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.
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