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Friday, September 5, 2014


A Visit to the Villa Hügel in Essen, on April 10, 2014

 The Villa Hügel is situated a few miles south of the city of Essen, on the banks of the River Ruhr.  It is now the rather mute symbol, as it once was the home, of the Krupp family.  A visitor can tour the house and the gardens for a fee. The house is empty, but for administrative offices that are hidden in the background. However the Krupp library and large portraits of the family adorn the walls.  At the time I visited Villa Hügel, there was an exhibit of the paintings of Heinrich Kley (see below), which depict the enormity of the Krupp steelworks and factories, and the life of the workers that operated them.

Heinrich Kley, Im Martinwerk um 1906

From Goethe's Faust II, at the Klassisches Walpurgisnacht of Act 2:

The Pygmy-Elders

Hurry: make space:
A convenient place!
Quickly, to work!
Strength, never shirk!
While we’re in peace,                                                                             7630
Our smithy increase,
To furnish the horde
With armor and sword.
All you ant-forms,
Moving in swarms,                                                                                7635
Bring us the ore!
And all you Dactyls,
So many, so little,
You are commanded
To bring us the wood!                                                                           7640
Heap it up higher,
Secretive fire,
Fetch coals as you should.

(Faust II: On the Upper Peneus)


Eilet, bequemen
Sitz einzunehmen!
Eilig zum Werke!
Schnelle für Stärke!
Noch ist es Friede;
Baut euch die Schmiede,
Harnisch und Waffen
Dem Heer zu schaffen.
Ihr Imsen alle,
Rührige im Schwalle,
Schafft uns Metalle!
Und ihr Daktyle,
Kleinste, so viele,
Euch sei befohlen,
Hölzer zu holen!
Schlichtet zusammen
Heimliche Flammen,
Schaffet uns Kohlen.

(Faust II: Am Oberen Peneios)

 The Krupp Family and the Founding of the Iron Works in Essen


 Wagner's Mime (Illustration by Arthur Rackham)

The hammer of the smithy had been heard in the woods around modern Essen since the days of mythology. Metal mining and smelting followed upon the mining of coal, which was abundant in the Rhineland, and close to the surface.  Wagner’s “Mime” was a smithy, and one who roamed the forests not very far from Essen, if the various mythical sources are read as correctly locating the birth of Siegfried around Xanten.


The map above shows the historical coalfields of Western Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and Northern France. The number 4 on the map, the coalfields around Rheinberg, are only about twenty minutes southeast of Xanten along the Rhine.


As Siegfried needed the sword from Mime the Smith, the State of Prussia, the new German Empire of 1871, and later the Nazis, needed the cannon, the railroads, the tanks, the munitions of Krupp, from the mid-nineteenth century to our times.

The region limited by the Ruhr, Lippe and Rhine rivers consisted mainly of rural villages until the 19th century, when the Industrial Revolution turned it into one of Europe’s largest centres for coal mining and steel production (which soon earned it the nickname Ruhrpott, or Coal Pot). Hundreds of thousands migrated from all over Germany, Poland and other countries to work in the Ruhrgebiet’s collieries, coking plants, and foundries.

The first important coal mines appeared in the 1750s, in the valleys of the rivers Ruhr, Inde and Wurm where coal seams outcropped and horizontal passage mining, or adit mining was possible. In 1782 the Krupp works began operations near the city of Essen. In 1815, the Treaty of Vienna settlement determined that the lower Rhineland regions would become part of Prussia, and local entrepreneurs in the Ruhr region eagerly began to take advantage of the newly designed tariff zone, the Zollverein, to open new mines and iron smelters. New railways were built by British engineers around 1850. Numerous small industrial centres sprang up, undertaking independent iron works, using local coal. These small iron and steel works were sufficiently profitable for the expansion of the business to mining and coking for the supply of the region’s energy needs. These integrated coal-iron firms ("Hüttenzechen") became numerous after 1854, and after 1900 they became mixed firms called "Konzern."

Today, the issuers and possessors of money determine what production will and won’t take place in an economy, and also the nature of the production process, the nature of work itself, access to productive resources, distribution of income and leisure, and more.  That was not so in the Rhineland in the early nineteenth century.  There was, as in every other place in the world at the time, except perhaps some limited areas of the Midlands in England, a vast freedom from financial control among the primitive industrial manufactories and small mechanics' shops. There were banks of issue in the Rhineland, but Krupp operated without outside investment finance for a long period of time.  

The family of Krupp had long owned such a Konzern in the region.  Their background can be traced back to the sixteenth century in the town of Essen.  In 1587, the records show that one Arndt Krupp became a member of the Merchants’ Guild in the city.  He became rich by buying the property of families who fled the Black Plague. His son, Anton Krupp lived through the Thirty Years War and increased the family’s wealth by beginning the fateful business in the manufacture of armaments and war materiel.

Throughout the Augustan Age of Germany’s dis-union, the Court culture of the eighteenth century, the Krupps increased the size of their capital and possessions.  Friedrich Jodocus Krupp, a direct descendant of Arndt Krupp, married Helene Amalie Ascherfeld, in 1751, who inherited the Krupp business after his death six years later.  The famous Widow Krupp was responsible for the company’s first fulling mill and iron forge near Essen, and for the first venture into the mining of coal in the nearby hills.  


Photos of the Ruhr from the gardens at Villa Huegel

The Political Configuration of the Rhineland

The political history of the Rhineland is a chronicle of the success of Prussia in taking the provinces of the lower Rhine away from the power of the Catholic Church, in the form of the Archbishoprics of Cologne and Trier, and creating an effective buffer state to the power of France. In the course of the sixteenth century, Prussia obtained jurisdiction over the old duchies of Jülich and Kleve, and the territories of Mark and Berg, formerly under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Cologne, while the archbishoprics themselves lived on as Imperial Free Cities. After the Thirty Years War, Prussia expanded its grip on the lower Rhine by annexing the exclaves of Mark (to the east of Cologne) and Ravensberg to its older territories in Jülich and Kleve. But the wars of the French Revolution changed all that.

 Map showing the Duchies of Juelich, Berg, Cleve and Mark around 1540

 At the Peace of Basel in 1795, the whole of the left bank of the Rhine was appropriated by France. The population was about 1.6 million at the time. In 1806, the Rhenish princes all joined the Confederation of the Rhine, a puppet state of Napoleon. France took direct control of the Rhineland until 1814 and radically and permanently liberalized the government, society and economy. The Coalition of France's enemies made repeated efforts to retake the region, but France repelled all the attempts. The French swept away centuries worth of outmoded restrictions and introduced unprecedented levels of efficiency. The chaos and barriers in a land divided and subdivided among many different petty principalities gave way to a rational, simplified, centralized system controlled by Paris and run by Napoleon's relatives. The most important impact came from the abolition of all feudal privileges and historic taxes, the introduction of legal reforms of the Napoleonic Code, and the reorganization of the judicial and local administrative systems. The economic integration of the Rhineland with France increased prosperity, especially in industrial production, while business accelerated with the new efficiency and lowered trade barriers. The Jews were liberated from the ghetto. There was limited resistance; most Germans welcomed the new regime, especially the urban elites, but one sour point was the hostility of the French officials toward the Roman Catholic Church, the religion of the great majority of Rhinelanders. The reforms were permanent. Decades later workers and peasants in the Rhineland often appealed to Jacobinism to oppose unpopular government programs, while the intelligentsia demanded the maintenance of the Napoleonic Code (which was stayed in effect for a century).  This was the world and the land into which Karl Marx was born, in Trier in 1818.  

 The city of Essen in 1850.

 Prussian Influence and Absorption

In the mid-sixteenth century, Essen was part of the lands of the Duchy of Guelders (see 1540 map, above).  The last independent Duke of Guelders, Charles of Egmond, died in 1538. He had positioned himself in the struggles between Charles VIII of France and the Habsburg heir, Charles V, who was his opponent in the Guelderian Wars, at which time Egmond added Overijssel to his domain. Charles of Egmond was able to retain his independence. Upon his death, he bequeathed the duchy of Guelders to Duke William of Jülich, Cleves and Berg, which were still independent duchies in the sixteenth century.  Duke William was unsuccessful in retaining the lands, and the Habsburg crown eventually took over the duchy in 1543, by the terms of the Treaty of Venlo.  Charles V united Guelders to the Habsburg Netherlands and the Guelder lands lost their independence.

Charles V abdicated in 1556 and decreed that the territories of the Burgundian Circle should be held by the Spanish Crown.  When the northern Netherlands revolted against Philip II of Spain, the three northern quarters of Gelderland joined the Union of Utrecht and became part of the United Provinces of the Netherlands by the Act of Abjuration of 1581.  Only the so-called Upper Quarter of the Gelderlands, south of the Protestant Netherlands, remained part of the Spanish lands of Habsburg.

It was only at the end of the War of the Spanish Succession, in 1713, that the Spanish Upper Quarter of Guelderland was divided between its neighbors, the United Provinces (Venlo), Austria’s Netherlands (Roermond), the Duchy of Jülich (Erkelenz), and Prussia.  Prussian Guelders included the towns of Geldern, Viersen, Horst and Venray, in the Lower Rhine.  Essen, despite being beyond the opposite bank of the Rhine, was also a part of Prussian Gelderland and became the principal center of Prussian power in the Ruhr basin.

Prussian influence in the old duchies of the Rhineland had begun on a small scale in 1609, through the occupation of the Duchy of Kleve.  A century later, Upper Guelderland and Moers were also Prussian. After the Napoleonic Wars, the Congress of Vienna expelled the French from the Rhineland altogether and assigned the whole of the lower Rhenish districts to Prussia, whose enlightened government had the wisdom to leave them in undisturbed possession of the liberal institutions to which they had become accustomed under the French. The Rhine Province remained part of Prussia after Germany was unified in 1871.

Friedrich Carl Krupp (1787 – 1826):  The Napoleonic Wars


 Friedrich Carl Krupp

In 1807, the Widow Krupp appointed her grandson, Friedrich Krupp, to be the manager of the forge connected to her Sterkrade Works. Upon her death, she left her entire fortune to him. In Sterkrade, Friedrich began experimenting with the casting of steel, a process which was unknown in Germany at the time, the secret being carefully guarded in England. Benjamin Huntsman, a clockmaker from Sheffield, had pioneered a process to make crucible steel in 1740, but the British had managed to keep it secret, forcing others to import their steel.  At that time, steel was used for cutlery and scissors and other small objects, and was therefore cooked in small scale.

 Birthplace of Friedrich Carl Krupp in 1850

In 1740, Benjamin Huntsman developed the crucible technique for steel manufacture at his workshop in the district of Handsworth in Sheffield.  This process had an enormous impact on the quantity and quality of steel production.  Huntsman was able to make satisfactory cast steel in clay pot crucibles, ceramic containers capable of sustaining very high temperatures, in which metals or other substances were melted and smelted.  Huntsman’s crucibles each held about 34 pounds of blistered steel (burnt iron). A flux, or chemical cleaning agent, was added, and the burnt iron pieces were covered and heated by means of coke for about three hours. The molten steel was then poured into molds and the crucibles reused. The local cutlery manufacturers in Sheffield refused to buy Huntsman's cast steel, as it was harder than the German steel they were accustomed to using.

Friedrich Karl Krupp pioneered the crucible steel technique at Sterkrade, but large scale crucible steel production required larger facilities. With engineer Gottlob Jacobs, Krupp proceeded with his attempts at the Sterkrade Works, and after the sale of the plant in 1808 continued his attempts independently at Essen. Production was stimulated by the Continental blockade which followed Napoleon’s defeat of the Third and Fourth Coalitions. In 1811 Friedrich Krupp founded the Krupp Gußstahlfabrik (Cast Steel Works).


 Illustration of the Krupp Gußstahlfabrik in 1835

Friedrich realized thus his intention of establishing a large facility with a consistent power source, which he thought he found on the Ruhr.  He built a mill and foundry on the river, the Walkmühle in Essen, but the river’s currents were unreliable and the mill was not successful.

 The Walkmuehle in 1821


In 1816, Krupp was able to produce smelted cast steel, in partnership with Friedrich Nicolai. The demand for this product, however, was not sufficient to keep the works in operation, and soon after 1820 Krupp was obliged to give up his house to occupy a small one-story laborer's cottage near his plant.


 Photo of the Stammhaus

The original Overseer’s cottage of the Krupp factory, the Stammhaus, reconstructed in 1961, photographed in 2008

Friedrich Carl died in Essen, on October 8, 1826, at age 39.

Alfred Krupp (1812–1887):  Prussia After Waterloo

 Portrait of Alfred Krupp at Villa Huegel


Friedrich’s son, Alfred Krupp (1812–87), known as "the Cannon King" (Kannonenkönig), or as "Alfred the Great", was the successor.  The Great Exhibition of 1851 in London made the Essen works of Krupp famous in his lifetime.  He invested heavily in new technology to become a significant manufacturer of steel rollers (used to make eating utensils) and railway tyres. He tightened his grip on the firm and explored ways of improving and expanding its production. In 1830 he added the manufacture of steel rolls, just in time to take advantage of the expanding market created by the German Customs Union, the Zollverein (1834) and the first German railroads (1835). In the 1840s he began introducing newly developed machinery, often designed by himself - such as the famous giant hammer "Fritz," which made his works competitive with English steel. He also invested in fluidized hotbed technologies (notably the Bessemer process) and acquired many mines in Germany and in France. Anticipating the Bismarckian social policies of the 1880’s, Alfred provided social services for his workers, including subsidized housing, health and retirement benefits.


Alfred Krupp and his wife, Bertha Eichhoff

Alfred Krupp (born Alfried Felix Alwyn Krupp), son of Friedrich Karl, was born in Essen in 1812. His father's death forced him to leave school at the age of fourteen and take on responsibility for the steel works. Prospects were daunting: his father had spent a considerable fortune in the attempt to cast steel in large ingots, and to keep the works going the widow and family lived in extreme frugality. The young director labored alongside the workmen by day and carried on his father's experiments at night, when not touring Europe trying to make sales. It was during a stay in England that young Alfried became enamored of the country and adopted the English spelling of his name.

Portrait of Bertha Krupp, geb. Eichhoff, in the Villa Huegel

Prior to the 1860’s,  steel was an expensive product, made in small quantities and used mostly for swords, tools and cutlery; all large metal structures were made of wrought or cast iron. Steelmaking was centered in Sheffield, Britain, which supplied the European and the American markets. The introduction of cheap steel was due to the large scale adaptation of both the Bessemer and the open hearth processes, two technological advances made in England. After 1890, the Bessemer process was gradually supplanted by open-hearth steel making, and by the middle of the 20th century was no longer in use. The open-hearth process originated in the 1860s in Germany and France. The usual open-hearth process used pig iron, ore, and scrap, and became known as the Siemens-Martin process. Its process allowed closer control over the composition of the steel; also, a substantial quantity of scrap could be included in the charge. The crucible process remained important for making high-quality alloy steel into the 20th century. 

Photo of Siemens Open Hearth steel furnaces

Large scale production of steel was necessitated by the growing need for armaments during the Crimean War of 1853 to 1856. The way in which this demand was met by the steel makers was facilitated by Sir Henry Bessemer and his improvement of the traditional crucible technique.

In his autobiography, Bessemer describes the origin of his invention.  He states that, when the Crimean War broke out, many English industrialists and inventors developed a sudden interest in military technology and its possible fabrication.  This would happen in the Ruhr at the same time.  Before this, steel was only used to make small items, like cutlery, scissors and tools, because it was too expensive to make cannons out of it.  As the demand caused by the war increased, so did the profits.  In 1855, Bessemer began working on a way to produce steel in the massive quantities required for artillery, and by October of that year, he filed his first patent related to the Bessemer process.


Photos of Bessemer steel making process in the Nineteenth Century

According to his autobiography Bessemer was working with an ordinary reverberatory furnace, which isolates the material being processed from contact with the fuel, but not from contact with combustion gases that are part of the process.  In the course of a test, some pieces of pig iron were jostled off the side of the ladle, and were left above the ladle in the furnace's heat. When Bessemer went to push them into the ladle, he found that they were steel shells: the hot air alone had converted the outsides of the iron pieces to steel. This crucial discovery led him to completely redesign his furnace so that it would force high-pressure air through the molten iron using special air pumps. Although this might have seemed as having the potentially deleterious consequence of cooling off the iron, instead, the oxygen in the forced air ignited the silicon and carbon impurities in the iron, starting a positive feedback loop. As the iron became hotter, more impurities burned off, making the iron even hotter and burning off more impurities, producing a batch of hotter, purer, molten iron, which converts to steel more easily.


View of the original Krupp factory, the home of the Krupps, and the Smelter (Stammhaus, Wohnhaus und Schmelzbau) in Essen, in an 1844 illustration.

However diverse, the products of Krupp at this time were mostly cutlery and small tools. In 1841, Alfred’s brother Hermann invented a roller process for the casting of steel spoons. This led to increased diversity of production, yet Krupp was not yet a large enterprise. In 1844 its workforce was  131.  The factory was basically a large and successful artisan workshop, a specialized Gusssthahlfabrik that made a few niche products.  There was as yet no generalized large scale investment or dedication to cast steel products Twenty years later, Krupp had become a gigantic enterprise, with twelve thousand workers and a productive area of thirty five hectares.  The real breakthrough to mass production occurred in the production of railroad equipment which began after the revolutions of 1848.

Illustration of Krupp cannon exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London.

The Pavilion of the Great Exhibition in London


The major innovations to meet this challenge centered on the creation of large cast iron and later cast steel blocks within which multiple crucibles could operate simultaneously.  This made it possible to cast material for large objects, such as cannon.  In 1847 Krupp made his first cannon of cast steel. At the Great Exhibition in London, in 1851, he exhibited a six-pound cannon made entirely from cast steel, and a solid flawless ingot of steel weighing 4,300 pounds, more than twice the weight of any previously cast.  At the Paris Exposition of 1855, he exhibited a 100,000 pound ingot. His exhibits, which he referred to as his ambassadors, caused a sensation in the engineering world, and the Essen works became famous.

Illustration of Krupp cannon exhibited at the Great Exposition of 1855 in Paris

Alfred Krupp advocated the superiority of the breech-loading cannon, in which the shell is inserted and loaded into a chamber integral to the rear portion of a barrel, over the muzzle-loaded bronze cannon generally in use at the time by European armies. The breech-loaders were capable of greater accuracy and greater speed, and no doubt Alfred was familiar with the Dreyse needle-gun (Zündnadelgewehr, which translates roughly as "needle ignition rifle), which was a military breech-loading rifle, famous as the main infantry weapon of the Prussian army since 1841.  Alfred built such a breech-loading cannon, but it was generally ignored by the Prussians, to whom he offered it, until Prince William, the heir to the throne of Prussia, who recognized its value, became Regent in 1859 and quickly proceeded to buy a 312 steel cannon from Krupp.  The Franco-Prussian War was essentially a contest between the Krupp breech-loading steel cannon and the bronze cannon.  Krupp became thenceforth the main arms manufacturer for the Prussian military.

Photo of Krupp’s breech loading 1000 pounder Krupp gun. This won a prize for Krupp at the Great Exhibition of Paris in 1867.

In 1851, Krupp began to manufacture railway tires, or tyres as they were called in England. These improved Krupp tyres were extremely competitive because they were not welded, but cast whole. The railroad tyre is a hoop of steel that is fitted around the steel wheel centre. It became the source of Krupp's primary revenue stream, from sales to railways in the United States.

At the time of the financial and trade panic of 1873, Alfred continued to expand, including the purchase of Spanish mines and Dutch shipping, making Krupp the biggest company in Europe but nearly bankrupting it. He was bailed out with a 30 million Mark loan from a consortium of banks arranged by the Prussian State Bank.  Thus the connection between the firm and the State of Prussia became increasingly more close and intimate.

Krupp would invite buyers from all nations to attend his demonstrations of the fire power and versatility of his cannons, which were known as Völkerschiessen, (People’s shootings), held at Meppen, in the largest privately owned proving ground in the world. When he died in 1887, the firm had seventy five thousand employees, including twenty thousand in Essen alone. Firm statistics show that in the course of his life, Alfred Krupp had overseen the manufacture of a total of 24,576 guns; 10,666 for the German government and 13,910 for export to forty-six different nations.


Alfred provided a constitution for the firm, known as the Generalregulativ. A sole proprietorship, the company would be transferred by inheritance through primogeniture. Labor was very strictly controlled and had to swear a loyalty oath, as well as seek permission to go to the bathrooms during work hours, and recommendations that they do not concern themselves with politics. Benefits to the workforce were generous for their time, almost innovative.  Workers’ colonies were established, with recreation parks and schools.  Widows’ and orphans’ benefits were provided, and insurance was provided for illness or death.  Essen became a large company town, and Krupp a state within a state, the loyalties of which were to the family purse, the Prussian monarchy and the State.


Villa Hügel was built by Alfred Krupp in 1873 as a residence. More recently, the Villa Hügel has housed the offices of the Kulturstiftung Ruhr (Ruhr Cultural Foundation) as well as an art gallery and the historical archive of the Krupp family and company.

Krupp children

Friedrich Alfred Krupp (1854 - 1902):  The Wilhelmine Empire

 Statue of Friedrich Krupp at Villa Huegel



Photo of the Krupp Works on or about the turn of the century.  The tower on the extreme left of the photo is a Water tower. In the middle of the photo can be seen the old smelting building (Alter Schmelzbau) and, directly next to it on the right, the home of the Krupps in 1844, visible directly above and to the left of the multi-storied, tall white building in the foreground center, which was the Haupt-Comptoir, or counting house. The fifth tower from the right on the photo is the chimney of the Hammer Fritz-Kamin: the hearth or crucible oven of the so-called “Fritz” Hammer mentioned above in the text.  Below the chimney is the Hammer-Fritz Haus, the building where the machine was lodged.


Friedrich Alfred Krupp in 1900

Krupp Workers in 1905.

 Werksfotograf:  At the Schmelzbau

Friedrich Alfred Krupp, Alfred’s only son, took over the firm upon the death of his father, in 1887. His efforts turned to captivating and cultivating the new Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, who had ascended the throne of the united German Empire in 1888.  As the United States began to use its own steel industry to sustain their railroad expansion, the Krupp firm turned increasingly to the manufacturing of armaments and war materiel. 

Entrance to the Krupp works in Essen in the late Nineteenth Century

Perhaps one of the most significant innovations of the Fritz Krupp era was the firm’s development of nickel steel. Nickel alloys of steel, such as the so-called ‘stainless’ steel are frequently 8-12% nickel. In 1890, Krupp began to make nickel steel that was hard enough for thin battleship armor and cannon that would operate with the new gunpowder of Alfred Nobel. As well, Fritz took over the Grusonwerk of Magdeburg in 1893, the factories where the Panzer fleets of the Second World War would be built. In 1902 he took over the Germaniawerft (Germania shipyard) in Kiel, a shipbuilding company located in the harbor and one of the largest producers of battleships and submarines during both of the world wars of the twentieth century.  The first German U-Boot was constructed by Krupp at Kiel in1906.

The German Emperor, Wilhelm II, frequent guest of the Krupps at the Villa Huegel


Fritz Krupp was a great businessman, but his desires destroyed him. In the island of Capri, Fritz Krupp emulated Tiberius by surrounding himself with adolescent boys. In one instance, he was arrested by Italian police. His reputation suffered, and he was found dead one November day in his chambers, not long after the public scandals deriving from his pederasty.

Photograph of a Young Sicilian Boy, by Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856 – 1931), a  German photographer of the late nineteenth century who worked primarily in Italy and who became famous for his pederastic pastoral nude studies of Sicilian boys, which suggested a setting in the Greece or Italy of Antiquity.

Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach (1870 - 1950):  The First World War

  Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach in 1931

Upon the death of Fritz Krupp in November, 1902, his daughter Bertha Krupp inherited the firm, at age sixteen. One year later, the firm was incorporated as Fried. Krupp Grusonwerk AG, and Bertha owned all but four shares of it. Reputedly, the Kaiser would not allow the Krupp empire to be headed by a woman and decided that Bertha should marry the young aristocrat, Gustav von Bohlen und Halbach, then Prussian courier to the Vatican, who would take the name of Krupp and inherit the company through the primogeniture of his wife. And so it was done.  Gustav married Bertha in 1906, she being now twenty years of age, and he became chairman of Krupp in 1909.

Photo of the young Gustav Krupp in 1915.

In 1911, Gustav bought Hamm Wireworks to manufacture barbed wire. At this time, 50% of Krupp’s armaments were sold to Germany, and the rest to 52 other nations.

In 1914, Gustav purchased his Villa Blühnbach in Werfen, the former residence of the Archbishops of Salzburg.  This would eventually become the much beloved Alpine family refuge from the Villa Hügel. This was shortly after the First World War had begun. 

Photos of Villa Blühnbach in the Upper Valley of the Inn.

During the war, Krupp’s production concentrated almost exclusively on the artillery for the army.  The cannons produced by the firm soon acquired mythical reputations.  ‘Die Dicke Bertha’ (the fat Bertha), was probably named after Bertha Krupp.

Photos of Dicke Bertha

 Projectile Casings from Dicke Bertha

In 1916, the German government seized Belgian industry and conscripted Belgian civilians for forced labor in the Ruhr. These unprecedented measures taken towards prisoners were the dark foreshadowings of what happened years later during World War Two when Jewish concentration camp inmates, as well as prisoners of war and other human beings under Nazi interdict, were drafted for slave labor in the Krupp works. In 1918, the Allies would name Gustav as a war criminal, but the trials never proceeded.

After the war, the firm was forced to renounce arms manufacturing. Gustav attempted to reorient to consumer products, under the slogan "Wir machen alles!" (We make everything), but operated at a loss for years. 70,000 workers were laid off when hostilities came to an end, but the company kept the unions and the Socialists at bay by continuing its severance pay for dismissed workers, and continuing to provide its reputed social services and benefits. The company opened a dental hospital to provide steel teeth and jaws for wounded veterans.

Despite contracts for the supply of the Prussian State Railways system, the firm faced reduction of capacity and loss of industrial equipment shipped to France as reparations for war.  In 1920, the Rote Soldatenbund (Red Army) of the Ruhr took over most of the Rhineland and independent republics were declared throughout the region.  The Krupp works in Essen were briefly occupied by the workers until the Federal Army, the Reichswehr, occupied the region and restored order.  During the runaway inflationary months of 1923, the company printed its own money to pay for labor. During the French occupation of the Ruhr, soldiers engaged in an inspection of the Krupp works were engaged in an incident with workers that resulted in thirteen Krupp employees losing their lives.  This incident incited reprisal killings and sabotage against the French army throughout  the Rheinland.  When Gustav then held a large public funeral for his workers, he was fined and jailed by the French, which made him a hero.

Gustav Krupp and his family at Villa Huegel

Gustav Krupp believed that the Versailles settlement must be overturned.  Although he never wavered in family’s loyalty to the Hohenzollern dynasty of Prussia, in slavish deference to power Gustav cooperated with the Weimar Republic and soon became one of its principal munitions manufacturers.  He proceeded with the company’s engagement in the secret design and manufacture of arms, in defiance of the Versailles Peace settlement terms. In 1921, Krupp bought the Swedish Bofors works as a front company designed to sell arms to neutral nations.  As well, Suderius AG was established in the Netherlands as a front company for shipbuilding from whence fleets of submarines were built. His object was to keep the skills and knowledge of his engineers at the ready for the eventual rearmament of Germany. 


In 1924, the Raw Steel Association (Rohstahlgemeinschaft) was established in Luxembourg, as a quota-fixing cartel for coal and steel, by France, Britain, Belgium, Luxembourg, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Germany. Germany, however, chose to violate quotas and pay fines, in order to monopolize the Ruhr’s output and continue making high-grade steel. In 1926, Krupp began the manufacture of a cobalt-tungsten carbide known as Widia (short for “Wie Diamant”:  as hard as a diamond). In tandem with technological innovation, industrial expansion and experimentation, Krupp endorsed the anti-labor agenda of the Republic. In 1928, German industry under Krupp leadership put down a general strike, locking out 250,000 workers throughout the country and encouraging the government to cut wages by 15%.


Gustav and his wife Bertha watched the slow rise of Hitler with skepticism because Hitler was not of their social class. In time, as Hitler rejected any plans to nationalize German industry, he became more acceptable to the industrialists and this affected the Krupps as well. After Hitler became Chancellor in 1933, the Krupps were totally won over to his side.

In 1933, Hitler made Gustav chairman of the Reich Federation of German Industry. Gustav ousted Jews from the organization and disbanded the board, establishing himself as the sole-decision maker. Hitler visited Gustav just before the Röhm purge in 1934, which eliminated the Nazi party’s left wing. This endeared Hitler to the Krupps even more.  Gustav supported the "Adolf Hitler Endowment Fund of German Industry", administrated by Martin Bormann, who used it to collect millions in money contributions from German businessmen. As part of Hitler’s secret rearmament program, Krupp expanded his works from 35,000 to 112,000 employees.


Krupp steel

Despite his total commitment to Hitler, Gustav was appalled by the Nazis’ aggressive foreign policy and warlike disposition. But he would soon succumb to senile dementia and would be displaced by his son Alfried.  Thus Gustav was spared the humiliation of the Nuernberg Trials despite being indicted as a war criminal, as he had been after the First World War.  His wife, Bertha, would nurse him in a roadside inn near Blühnbach until his death in 1950.

Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach (1907-1967):  The Nazis and Catastrophe


Krupp production of Tiger tanks

Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach (1907-1967) never abjured his allegiance to Hitler and the Nazi Party. As the eldest son of Gustav and Bertha, he was raised for the position of head of the company.  He became an early supporter of the Nazis, and joined the SS (Schutzstaffel) in 1931. As his father increasingly lost his grip on the company after 1939, Alfried made his move, with the full support of Hitler. In 1943, by a special order from Hitler, the company was ordered to become a sole proprietorship, with Alfried as sole proprietor.  The so-called Lex Krupp, authorized the transfer of all of Bertha’s shares to Alfried, giving him the name of “Krupp” and dispossessing his siblings.  In exchange, Krupp became the Nazi government’s principal supplier of arms and munitions.  

In the course of the Second World War, Krupp was permitted and even encouraged to confiscate and take over industrial plant in the occupied nations, including the Arthur Krupp steel works in Berndorf, Austria, the Alsacian Corporation for Mechanical Construction (Elsaessische Maschinenfabrik AG, or ELMAG), Robert Rothschild's tractor factory in France, the Skoda Works in Czechoslovakia, and Deutsche Schiff- und Maschinenbau AG (Deschimag)) in the Port of Bremen. These proceedings and acquisitions would become the basis for criminal charges of “plunder” against Krupp at the war crimes trials in Nuernberg after the war.
Krupp would also be charged for the widespread utilization and exploitation of slave labor in his industrial plants.  Krupp representatives would routinely appear at the German concentration camps to select laborers for their industrial plants from amongst the prisoners of war and other detainees. The Berthawerk factory, named after Alfried’s mother, which was located near the Markstadt forced labor camp, was built for the production of artillery fuses.  Jewish women were used as slave labor there, leased from the SS for 4 Marks per head per day.

Operation Barbarossa was profitable for Krupp. In 1942, he took over the Soviets’ Molotov steel works near Kharkov and Kramatorsk in Eastern Ukraine.  But the defeat at Stalingrad in the late Fall of 1942 convinced Krupp that Germany would lose the war, and he began the financial undercover operations that resulted in his being able to save most of his fortune and hide it overseas as Allied bombing began the slow process by which the entire industrial basin of the Ruhr, and almost the entirety of the Krupp steel works, would be reduced to rubble.


Essen in ruins

After the war, the Ruhr became part of the British Zone of occupation. The British dismantled Krupp’s factories, sending machinery all over Europe as war reparations. The Russians seized Krupp’s Grusonwerk in Magdeburg, including the formula for the production of tungsten steel. The Germaniawerft in Kiel was dismantled, and Krupp’s role as an arms manufacturer came to an end. The Allied High Commission’s Law 27, in 1950, mandated the decartelization of German industry.

Locomotive construction at the Krupp Works, Essen, 1960

Krupp Works, Essen, 1961

Alfried Krupp became a prisoner in Landsberg until his trial in the Winter of 1947.  Plunder and the use of slave labor were adjudged to be crimes against humanity, and Alfried, along with other industrialists and economic leaders of the Third Reich, were convicted of these crimes and acquitted of crimes against the peace, and conspiracy. He was sentenced to twelve years in prison and the “forfeiture of all [his] property both real and personal,” making him a pauper. Two years later, on January 31, 1951, John J. McCloy, High Commissioner of the American zone of occupation, issued an amnesty to the Krupp defendants. Much of Alfried’s industrial empire was restored to him, but he was forced to transfer some of his fortune to his siblings, and he renounced forever the manufacture of armaments and munitions.  Anti-Communism and U.S. endorsement of rapid West German re-industrialization under the Christian Democrats, led to the lifting of the limits on German steel production and the rehabilitation of Krupp.

In 1953 Krupp negotiated the Mehlem agreement with the governments of the U.S., Great Britain and France. Hitler’s Lex Krupp was upheld, re-establishing Alfried as sole proprietor of the entire Krupp empire, but Krupp mining and steel businesses were sequestered and pledged to be divested by 1959. There is scant evidence that Alfried intended to fulfill his side of the bargain, and he continued to receive royalties from the sequestered industries.

Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach (to the right), with Sylvanus Olympio, President of Togo, visiting the Villa Hügel in 1961

Despite having only 16,000 employees and 16,000 pensioners, Alfried refused to cut pensions. He ended unprofitable businesses including shipbuilding, railway tyres, and farm equipment. He hired Berthold Beitz, an insurance executive, as the face of the company, and began a public relations campaign to promote Krupp worldwide, omitting references to Nazism or arms manufacturing. Beginning with his relationship with the Christian Democratic Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, he established personal diplomatic bonds with various heads of state, making both open and secret deals to sell equipment and engineering expertise. Expansion was significant in the former colonies of Great Britain and among Communist countries now behind the so-called Iron Curtain. Krupp built rolling mills in Mexico, paper mills in Egypt, foundries in Iran, refineries in Greece, a vegetable oil processing plant in Sudan, and its own steel plant in Brazil. In India, Krupp rebuilt Rourkela in Odisha as a company town similar to his own Essen. In West Germany, Krupp made jet fighters in Bremen, as a joint venture with United Aircraft and built an atomic reactor in Jülich, partly funded by the government. The company expanded to 125,000 employees worldwide, and in 1959 Krupp was the fourth largest enterprise in Europe, after the Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company, Unilever and Mannesmann.

1959 was also Krupp’s deadline to sell his sequestered industries, but he was supported by other Ruhr industrialists, who refused to place bids. Krupp not only took back control of those companies in 1960, he used a shell company in Sweden to buy the Bochumer Verein für Gussstahlfabrikation AG, in his opinion the best remaining steel manufacturer in West Germany. As the European Common Market permitted these moves, the Allied policy of decartelization of German industry came to an end.  Alfried was the richest man in Europe, and among the world’s handful of billionaires.

In the mid-1960s, a series of economic and political changes ended the special status of Krupp in German society. The recession of 1966 exposed the company’s overextended credit and turned Alfried’s cherished mining and steel companies into loss-leaders. In 1967, the West German Federal Tax Court curtailed sales tax exemptions for private companies, among which Krupp was the largest, and voided the Hitlerian exemption of the company from inheritance taxes. Alfried's only son, Arndt von Bohlen und Halbach (1938–1986), failed to develop much of an interest in the family business and was willing to renounce his inheritance. Alfried arranged for the firm to be reorganized as a corporation and private foundation for scientific research, with a generous pension blocked off for his son Arndt. Arndt actually married but was childless; he died in 1986, 399 years after the first Arndt Krupp arrived in Essen.

The Final Dissolution of the Krupp Empire


Alfried had married twice, both marriages ending in divorce, and by family tradition he had excluded his siblings from company management. He died in Essen in 1967, and the company’s transformation was completed the next year, capitalized at 500 million Deutschmarks, with Beitz in charge of the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach Foundation and chairman of the corporation’s board until 1989. Between 1968 and 1990 the foundation awarded grants totaling around 360 million DM. In 1969, the coal mines were transferred to Ruhrkohle AG.  Stahlwerke Südwestfalen was bought for stainless steel, and Polysius AG and Heinrich Koppers for engineering and the construction of industrial plants.
In 1974, the Shah bought 25.04% of the steel subsidiary Fried. Krupp Hüttenwerke AG, and in 1976 it bought 25.01% of Fried. Krupp GmbH, whose capital stock was increased to 700 million DM by the summer of 1978. Following the Iranian Revolution of 1979, these ownership interests were held by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In early 1980s, the company spun off all its operating activities and was restructured as a holding company. VDM Nickel-Technologie was bought in 1989, for high-performance materials, mechanical engineering and electronics. That year, Gerhard Cromme became chairman and chief executive of Krupp. After its hostile takeover of rival steelmaker Hoesch AG in 1990–1991, the companies were merged in 1992 as “Fried. Krupp AG Hoesch Krupp,” under Cromme. After closing one main steel plant and laying off 20,000 employees, the company had a steelmaking capacity of around eight million metric tons and sales of about 28 billion DM (US$18.9 billion). The new Krupp had six divisions: steel, engineering, plant construction, automotive supplies, trade, and services. After two years of heavy losses, a modest net profit of 40 million DM (US$29.2 million) followed in 1994.

In 1993 Krupp became a publicly traded company for the first time in its long history, though as late as 1998 the foundation still held 50.47% and the Iranian government 22.92%. In 1994, Italian stainless steelmaker Acciai Speciali Terni was acquired, and in 1995 these operations were merged with those of Thyssen in the Krupp-Thyssen Nirosta joint venture (60% owned by Krupp and 40% owned by Thyssen).

In 1997 Krupp attempted a hostile takeover of the larger Thyssen, but the bid was abandoned after resistance from Thyssen management and protests by its workers. Nevertheless, Thyssen agreed to merge the two firms' flat steel operations, and Thyssen Krupp Stahl AG was created in 1997 as a jointly owned subsidiary (60% by Thyssen and 40% by Krupp). About 6,300 workers were laid off. Later that year, Krupp and Thyssen announced a full merger, which was completed in 1999 with the formation of Thyssen-Krupp AG. Cromme and Ekkehard Schulz were named co-chief executives of the new company, operating worldwide in three main business areas: steel, capital goods (elevators and industrial equipment), and services (specialty materials, environmental services, mechanical engineering, and scaffolding services).

Heinrich Kley Exhibit:  “Faszination Industrie: Krupp und der Maler Heinrich Kley”

Born in 1963, in Karlsruhe in the Rhineland, Kley received his first training in the ‘practical arts’ curriculum of the Karlsruhe Akademie, one of many technical schools scattered around Germany during the decades book-ending the turn of the century. He continued his studies in Munich under the traditional tutelage of studio artist, C. Frithjof Smith. His earliest work, from 1888 to about 1892, consisted of portraits, still lifes, city scenes and historical paintings—mostly unexceptional work. Some of his work found its way into museum collections and a handful of murals graced public buildings in Baden Baden and elsewhere.
Kley had also created for himself a small reputation, in the 1890s, as a competent depicter of industrial scenes. Working in both oil and watercolor, he gathers his subject matter from the processes of manufacturing, as industrialization became an increasingly common feature of the German landscape. He turned the forces of industry—coal, steam and sweat—into paintings, showing considerable understanding of the processes involved in industry. Critics at the time wrote that, “He captured the poetry of the modern machine world.” Those images, along with his landscapes of the Black Forest garnered considerable attention from the press, but none belied the work in pen and ink that would soon made him famous.

2.      Im Martinwerk um 1906 (Aquarell)


 1.      Tiegelstahlguss bei Krupp um 1909


 3.      Stammhaus Krupp um 1902



   Gussstahlfabrik Fried. Krupp 1902  (Radierung)

5.      Sabatage (Betriebsstorung):  Operational breakdown.

Producing volumes of sketches and submitting them to Die Jugend and the other Munich satirical periodical, Simplizissimus, an important transformation had occurred for reasons that may never be known. The Heinrich Kley who once “caught the poetry” of factories now revealed the devil lurking behind the smokestacks.


6.      Die Krupp’schen Teufel | 1912 (gnomes drinking)

7.    "What a Devilish Stench!" A drawing by Heinrich Kley

Drawing by Heinrich Kley