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The history of the Ajka Glass Factory - part one

FROM THE BEGINNING TO THE NEUMANN PERIOD

Table of contents
 
THE PREHISTORY OF GLASS-MAKING IN THE BAKONY HILLS
THE IMMEDIATE PREDECESSOR OF AJKA: THE SECOND KILN OF ÚRKÚT
THE PIONEERS OF HUNGARIAN GLASS MANUFACTURING
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE AJKA GLASS FACTORY
BERNAT NEUMANN, THE FOUNDER
WHY A GLASS FACTORY OF ALL THINGS?
THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE FACTORY AND THE FIRST EMPLOYEES
MASTERPIECES MADE AT THE NEUMANN FACTORY
"VITRARIANS", MASTER GLASSMAKERS, MANUFACTURERS OF GLASS
A HEADSTART FOLLOWED BY DIFFICULTIES
COMPETING WITH POWERFUL RIVALS
NEUMANN IS OBLIGED TO SELL HIS FACTORY
 
THE PREHISTORY OF GLASS-MAKING IN THE BAKONY HILLS
Although there is evidence that glass was made in Hungary hundreds of years earlier, the first viable glass kilns only appeared the 8th century in the Bakony region. The founding of these glass melting shops had much to do with the historical factors determining the development of Hungary after the Ottoman empire was driven out of the country, and the war of independence led by Rákóczi was quelled.
 
Prompted by the landlords of the region looking for labour to exploit the large expanses of woodlands covering the hills, the country's then ruler settled German, Slovak and Moravian colonists in the area. What promised to be the most profitable way of utilising the natural resources offered by the forests here was the establishment of glass kilns, all the more so as the region provided lime, refractory clay and sand on the one hand and many of the there were several settlers with previous experience in glass smelting on the other. Leasing out a kiln provided the landlord with all the household glassware he needed as well as the extra income from the rent.
 
No wonder that the establishment of kilns was encouraged by secular and ecclesiastical potentates alike. Of the first eight kilns to be founded three were set up in the Varoslőd forests of the Veszprém bishopric (Pille, Csehbanya, Nemetbanya), and another three on the Esterhazys' Csesznek estate (Lókut, Pénzeskút, Somhegy). The Zichy family of Nagyvázsony operated a kiln at Úrkút, and it was practically in the same location that the second kiln of Úrkút was built, already by the Todescos, a dynasty of bankers who later acquired the land.
 
THE IMMEDIATE PREDECESSOR OF AJKA: THE SECOND KILN OF ÚRKÚT
Glassworks in the Bakony Forest, on the basis of a 1797 map by GerlischIn 1862, three years after one of these early kilns, the one on the hill Somhegy, was closed, the history of the Bakony glass manufactures took another turn. The Todesco estate included some four acres of forests. Due to the lack of passable highways to the nearest viable markets, which were far too distant anyway, timber produced here could best be used in glass kilns. It was only logical that all - production as well as construction - should be started anew in the place where the old kiln of Úrkút, a workshop dismounted in 1829, had stood. And indeed, glass manufacturing was resumed soon enough. According to an inventory drawn up in 1865, some fifty or sixty types of hollow ware, green ware (mainly flasks) and sheet glass were made here. Smaller quantities of miscellaneous glass were also produced in the shop (Schleifglas, Kiesglass). In 1876, production was terminated in the factory.
 
THE PIONEERS OF HUNGARIAN GLASS MANUFACTURING
1. Janos Peter Rubner (kiln chief at Pille)
2. Mihaly Gasteiger (Pille, then Nemetbánya)
3. Fulop Gasteiger (Nemetbánya)
4. Ferenc Adler (Pille)
5. Ferdinand Adler (founder of Csehbánya, 1760)
6. Karoly Kylma Karian (founder of Lókút. 1762)
7. Antal Gleiszner (kiln chief at Lókút)
8. Karoly Gleiszner (kiln chief at Lókút and then at Pénzeskút)
9. Janos Mihaly Gasteiger (Penzeskút 1803-1807)
10. József Vemhardt (tenant at Penzeskút 1808-1816)
11. Janos Gasteiger Jr. (founder of Úrkút 1781)
12. Antal Pfantzelt (tenant at Urklit until I 824)
13. Abraham Neuman (tenant at Somhegy 1815-20)
14. Salamon Neuman (Somhegy 1824-59)
15. Jozsef Neuman (kiln chief at Úrkút II, from 1862)
16. Bernat Neuman (founder 1878)
 
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE AJKA GLASS FACTORY
Members of the Neumann dynasty were gradually involved in the management of the small glass workshops in the Bakony region. With steady application the family eventually achieved a position in which they could utilise their experience in one consolidated factor) of their own.
 
BERNAT NEUMANN, THE FOUNDER
Bernat Neumann, founder of the Ajka factoryBernat' Neumann's ancestors immigrated to Hungary from the Bohemian-Polish provinces of the Habsburg monarchy in the middle of the 18th century where they settled down at the town of Papa. In 1848, when the Jewish population of Papa was registered, Benat Neumann's father Jakab Neumann was entered as a 42-year-old industrialist. He was married to Matild Brachfeld, a 28year-old woman from the town of Lovasberény, and the couple had three sons, Bernat, Antal and Samu. The eldest, the future founder of the factory, was 9 years old at the time. Although the register does not specify the type of factory owned by the father, it can be safely assumed that it was a ceramic (perhaps a pipe-making) workshop. In the absence of evidence as to Bernat's schooling, we can only conjecture that the young man is likely to have received some kind of agricultural training and must have gained experience in the manufacturing industry, too.
At 23 he was employed by the Todesco brothers as the steward of the Úrkút estate of their Nagyvázsony lands, where their kiln was in operation. From January of 1862 Neumann signed invoices and payrolls either as B.Neumann Güterdirector, or as Glassfabricant director. He had no direct contacts with the proprietors, however, and his offer to lease the kiln was categorically rejected by the Todesco brothers. After the fiasco he soon parted ways with his employers. On 27 October 1863 he married Roza, daughter of the Dunaföldvar merchant Salamon Bishitz, and moved back to Papa where he settled down. Little is known of the fifteen-year period between this and the establishment of the Ajka factory, except the fact that Neumann tried his luck in various businesses. In the 1870s he moved to Szekesfehervar with his family. It was here that he married his daughter Emmi to Zsigmond Klein, a merchant from Monok. These family events are commemorated by initialled glassware made for the various occasions.
Never settling down at Ajka, Neumann managed his factory from Szekesfehervar until 1892 when he was obliged to sell it to the Kossuch company. It was already as a citizen of Budapest that he waived the proprietorial rights of his factory, and it was also in the capital city that he passed away in 1919.
 
WHY A GLASS FACTORY OF ALL THINGS?
It may seem a risky undertaking for a businessman to have invested in a glass-works newly to be opened at a time when the whole industry began to fail in the Transdanubian region, as the price of glassware had been cut by half. Relying on his experience in the field Neumann recognised the importance of two important factors that were overlooked by others. One of these was the passing, on 3 October 1972. of the first train on the Szekesfehervar-Szombathely line through the railway station of Ajka; the other was the fact that the quantity of coal mined locally had reached 50 thousand metric tons in 1877, whereas the amount of fuel need by a smelting furnace was no more than 2 thousand tons, which made it only logical to build a coal-fired kiln here. Having been closed down in 1876, the Úrkút glass factory would not offer any competition either which is why the founder of the new kiln could fully exploit the advantages of the plentiful fuel and improved transportation available.
Neumann's plant at Ajka was a typical capitalist venture right from the outset. Rather than operate as a travelling workshop, the installation had its own, permanent, premises where it worked as a genuine factory, in the establishment of which venture capital played a major role. Traditional, patriarchal labour relations were dispensed with altogether. The founder, who was an astute businessman as well as an expert glassmaker, left the operational management of his factory to salaried employees so he could concentrate on marketing management.
 
THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE FACTORY AND THE FIRST EMPLOYEES
Unfortunately no written documents on the construction of the factory survive. The plant was built on land outside the village of Ajka on an area between the Puzdor estate and the narrow plots lying on the left bank of the Tarna brook This was done in compliance with the law that prescribed the obtainment of a permit from the industrial authorities for the establishment of plants posing a health hazard to the local community. Separation from the village is documented by contemporary entries in local registries listing skilled workers as residents of Ajka-Újtelep (New-Place) or Ajka Glass Factory. These entries record the names of some old glassmaking dynasties such as the Denks, the Futihs, the Graffs, the Haaszes, the Kohlruszes, the Libisches, the Mayers, the Novaks, the Obermeiers, the Peidls, the Puchingers, the Pichlers, the Rankls, the Riegers, the Teiermeiers, the Wagners, or the Zachers-glassmakers whose families had been long established in Hungary.
The precise design of the factory can be seen on a general plan made in 1893 to orders by the Kossuch company, the then owners of the factory. The various units dating back to the Neumann-era that stand out on the plan include a multi-storey workers' quarter, a haybarn, a single-storey workers' home, the kiln, and some warehouses. Two direct-fired furnaces without funnels operated in the furnace unit. The transmission used by the grinders was powered by a steam engine from the mid-I 880s. The multi-storey hostel contained sixteen flats that provided. accommodation for contracted glass-workers, while the single-storey home was occupied by apprentices and unmarried employees. The first workers' homes consisted of bedsitters with a kitchen each. (Workers employed at the former Úrkút plant did not live at Ajka, but went to work on foot.) In this period an average of 40 hands were employed at anyone time, who were paid by the piece. Thus the monthly wages earned by blowers and grinders was 50-70 forints, while stokers and smelters made 26-35 forints per month. By way of comparison it should be mentioned that the value of annual production totalled at 25-30 thousand forints.
 
MASTERPIECES MADE AT THE NEUMANN FACTORY
That the factory had become a highly competitive venture by the mid-1880s is testified by the awards it had won. The range of its products turned out at the time is indicated by the items in the Neumann estate, partly acquired for the Museum of Applied Arts, and the Sarvar Museum partly retained by the inheritors. Complete initialed crystal glass sets were made for the family. These were probably embellished in Pest, although the engraver in the factory's employ, Florian Gurtler of Bohemia, was an expert of his craft. Surviving items of the estate include a flask with a pressed stem and cut trelliswork decoration with a matching champagne cup. The scent-bottles cut into a polygonal shape, the oil bottles and tea-boxes and the goblets supported by stems made up of knobs are the work of highly qualified blowers and cutters. Among the masterpieces ready-made at the furnace are the Roman goblets standing on various types of stem assembled from several pieces by the blowers. One of the most precious items from the Neumann-period is a goblet with a lid often mentioned in the literature of the subject.
Unfortunately, nothing survives of the items for lighting that were once very popular in Vienna and Odessa. It could be asked whether any of the bottles and demijohns mass-produced in the period were made at Ajka at the time. Unfortunately, there is no definite answer to the question: as reports made by the chambers of commerce do not always square with information spread by word of mouth, it can only be assumed that such items must have been made.
 
"VITRARIANS", MASTER GLASSMAKERS, MANUFACTURERS OF GLASS
First at the forest glass-works and then at Ajka, too, the glassmakers came from abroad, most of them immigrated from Croatia, Styria and Moravia. That does not mean, however, that their ethnic origins were identical with their country of origin, because as migrant workers they frequently changed their place of work and residence. Due to insufficient registry data, it is often hard to establish the nationality of a given factory worker. As these people would often run away from poor working conditions, they sometimes gave false particulars to deceive the authorities. Nevertheless, they would hold on to their national identities, customs and native tongues in their isolated. self sufficient world. That is why glassmakers at Ajka were called "sklenar" if they came from Northern-Upper Hungary, but "Glasfabriker" if they happened to be of Austrian extraction, even though they did the same work. At Ajka everyone spoke German, which was the language of the workers of Austrian origin, who were in majority in the factory. This was all the more necessary as it was in German that instructions were posted by the kiln chief for decades.
There was virtually no communication whatsoever between the native villagers and the factory's workforce. The glassmakers, who were predominantly of the Catholic denomination. were separated from the mainly Protestant natives on the basis of religion, too. Rather than send them to the local Protestant school, the glassmakers had their children educated at the Catholic school of Berend, a village some three kilometres from Ajka, which is why not even the youngest members of the respective communities had any opportunities to mix with each other. As no factory-records of Neumann's first employees survive, all we have to go by are the registers kept by the Roman Catholic parish at Berend. Given that the workers only availed themselves of services rendered by the church on the occasions of births, marriages and deaths, not even these documents can provide us with a full picture of these people's lives.
Our table is meant to give an approximate survey of the glassmakers employed in the Neumann era, but can have no claim to being in any way comprehensive. The overview does not provide a full cross-section of the workforce that was required for the operation of the factory. Most of the management staff are missing as well as craftsmen in such key occupations as that of the potter, the wood-turner, the glass-shatterer and the engine attendant. Assessing the ethnic background would also necessitate a subtler approach than the simple acknowledgement of our tabular data, as an immigrant father and his children already born in Hungary were not given the sametreatment. For example the father in the Gütler family was born in Bohemia, but his sons were already baptised at Úrkút and Vetyem-puszta. It also happened that while one child was bom abroad, the other saw the light in Hungary (as it happened in to the Godermeiers or the Wagners). And there was great mobility within Hungary, too. When the Todesco kiln was closed down at Úrkút, some of its workers sought employment elsewhere - as did the workforce dismissed from other kilns that were shut down - before coming to Ajka. (Of the employees made reductant with the closure of Nemetlukafa Antal Godermayer, Janos Deutschmann, Miklos Obermayer, Maric Obermayer, Karoly Obermayer, Mihaly Puffier, Gaspar Szuppan were employed at Ajka.)
As revealed by the registers, it was from Hungarian kilns that the largest number of glassmakers came to Ajka. The majority of foreigners came from Austria and Croat-Slavonia. The name connected to the earliest recorded migration is that of the Libisch family. The Libisches, who were the first to settle down at Ajka, are mentioned in an entry made in the registry of Gödre, Baranya county, as early as the end of the 18th century. After that, the family turned up in 1757, at Pille, then in 1771 at Csehbánya and in the same year at Lókut, eventually to disperse and find employment with various kilns in the Bakony mountains. However, they would settle down permanently in the 19th century at Ajka. There were glass-blowers, miners and grinders in the family.
Although the insight provided by the brief register entries is at best superficial, they give sufficient indication that the glassmakers' dynasties were connected to each other and to Ajka via marriages.
 
A HEADSTART FOLLOWED BY DIFFICULTIES
The fact that the glass factories of the Transdanubian region dropped out of the competition was of course good news to Ajka - by 1979 only one kiln (the one at Lukafa, Somogy county) was still in operation. However, the Ajka factory was not a truly modem facility, All Neumann is likely to have been able to afford was the changing of fuel. And that despite the fact that there was high quality clay at the nearby village of Úrkút, for example, but it remained inaccessible to Neumann due to the Todescos' refusal to cooperate. What all this indicates is that in spite of the headstart Ajka had, there were potential difficulties in sight right at the beginning. As for the initial successes, Neumann was provided with feedback by the second industrial fair held after the Austro-Hungarian Settlement of 1867, Neumann entered his merchandise to the fair all the more so as he was a local resident of Szekesfehérvár, the venue of the event. An index of the success the factory and its products is the fact that the Sopron Chamber of Commerce made especial mention of the bronze medal awarded to them at the exhibition. This must have given a great boost to Neumann's confidence, but can hardly have made him forget the difficulties besetting the establishment of his factory, Of these we can read the following in a report drawn up by the Chamber: "The factory was founded back in 1878. The proprietor complains much of the heavy financial obligations weighing down on his young firm. The artisans, day labourers and shippers working for him demand twice the customary amount for their services; Neumann is obliged to fight an uphill battle with the revenue authorities, because the high taxes levied on his fledgling enterprise threaten to overwhelm him. This, unfortunately, is not a unique phenomenon, as towering obstacles are everywhere put in the path of newly established companies, which prevents Hungary's industry from growing and flourishing."
As it appears from this, Neumann's case was far from exceptional, but this gave little solace to him. The reason why he must have felt the weight of circumstances particularly heavy and the treatment he suffered especially unfair was the fact that his factory had not yet been completed, as in a report submitted to the county authorities in 1879 he spoke of having given but a trial run to his factory, Neumann also lamented the lack of a well-trained workforce in the country. At that time about a third of white- collar workers, and some one fifth of manual labourers came from abroad, No wonder these people had little interest in improving industrial conditions in Hungary. And yet the Ajka factory was capable of conquering one new market after the other at home and abroad. It had been able to cover the entire Transdanubian region and could afford to maintain its own warehouse in Budapest. And that rts ware was sold in Vienna too gives shining proof of its competitive edge - at least in terms of quality. That IS because Neumann made the mistake (to mention but one of the reasons that lead to the factory's later failure) of not changing over to regenerative heating, which could have resulted in smelting with gas. And that despite the fact that even the government was willing to help him make the improvement with a tax-break. Neumann, and Hungarian Industrialists in general, were distrustful of Siemens's invention, mainly because of the lack of expert operators in Hungary. In spite of this, the monographic study of Hungary's glass industry made by Simon Telkes rates Ajka the thirteenth of the country's fifty-six glass factories.
 
COMPETING WITH POWERFUL RIVALS
In the first half of the 1880s the factory stood its ground In the increasingly keen competition that characterised the industry from the beginnings. Neumann recognised his limitations as well as his capabilities. It was in awareness of these that he undertook to improve production technologies. The usual report made by the Chamber of Commerce, this time dated to 1885, speaks of this in the following terms: "The factory is equipped with an 8-hourse-power steam engine, which drives four grinding workshops. [..] The number of smelting furnaces has been raised from one to three, and the mould-turning shop has also been enlarged In consequence of all this, the productivity of the factory has been increased to the value of 150,000 forints, which means an increase in annual turnover from 30,000 to 50,000 forints."Increased production necessitated the extension of the wood-turning shop as an essential condition of changing the range of products made. That the number of smelting furnaces was raised to three indicates the fact that Ajka was now on a par with factories of a similar but still modest size. To challenge larger competitors it still had to improve quality and cost efficiency. The factory spent an annual sum of 20,000 forints on coal, lime-earth, quartz, fireproof material, acids and lime. A further sum of 2,000 forints was spent on cut wood, hay, nails and iron. Onto that came additional costs including wages and salaries. In the year spoken of there were seventy employees working at the factory, not counting day labourers and shippers. It is worth observing how pays varied. The aggregate annual sum paid to white-collar workers was at 2,800 forints, while the monthly wages earned by smelters, shapers, engine operators, bricklayers, stokers, waggoners, and warehouse attendants ranged between 25 and 60 forints. The single blower, his assistant and two children working in each workshop were paid an aggregate sum of 70-85 forints, while the gang of six working as grinders earned I 10-150 forints per month.
When an employee was taken ill, the doctor's fees were paid by the factory, and the company contributed to the funding of a school, too. The wages of several employees were contractually stipulated. Among these was the smelter whose job of making the molten glass had a key role in producing quality goods. To achieve this he was even given a bonus called cullag. A similarly important part was played by the makers of the moulds who pressed into wooden frames the material that was kneaded by foot in advance. The key to success in each job was in hitting the precise ratio of the various components, as the smallest mistake led to considerable losses. The improvement of the quality of the factory's products was served by the separation from the grinders of cutters, whose job it was to apply more delicate embellishments. With this a new profession was born in glass manufacturing: this enabled its practitioners to become independent and leave the kilns, which presented the latter with another challenge. In the better-developed region's glass painters also appeared. Pieces in the collection of the Museum of Applied Arts testify that significant advances were made in this field, too, in the Neumann era. The person on whom this improvement depended was Osvald Voigtlander, a kiln chief lured from Germany to settle down here.
The change in the production profile which was indispensable if the company was to keep pace with its powerful rivals meant the replacement of cheaper goods with more and more valuable ones. The successful implementation of this was proved by the fact that the factory's liqueur bottles and pressed glassware were awarded a grand prix de I'exposition at the National Applied-Arts Exhibition of 1885 held in Budapest. József Bardos, the then chief executive officer of the Kossuch company, cited the pieces made at Ajka for their especially tasteful shapes. It can safely be claimed that the international reputation of the factory was first established by Neumann, who put Ajka on the map of the world mark for glassware - this was the crowning achievement in the work of an entrepreneur equally wellversed in the world of manufacturing and marketing glass. The hardships that beset his career did not spare him in later years either. In fact, the results of 1890 fell far short of those achieved five years earlier. Eventually the selling of the factory had to be considered.
 
 
NEUMANN IS OBLIGED TO SELL HIS FACTORY
For ten years the Ajka glass factory controlled the markets of Transdanubia unchallenged. At the same time there were as many as six glass factories operating in Croat-Slavonia, a region not larger than Transdanubia. Why was it then that Neumann was forced to give up his factory? An ever stricter system of protective tariffs in Western Europe was highly detrimental to the interests of Hungary's manufacturing industry. Meanwhile, the consequences of the trade war that unfolded In Rumania hit those Hungarian merchants, with Neumann among them, who could have earned high profits by exporting their goods to the East.
Social tensions were also on the increase. The workforce that came from the West imported the "socialistic" ideas advocated by Germany's Social-Democratic movement. With its profits diminished, the factory could not even pay sufficient wages to its best skilled workers, who consequently looked for better paid employment elsewhere.
In the wake of the general crop failure of 1889, demands for household glassware fell off. The sales of the most sought-for goods, such as preserve and pickle jars faltered, which is why the factory's turnover was decreased by 25 per cent. This, together with the law of 1890 that provided for tax breaks for factories that switched over to regenerator heating, led Bernat Neumann to the decision to offer his company for sale to a solvent and reputable firm capable of implementing the conversion to the new technology.
 
Part Two >>

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