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Sources for business history

Sources for art history: Catalogue of the pictures of Alfred de Rothschild 1901

Sources for yachting history: Plans for Nathaniel von Rothschild's yacht Veglia 1905

Sources for natural history: Walter 2nd Lord Rothschild and his zebra carriage: c.1910

Sources for global financial history: Map of lines of the Brazil Railway Company: c.1920

Sources for business history: index cards to bank files

Sources for social history: Rothschild Hospital Paris: 1920s

Sources for business history: detail of a Rothschild bond coupon

Sources for architectural history: Halton House: 1890s

Sources for the history of travel: Lionel de Rothschild's tours of Spain: 1909

Sources for local history: Tring Park: c.1900

Sources for Royal history: shooting party with Edward Prince of Wales: 1893

Sources for political history: Lionel de Rothschild: first Jewish MP: 1858

Sources for sporting history: St Amant winner of the Derby: 1904

Sources for local history: gardeners at Aston Clinton: 1899

Sources for Rothschild family history: Lionel de Rothschild's yacht Rhodora: 1927

Sources for London history: entrance to New Court: 1965

Sources for design history: plans for Lionel de Rothschild's Rolls-Royce: 1930

Sources for business history: Rothschild gold bars produced by the Royal Mint Refinery: 1930s

Sources for business history: letters of August Belmont Rothschild Agent in New York: 1860s

Acquisition of the Witkowitz Ironworks, 1842

The collections of The Rothschild Archive London contain over two million pieces of paper, volumes, files, photographs, artefacts and art works. Archivist's Choice is a series a short articles each highlighting a treasure from the Archive collection, or celebrating an anniversary or special event. Browse through our library of Archivist's Choice articles to discover some of the fascinating stories behind our collections.

On 22nd August 1842, Letters of the Court Chancellery concerning permission of the Austrian Emperor for S M Rothschild to acquire mine workings, mine shafts and other interests near Witkowitz and on estates in Moravia were issued to Salomon von Rothschild.

Strategically located in the middle of the Ostravian coal and iron fields, the Witkowitz (Vítkovice) works in the present-day Czech Republic was, in the early 19th century, the Austrian Empire's major centre for the production of iron and later steel. It was an important part of the Austrian banking empire established by Salomon Mayer von Rothschild (1774-1855) from the early 1820s.

The Witkowitz works

The Witkowitz works can trace its origins back to 1828, when works for puddling of pig iron from were established in Vítkovice. The idea of building a new iron works near the Silesian Ostrava coal mines was developed by Franz Xaver Riepl, a professor at the Vienna Polytechnic. The first iron works, began production in September 1830, under the ownership of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Olomouc.

S M von Rothschild: railway pioneers

It was Salomon's involvement with Austrian railways that first led the family into an interest in iron and steel production, and in 1831 Salomon made his first, unsuccessful, bid for the Witkowitz  ironworks. Between 1835 and 1843 the Witkowitzer Gewerkschaft, a business association of Viennese bankers led by Salomon ran the works on behalf of the Olomouc Archdiocese, and in 1836, the first coke blast furnace in the Habsburg Empire was installed. 

'Rothschilds Ironworks': acquisition and expansion

Salomon, recognising the advantage of being able to provide his own materials for the developing European rail networks, (not least those lines built by the Rothschilds in the Austro-Hungarian empire, Italy, France, Spain and Russia) finally acquired Witkowitz in 1842, for half a million gulden, assuming full control in 1843. Salomon founded the United Coal Mines of Vítkovice and Austro-Hungarian Blast Furnace Company. The purchase was spectacularly successful. Under Salomon's direction, the works were expanded. Workshops for repairing machines, new engineering works, and bridge construction and boiler construction departments were created, where steam engines, mining equipment, equipment for iron, steel and rolling mills, girders, railway wheels and switches were manufactured. A factory hall ('The Anselm Foundry') named after Salomon's son Anselm (1803-1874) was constructed. Salomon built a grand château near the works which became accommodation for the directors in 1847. Vítkovice, once a village, grew into an industrial city, and numerous dwellings and social facilities were built. In 1873, the Viennese Rothschild bank set up the Vítkovice Mines, Steel and Ironworks Corporation, together with the brothers David and Wilhelm Gutmann. By 1914, the Vítkovice Ironworks was one of the top producers in Europe.

The twentieth century

During the First World War, production turned towards munition. In 1918, following the collapse of the Habsburg Empire, the Republic of Czechoslovakia was created, and despite a decline in demand, the works produced steel arches for grand projects such as the combined multi-storey bridge across the Dnieper river in Zaporizhia (Ukraine). In 1936, the Gutmann brothers relinquished their stake in the works, and later that year, preparing for the eventuality of war, the Austrian Rothschild family transferred their Witkowitz share capital in trust to the Alliance Assurance Company in London, a move which served only to delay the seizure of the works by the Nazis, who exploited the works as a munitions factory. After the war the new Czechoslovak Government nationalised the nation's major industries.  Vítkovice Ironworks State Property was established on 1st January 1946. Compensation for former Vitkovice Shareholders was negotiated in the early 1950s.

Vítkovice today

In 2008, the north Moravian city of Ostrava, once known as the steel heart of Czechoslovakia, became the first Czech site to be included on an EU list of European Culture Heritage. Today, the Vítkovice Machinery Group, is one of the most important Czech engineering groups, incorporating over thirty companies, and the company thrives, nearly 200 years after its foundation. 

RAL 'Moscow Papers' 637/1/253 

Papers concerning the acquisition of the Witkowitz Ironworks 1842

Papers concerning the acquisition of the Witkowitz Ironworks 1842

View of the Witkowitz Ironworks

View of the Witkowitz Ironworks