office managed the sale of turnouts, cast iron castings and forgings. The boiler shop, bridge building works, engineering plant and fire-brick factory sold their products directly to their customers.

The production program was broadened in the engineering plant with equipment for deep wells, cranes, equipment for rolling mills, coking plants and mines, cylinders for paper mills, gearboxes and mining tools. The boiler shop produced gas holders, equipment for coke cooling with dry cooling towers, high pressure Löffler boilers and boiler units for hydroelectric stations. The bridge building works realized deliveries for high-rise constructions, bridges (in 1932, the largest European bridge of that time was made, two stories tall over the Old Dnepr near Kiev, Ukraine), an exhibition hall for the World Exhibition in Paris, as well as a railway station hall in Teheran.

Between the two world wars, the Vítkovice Iron and Steel Works owned a number of affiliated companies engaged in coal and ore mining and chemical production, transportation and the like. It had investments in dozens of other companies. Loffler´s boilers were produced under a licence for domestic and foreign heat power stations. Production of pneumatic machines and tools initiated. The greatest forging press in Czechoslovakia was built in the cast iron works, having the working pressure of 7200 tons, designed for the production of marine shafts, high-pressure boiler drums or seamless barrels, namely for export.

In 1937, the securities representing the ownership of the Vítkovice Mining and Iron Corporation were transferred under the administration of the Alliance Assurance Co., Ltd., a London insurance company.

Witkowitz was only 25 miles from the pre 1938 German/Czeck border. Most of the German leaders believed that the Poles had claimed too much German ethnic territory in the vicinity of Teschen. Marshal Göring had advised State Secretary Weizsäcker that the territory beyond Teschen, along the southeastern German Silesian frontier, should not go to Poland unless Poland agreed to support the return of Danzig to Germany. He favored acquiring the territory for Germany or retaining it for Czecho-Slovakia, if the Poles refused. The German Foreign Office experts were inclined to agree with Göring and it was decided to make an effort to keep the Poles out of the industrial center of Witkowitz.

While the Nazi officials were threatening and intimidating the representatives of the Czech government, the Wehrmacht had in some areas already crossed the Czech border. The Czech industrial centres of Maehrisch-Ostrau and Witkowitz, close to the Silesian and Polish borders, were occupied by German troops and SS units during the early evening of 14 March 1939. At dawn on 15 March German troops poured into Czechoslovakia from all sides.

The owner of this company was the Viennese banker Baron Louis Nathaniel Rothschild (1882-1955). After the annexation of Austrian, he received a visit: The Nazis wanted Witkowitzer to sell his works. Although the Nazis held him for a year in detention, where he remained with the explanation that he could not sell, it must be reviewed by London's Rothschild family branch - Alliance Assurance Co., Ltd., a London insurance company. At the end the Germans paid the price demanded: 2 million pounds in cash and the release of Louis Nathaniel Rothschild. When it was time for him to be released from prison, he asked for the time. "A little after 20 clock, Mr Baron." And he replied: "So! That's too late to disturb my friends. I go tomorrow. Good night, gentlemen."

After the end of the Second World War, the Baron Witkowitz did not return. The communists were in property matters rather less flexible than the Nazis.

The Vítkovice Iron and Steel Works of Klement Gottwald 1945 - 1970

After the war, the state took over the iron and steel works, and in December 1945, it was officially nationalized as Vítkovice Coal and Ore Mining. As of 1. 1. 1946, the company was renamed Vítkovické zelezárny (Vitkovice Iron and Steel Works). The greatest steel manufacturer in Czechoslovakia, production was focused on the recovery of national economy destroyed by the War. Between 1947-1960 more confiscated properties and nationalized companies joined the Vitkovice plant. The Svinov Mannesmann Tube Plant, the Kotouc limestone quarry in Stramberk, and the Lískovec bridge building works were consolidated. At the same time, Nová hut in Kuncice and Hutní montáze were spun off in 1952 and 1963 respectively.

In the middle of the 1950's, reconstruction and modernization of the company began. First and foremost, the steelmaking furnaces were remodeled, and repairs were made on all of the trains in the rolling mill. A new oxygen plant was built, and conveyor belts were laid to the blast furnaces. In the 1960's, an extensive investment construction was realized. Among the biggest investment projects were the erection of blast furnace no. VI, and the building of a large-area ore homogenizing unit. The rolling mill and steel plant were also reconstructed, and new halls were built for heavy machinery.

A new stage of the Iron Works investment construction achieved the amount of CZK 4.5 billion during 1960s. In the 1960's, a new agriculture program led to the production of hay towers and grain silos, tanks for liquid fertilizers, storage tanks for loose materials, water reservoirs and plough cutting edges. The production of forage tower silos and tanks from enameled sheet metal was started. The manufacture of HYDROVIT sewage treatment plants was implemented. A Gold Medal was granted to the HYDROVIT P food wastewater treatment plant at the International Mechanical Engineering Fair in Brno. The following was produced: Zdákovský bridge, Jested TV Tower, Quarto 3600 sheet for the Azovstal Plant at Mariupol (Ukraine), TC-3 - Technological complex for the Grand Open Pit of Maxim Gorkij II at Bílina.

Development of the Company from 1970-1989

From the end of the 1960's, extensive investments in metallurgical and machinery plants were carried out. In 1973, operation of central slag granulation in plant 1 began, and in 1976 a blast furnace with bell-less top control was built. In 1972, the Old steel plant got a new vacuum degassing station, and in 1976, induction stirring in 30 ton electric furnaces was implemented. After the start of operation of the thick plate rolling mill, four-high rolling mill 3.5 in 1971, a second stage of construction was carried out. An OXYVIT oxygen converter with bottom blast was built in steel plant I. In the Old steel plant, a complex for the produc-tion of Nuclear Power Plant components was completed. A new metal spraying workshop in plant 6 was put into operation in 1977.

From the middle of the 1970's, the production basis for Nuclear Power Engineering components was built. At the same time, investments were made for the production of large-sized coke-oven batteries, large-sized mining machines and unique investment units. Large investment units were manufactured for export, including the Blast furnace in Eisenhütten-stadt and tubes extrusion plant in Riese, Germany, the rolling mill in Zawiercie, Poland and a sintering plant in Jugoslavia. A TSP 2500 hot-rolled wide band mill in Novolipenck was a unique delivery. 44 % of the volume of engineering exports consisted of piece supplies. The development of the agricultural and ecological program begun in the middle of the 1960's continued.

In 1972, for the first time, the charge of blast furnace no. IV was controlled by computer, and in 1974, the operation of a new four-high mill 3.5. In 1978, a large-capacity computer system, known as ICL 2960, was put into operation. Till the middle of the eighties, the project of integrated all-company control and information system on the basis of optimal inte-gration - automated control system was running.

In 1979, the Vítkovické Iron and Steel Works became a branch enterprise called VÍTKOVICE - Zelezárny a strojírny Klementa Gottwalda to which six companies with re-lated production programs were affiliated. From 1981 to the middle of 1989 VÍTKOVICE - ZSKG was the biggest company within the VÍTKOVICE syndicate. In the 1980s, the OXYVIT oxygen converter was commissioned.

Company Reorganization and Restructuring from 1990 - 2003

The fall of communism in 1989 led to the break-up of the syndicate and the establishment of a new state enterprise called simply VÍTKOVICE. ; a dramatic period of organizational and personal changes came into effect. In the middle of 1990, a company business plan was prepared to help wean the company from its barter-based markets to meet the challenges of the real market economy.

The Company organization changed continually after its establishment as a joint-stock company in February 1992. Activities not directly associated with production were split-off from the company. Business units and cost centers became independently affiliated companies. A few of them passed to new owners. The company also changed its production program.

The blast furnaces operation was stopped (last heat on Sept. 27 1998). The foundation of the affiliated company VÍTKOVICE - Strojírenství, a.s. at the end of 2002 completed the process of transformation of the VÍTKOVICE joint-stock company to a holding company. On June 1st, 2005 the company changed its name to VÍTKOVICE HEAVY MACHINERY a.s.




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