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The history of the Ajka Glass Factory - part two


Table of contents
A serious bid was made by the legal successors of the country's foremost glass manufacturer, the Zlatno based entrepreneur, János György Zahn. These investors intended to turn the works into a bottle factory. They based their plans on the favourable geographical location of the plant. The low cost projected for its refurbishing, and its good access to the major markets. They submitted a request for the benefits needed for the restructuring to Minister of Commerce Gabor Baross before the purchase was effected. In their request they announced their intention to convert the Ajka factory into a bottle-manufacturing unit equipped with a continuously operated regenerative heating system and a gas-tank furnace. They wished to avail themselves of every benefit available over a period of fifteen years. They envisaged the replacement of imported bottles with their domestic equivalent. They planned to reduce the risks of the capital-intensive investment through the establishment of a share company. The name of the new firm was to be The First Hungarian Bottle Factory Co. Ajka.
The minister supported the request and was in favour of granting the greatest possible benefits. But the Minister of Finance dragged his foot over the issue. His answer eventually allowed for a mere ten year period of grace, which was exacerbated by the flat denial of railway benefits and the controversy around the factory's price. What all this led to was the Zahn-successors' withdrawal of their offer. It was then that the Kossuch company appeared on the scene to make its bid ...
A highly perceptive observer and a calculating manager, Neumann saw it clearly that the position of small-scale enterprises was becoming increasingly untenable in the keen competition of the domestic and international heavy weights. It is therefore understandable that he wanted to sell his factory to one of the two most competitive rivals in the industry - either to the Zahns or the Kossuchs. The Kossuch company had laid down the foundations of their reputation at the Paris exposition of 1878, and Istvan Garag, a leading expert of the field, remarked that after the death of Janos Zahn theiers was the only firm potentially able to lead Hungary' glassmaking industry to success in the international competition. Neumann thus left the helm of his factory in capable hands.
Portrait of Janos KossuchHe was born on 24 June 1813. in the village of Kavi, Gemer county (in what is Slovakia today) of Maria Baran and highway controller Matyas Kossuch. Having no independent means to rely on, Janos's parents brought him up amid great hardships. On graduating from the forth form of the local elementary school. Janos continued his studies at the Rozsnyo "gymnasium", or grammar school, where he spent somewhat less than three years before dropping out to be employed as a general dealer's apprentice. From then on his education consisted of picking up whatever scraps of knowledge came his way. If there was nothing better, leafing through invoices, shipping contracts, business correspondence and pages in the shop's accounts book would do. When he was released from his apprenticeship, he moved to Rimaszombat. the county seat from where he went on to Jolsva to open his own shop when he was not yet 22 (on 4 May 1835). On 24 May the following year, he married Karolina, the daughter of the dowager Mrs Jakab Kuhinka of Sziklahuta. The wedding was held at Forgacsfalva, Gomer county. Soon thereafter, he turned his shop over to his brother-in-law and went to the glass factory of O-Antalvolgy, a unit on which his late father-in-law had taken out a franchise from its owner Antal Forgach. Having managed the unit for a while, Kossuch took over the franchise but in two years' time he moved to Pest to sell the products of the Szikla and Ó-Antalvalgy kilns. At the time there was only one glassware store in Pest, and the second one was opened by Kossuch on Vamház boulevard. In 1844 Kossuch transferred his headquarters to Losonc where he took out a lease on the royal proprietorial privileges for 21,000 forints per annum and he also rented land of 850 acres from the Reformed Church. In 1847 he built a smelting works, where his brothers-in-law established a glass kiln named Katalin Glass-works for their mother. Later he exchanged this factory for another smelting-shop, and then he moved to Pest where he founded an iron foundry. With his health failing he was obliged, after settling down in Pest permanently, to concentrate on the profitable management of his existing businesses, With his acumen he could always precisely assess the soundness or otherwise of any investment. He died on 27 August 1863, naming his widow as the general inheritor of his estate in his last will and testament.
Having no intention to divide the estate, the widowed Mrs. Janos Kossuch wanted to keep together and operate the firm with the assistance of her children. Of Janos Kossuch's nine children one son and three daughters survived. It was with these that she signed the contract that was the legal foundation of establishing and registering, on 14 June 1869, the Janos Kossuch Family Partnership Limited by Shares, The partners, Gyula Kossuch and his wife nee Paulina Szilassy, Hermina Kossuch and her husband Jozsef Brunner, Maria Kossuch and her husband Josa Eleod, signed, together with their children of legal age and their families, the following resolution: "I (NN) hereby pledge to exert myself, upholding the high ideals of justice and work, to maintain and increase the material and moral strength of the family company founded in the spirit of the encouraging memory left by the working life once lived by founder of firm and family the late Janos Kossuch, and to keep the letter and spirit of the founding statutes of the Kossuch House and the family agreement. Onto this I swear my word." The dowager was elected company president, while Josa Eleod was put in charge of accountancy and supervision. The wording and contents of the founding statues were often changed in the years to come, which thus received its final shape in 1903. By then the experience accumulated during the decades left behind necessitated that the stipulation be made according to which only such persons could receive membership who had the appropriate experience and qualifications for the job, and whose conduct was guided by the principles of thrift and the preservation of the firm as a family venture. A new entrant was given 213 vote during his or her candidacy to receive full membership on being incorporated in the register. From that time on, the new member was not allowed to resign membership and could only leave if two-thirds of the company's assembly voted for his or her expulsion.
Popular memory remembered Janos Kossuch as the one who acquired the Ajka glass factory for a long time, even though at the time the ownership was transferred in 1891 he had been dead for nearly thirty years. The misunderstanding was caused by the fact that the unit was recorded as Janos Kossuch's Ajka Glassworks in the purchase deed in accordance with his last will and testament, which stipulated that together with his firm his name, too, be preserved for posterity, Until it was nationalised, the factory in fact bore this name.
As soon as the Kossuch company took over the factory, it immediately set about modernisation, which had been concluded by 1892. The layout plan attached to the request submitted by the firm for state benefits helps us envisage the proportions of the work carried out. The two workers' flats in the two-storey buildings marked "B", parts of building "D" containing the kiln, the two new regenerative smelting furnaces identified with the letter "E", the funnel marked "F", the engine shed marked "G", the grinding shop marked “H”, the manuscript storage room marked "K", the stable and flat marked "L", the gas-generators marked "M", the packing hall marked "N", the fusing pot marked ,,O", and the two mixing chambers of the smelting furnace marked “R” belong to the category of new installments.
The new, gas-fuelled regenerative Siebert furnaces, which required the erection of a funnel, were installed in the kiln unit built as yet by Neumann. The one built to the furnaces was the factory's first 36-metre tall funnel, which remained in operation for 63 years, (It was demolished in 1955.) A new building was raised to house the grinding machine. The steam engine is likely to have been placed in the building marked "I" on the plan, which also housed the grinders' shop, Building "A", which had served as an office block earlier, too, was where work was supervised from.
The certificate authenticating the request and verifying the fact that the modernisation had been implemented was signed by the industrial inspector delegated by the minister Agost Magyaris, chief district constable Viktor Noszlopi, and magistrate József Horvath with deputy magistrate Karoly Pap of the village authority. That the benefits were in fact granted is testified by secretary of state Bela Lukacs's letter:" ...I have received the request made of the Janos Kossuch Budapest-based company (No.5 Vamhaz krt. District IX) that the state benefits as specified in Act XIII 1890 be granted for the firm's industrial installation at Ajka equipped with a regenerative heating system. Authorised by the Prime Minister in charge of the Ministry of Finance, I hereby issue the permission that the benefits requested be granted for the said industrial installation for a period of ten years starting as of I January 1893."
Let us have a look at the expenses entailed in the implementation of the technological upgrading. Among the costs of effecting the purchase mention is made of the price paid for a lobomobile at 2,000 forints and the sum of Ft 166,05 paid to the Guttmann company for a bottom-grinder. All in all, and including the purchase price paid to Neumann, the following expenses had to be met.
The equipment of the glassworks:
Ft 15,955 kr. 29
Fittings and templates:
Ft 5,55 I kr. 0I
Takeover and furnishing:
Ft 1,000 kr. 00
Operating expenses for the year 1891:
Ft 39,506 kr. 30
Portrait of Mrs. Janos KossuchAccording to the balance sheet for 1892 10,987 forints were spent on the gas furnace, while purchasing other fittings cost 16,473 forints. The investment value of the kiln is, according to the balance, 75,500 forints.
In the 1891 property statement of the Kossuch firm mention is made of other glass kilns as well as the newly acquired Ajka factory, but most importantly the company already had its sales representative operating in Leipzig who helped the company export its cut and hollow glassware to the United States, East India and the German Empire. The Kossuchs were the first to break into foreign markets with the products of Hungary's glass industry. Initially, the glassware made at Ajka were mainly sold in Transdanubia, Budapest and Vienna.
After the reconstruction of the Ajka factory, production was resumed with renewed energy. The 1895 report of the Gy6r Chamber of Commerce and Industry - under whose jurisdiction the county of Veszprem and thus Ajka had belonged since 1890 - as well as Simon Telkes's monograph published in the same year carried largely the same data concerning the factory. Let us now quote Simon Telkes's work:
"In the small village of Ajka, Veszprem county, near the railway station, whose proximity is explained by the factory's industrial sidelines, stands a hollow glassware factory. Founded by Bernat Neumann but owned by the János Kossuch Family Partnership Ltd. since 1891, the factory began production in 1878 and, enlarged and modernised, resumed operation in 1891-92 The factory is equipped with a 10-horse-power steam engine and a 20-pot, Siemens regenerator furnace. The steam boiler has a surface of 14.18 square metres, the mass of molten glass weighs 160-170 kilograms. The factory has a shatterer to grind the raw material with, 3 pressing machines and 12 abrasive disks. Annual production is at 420 tons of common and 160 tons of fine hollow glassware worth 100,000 forints. It enjoys a state-granted tax-benefits over a ten-year period from 1893 to the end of 1902 Factory manager: Vince Schoneuer. "
It is in this source that the factory's sideline is mentioned. An important advancement over the situation of 1885 was the increase in the number of grinders, as now each of the four grinding shops had three abrasive disks. The lathes with which wooden templates were turned and had been powered by foot (via a pedal) before were now driven by the steam engine. Pressing glass must also have become a profitable venture, as the number of pressing machines had been raised to five by century's end. In ten years' time turnover was doubled.
From the Chamber's report it can be learned that the factory had its scrap glass shipped from Vienna, Budapest and other domestic suppliers, and employed 70 workers. (The number of employees had reached 145 by the turn of the century.) Mention is to be made of the health insurance fund founded by 1891 to provide employees with instant relief and sickness benefits when they were taken ill in return for regular payments amounting to 2-3 per cent of their daily wages.
Hungary's glass industry hoped recovery from a policy of fusions. In 1895 the First Domestic Glassworks Co. was established. The firm planned to open a huge sheet-glass factory that was to employ 300 workers on the Strazsa Hill outside the city of Esztergom. It was in the same year that the glassworks at Tokod started operations by manufacturing pharmaceutical jars. The new installments experimented with domestic raw materials, but this did not prove to be successful. The first symptoms of a crisis soon made themselves felt.
With the turn of the century, a crisis hit the glass industry, which necessitated the joining of forces. The two sister industries of clay and glass making launched a professional journal entitled Hungarian Glass and Clay News in February of 1901. The first editorial article called for the closing of ranks. The leader pointed out the futility of rivalry and looking for separate ways out of the industry's predicament. Furthermore, the article called attention to the regrettable fact that the National Trade Association had left glassmakers out of its annual report, even though the industry was counted with internationally. With their 106 kilns, the 42 glassworks of the country produced 16 million forints' worth of glassware annually, thus giving employment to 8.500 workers and 2,000 shippers. In November of 1901 the National Association of Glassmakers was eventually formed. The association's first secretary was József Bardos, a member of the Kossuch family and a founder of their firm. (One of the senior positions in the association was always to be occupied by a representative of the Kossuch company.) The glassmakers submitted a nine-point recommendation to the minister, in which document they requested state subventions, discounts on railway shipment, the construction of roads to glass factories far away from the railways, the encouragement of sales on Eastern markets (notably the reduction of Rumanian border tariffs), the coordination of prospecting for raw materials, the setting up of a glassmakers' school, the establishment of an experimental unit and a museum, and finally the privatisation of glass factories owned by the treasury. Also accepted was an appeal to be issued jointly with the government calling on the country's population to prefer glassware made in Hungary to imports from Austria and Bohemia. The association joined the National Association of Industrial Manufacturers, but retained its independence. This joining of forces did not however, deliver the hoped-for results, as the industry continued to fare poorly. The price of raw materials was still on the increase. Another source of difficulties was the dearth of qualified labour, as the establishment of the trade school envisaged by the association fell through, and skilled workers left the country in the hope of higher wages. In a cunning move the Austrian manufacturers liquidated their branches in Hungary and went on to sell their goods via wholesalers. In 1909 this resulted in such a glutting of the market that the accumulated merchandise had to be marketed at cut prices. Depriving them of a viable market, the Balkans War of 1912 in itself bankrupted several glass factories.
The new century brought new hardships to Ajka, too. In September of 1900, a fire started in the factory, but the flames were fortunately put out soon by the workers. Thus damages were limited to less than 5.000 koronas. The factory still had a hard time keeping pace with its Austrian competitors. The only consolation in the critical situation was the fact that the factory won a gold medal at the Veszprem Industrial Exhibition of 1904, but no newspaper spoke of the firm's exhibits.
The first strike in the firm's history was held in 1908, in response to the surplus production related to the opening of the upper kiln built in 1907. This is how Vencel Dokonal, a glass-blower who passed away at the age of 95 in 1975 remembered the events: "Me and Toni Stanek made goblets at the time ... As we had taught the charger how to make a bucket, we could produce more than before. That was what the others did, too. Director Karoly Gaill and the kiln chief reacted by reducing piece wages so we did not earn more than before. It was then that strike broke out. As we younger workers did not check in for work the others, too, had to stay at home... The director made a phone-call to Pest, from where Arpad Bardos came down to the factory, heard us out, and then settled the affair to our satisfaction, on which we resumed work." That such a prompt agreement was reached was of course facilitated by the fact that the National Union of Hungary's Glassworkers, a workers' organisation formed in 1908, supported the demands of its Ajka chapter. Now the workers, too, had an association to protect their interests.
Group photo showing the cutter, April 23, 1912Although director Laszlo Gaill and a few leading skilled workers left in 1906, their positions were soon filled with personnel who had been made redundant in glass factories liquidated elsewhere. The growth in the number of cutters in the factory was particularly significant. Among the new arrivals at Ajka at the time was Pal Buger; who trained the grinders in the trade of cutting. Recorded evidence of glass-painters working here dates back to 1910 (Burger, Kralich, Kovacsics, Osztrics, Pollak, Richter, Schafarik). Adam Orehovszky, the first etcher in the factory, came in 1912. Lajos Steindl, the first clapper was employed in 1910. There were many pressers among the newcomers who included gluers, too, who belonged to the former and were later entered in the logbook as clappers and then heaters, which suggests that further pressing machines were acquired. With that the factory ranked third after the Zay-Ugroc and the Lednicz-Rovnye works. Kiln chief Ferenc Kovacs was temporarily charged with canying out the duties of Karoly Gaal, who had left the company, and the firm was represented at Ajka by Simon Eleőd. In 1912 management was taken over by Rezső Dvoracsek, and it was in the same year that the Seidl family, later the founders of the company's brass band, came to Ajka. There were two kilns in operation at the time, and double workshops were set up so that newly arriving glassworkers could be employed.
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