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1891-1926 - August Thyssen

Supremacy in the steel, iron and coal trade won August Thyssen (pronounced Tiss-en) the title "The German Carnegie". Thyssen gained hold of high-grade ore supplies in Sweden and France and built ore-skimpy Germany into a major steel power. By universal consent he was the dominating figure of the Fatherland's throbbing industrial life. No other man so thoroughly incorporates the aggressiveness and magnitude of the German business age. No one's life-story so typified the New Germany's fabulous rise to power and wealth in the interval since the Franco-Prussian War. In the twenty-five years between 1885 and 1910, to select the segment of principal growth, Germany's production of pig-iron increased from 3,688,000 to 14,794,000 tons, an advance of 301 per cent. In the same period production of coal and lignite mounted from 73,675,000 to 222,375,000 tons, an increase of 201 per cent. In the production of iron ore, and of iron and steel, Germany has come far to outstrip Great Britain, which led her by wide margins a quarter of a century ago.

On September 29, 1891 August Thyssen announces that he and his brother Joseph own all shares in the coal mine Gewerkschaft Deutscher Kaiser. On December 17, 1891 the first steel is tapped at the new Gewerkschaft Deutscher Kaiser steelworks in Hamborn near Duisburg. These two events in 1891 are later regarded as the dates on which the Thyssen Group was founded. From 1883 August Thyssen purchased share certificates in Gewerkschaft Deutscher Kaiser as the plant was (and still is) ideally located for his business plans. With its own coal mine, works dock on the River Rhine and link to the railway network, the location ensures the productivity of the operations. The main plant of Thyssen Krupp Stahl AG still produces steel at this location today.

By 1914 German mining production in general - coal, lignite, iron, potash and other salts, zinc, lead and copper - was six and one-half times its volume in 1871. In money it represented an annual value of over $500,000,000. Barring America, which is far in the van, Germany's supremacy in steel, iron and coke is unapproached. In Europe her lead is indisputable. She was behind the United Kingdom only in the production of coal.

Among those who directed this Brobdignagian development, August Thyssen of Mulheimon-Ruhr was the towering personality. In the coal and iron trade of Germany he was what Rockefeller was in oil and Carnegie in steel - the master-builder. The history of all three, who may be bracketed as the commercial geniuses of their age, was much alike. Each grew from nothing. Thyssen's career was more comparable to Rockefeller's than to Carnegie's. Like the Petroleum King, he had not gone in for peace, libraries and philanthropy like the American Thyssen, but, a hardy septuagenarian, still derived his joy in life from mining coal, puddling iron and rolling steel.

Thyssen's career was typically transatlantic in its origin and development. The Standard Oil Company was the outgrowth of an original investment of $72,500 by the firm of Rockefeller & Andrews. August Thyssen inaugurated his career about the same time, in the early sixties, with a capital of $6,000, with which he built a rolling-mill employing sixty workmen.

By 1914 he employed 50,000. His largest property, the Deutscher Kaiser Colliery at Hamborn, had a payroll of 26,000 and mined over 5,000,000 tons of coal a year His fortune was variously estimated at $50,000,000 and $100,000,000. It was probably more than the former and less than the latter. His interests long ago outgrew merely local dimensions. In addition to vast coal-mines, blast-furnaces, rollingmills, by-product factories, salt and potash mines, harbours and docks at Hamborn, Duisburg, Miilheim and other points along and contiguous to the Rhine and the Ruhr, Thyssen's influence extended around the globe. From Caen, in Normandy, he imports iron ore taken from his own mines, and from Montigny half-finished products founded and cast in his own mills. They were loaded into his own steamers from his own docks-a genuine German base on French soil. At Nikolaieff, on the Russian coast of the Black Sea, he had warehouses and docks for the storage and shipment of ore for his devouring furnaces on the far-off Rhine. In Brazil and India, the German flag flew over Thyssen wharves and harbors. His dominating ideal was to insure German industry in general, and his own properties in particular, sources of raw material supply which would render them for ever independent of foreign influence.

It is a little-known fact that August Thyssen was the father of the idea which eventuated in Germany's ill-starred Moroccan venture. Several years earlier he planned to make Sultan Abdul-Aziz a loan in exchange for a monopoly of Morocco's incalculably rich iron-ore deposits. The German Government frowned upon the enterprise, only later to threaten Europe with war in defence of mining rights mean-time secured by another group of Rhenish industrialists, the Brothers Mannesmann of Diisseldorf and Remscheid.

From America Thyssen borrowed the idea of concentrating capital and amalgamating allied industries. He founded the Rhenish-Westphalian Steel Syndicate, the Rhenish-Westphalian Coal Syndicate, the Pig-Iron Syndicate, and practically all the important "Cartels" now existing in Germany for the control of output and regulation of prices in the industries allied to the steel, iron and coal trades. He was a firm disciple of the despised Trust idea as an effective means of preventing crises caused by over-production or price cutting competitions.

The Thyssen Trust belonged to Thyssen. He was monarch of all he surveyed. A brother and an eldest son were nominal partners, but the King of Mulheim wielded a sway no American Trust magnate ever enjoyed. He was the only German industrialist who had no entangling alliances with Banks.

The German Government paid an extraordinary tribute to Thyssen by inviting him to overhaul the business end of the Admiralty at Berlin. Dockyard scandals at Kiel had revealed a woeful lack of purely commercial acumen in the department otherwise so ably administered by Admiral von Tirpitz. Conscienceless tradesmen were pulling the wool over the Navy's eyes in lamentable and costly fashion. A master of buying and selling was needed to lick things into shape. The Admiralty did the natural thing and invoked the aid of the greatest merchant-mind in the country, August Thyssen, to put the Navy on a business basis. Later, it came to light that the Vulcan Shipbuilding Company of Stettin and Hamburg, the biggest in Germany, delivered Dreadnoughts to the Admiralty in 1912 at a loss of $500,000. The company had to wipe out its entire building reserve to cover the deficit. Thyssen taught Tirpitz how to drive a bargain. August Thyssen, the founder of the dynasty, had been a major contributor to Germany's first war effort.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:06:26 ZULU