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The history of the Ajka Glass Factory - part four


Table of contents
The problems that stalled continuous production in 1945 did not go away in the following years: to the contrary, the danger of having to suspend production appeared to be very real. In July the factory was faced with a veritable mission impossible. They had run out of their reserves of imported raw material and new shipments failed to arrive. In the new international dispensation, the company's earlier suppliers - Austria, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Sweden, the USA - had all become inaccessible. Communication and official transactions were considerably slowed down as seven of those having a share in the factory were not residents of Hungary, and the company's technical and financial management was thus rendered ineffective, The situation was exploited by glassware dealers, and production thus made unprofitable, the factory's workers suffered. Working at 60 per cent of production capacity, the factory was temporarily out of operation for 160 days due to fuel and raw material shortages. The range of products was not altered in any significant way, including as it did hollow ware, mineral-water, and tomato-sauce and wine bottles, preserve, jam and pickle jars: items for lighting, lamp cylinders, glasses, mugs, jugs, table sets, and painted ware, The factory's merchandise was sold wholesale in Budapest as before (at the office on Vamhaz Boulevard). The company, whose other plants included the Katalin Glass-works in Czechoslovakia and the pottery at Körmöcbánya, had its head office in the capital, too. Zoltan Solt Eleod was still at the head of the firm.
In eight and a half months of the year 1947, there was only one furnace in operation. Another one was started on 15 September, which was meant to cut losses via increasing productivity in response to growing demands. (With one furnace turned on, production was at 50 and with two furnaces operating at 90 per cent capacity. Considering that both furnaces worked in the last quarter only, utilisation of production capacity was at 70 per cent on average.) Production value had been tripled compared to the previous year's turnover. The external appearance of the factory, the modernity and aesthetic quality of the workplace had little to recommend them, This is how an article in the daily Magyar Nemzet described the factory: "After the country's liberation, the Ajka Glassworks was hardly different from the crude, overcrowded and dangerous timber shack in which the kiln started its operation equipped with wood-fired furnaces and practically no machinery whatsoever after the opening of the Budapest-Szombathely railway line in 1878 ... Work accidents were as frequent as diseases caused by occupational hazards, with many a worker suffering from silicosis."
The situation could only be improved through the implementation of complex measures, including technological development, architectural restructuring, the installation of new machinery, the training of the workforce, and the general improvement of social and cultural conditions. All this was expected of the company's nationalisation. Indeed, the political system and philosophy of the people's democracy had no alternative to offer other than nationalisation.
Plate with zodiac representations, 1976The exact date on which Ajka was nationalised is a controversial issue to this day. The balance sheet report made in 1952, which is prefaced with a short historical survey, identifies 27 April 1948 as the date of nationalisation. On the other hand, Istvan Fiers's study as well as the authors of the volume Glassworks at the Foot of the Bakony speak of 26. March 1948 as the date. Let us accept the later version as authentic, as it was until this day that Zoltain Solt Eleod exercised his executive powers at the head of the factory as the general manager of the Kossuch firm, and it was then that Ferenc Hegyvari (Hajek) replaced him as factory manager. Implementing the nationalisation of the factory was hindered to a certain extent by the fact that their were foreign nationals among its owners.
The workers of the glass factory expected positive changes of the company's nationalisation. These hoped-for advantages included steady production, the timely payment of wages, and the modernisation of the factory. That these hopes were frustrated in the first half of the year is witnessed by the balance sheet report, which described production as satisfactory but concluded that sales activities felt short of expectations. Prices gave no reason for joy either as rising production costs prevented the achievement of profitability. And yet, more of the factory's production capacities were used with utilisation reaching 90 per cent. The factory employed 409 workers at the time, who produced 747 metric tons of glassware. Thanks to large credits given by the National Bank wages were paid regularly and even back payments were settled in this particular respect expectations were met. Moral was further boosted by the arrival, in the month preceding nationalisation, of 25,000 forints from company headquarters. This amount, together with sums paid by the factory' buyers, enabled the management to pay extra fees for pottery-loading, to disinburse day wages and household fuel benefits. Seventy-three employers were even accommodated in company flats.
Directors followed one another in quick succession: from Ferenc Hegyvari, management was taken over by Vilmos Stadler as the chairman of the factory committee, who was succeeded by József Szeplaki followed in his turn by Janos Pentek on 26 March.
Inherited difficulties related to the run-down condition in which buildings, equipment, roads, and welfare units were found in had to be overcome in the newly nationalised factory. Besides continuous production and the exploration of new markets developments were also undertaken, if initially on a modest scale only.
In the first few months only domestic sales were made and mainly of household utility articles. The catering industry purchased water, wine and liqueur sets. The first export shipment went to the Netherlands and contained simple, cut wine and water sets and other cut chalices. After the shipment to Holland overseas markets also opened up as more richly cut chalices were made to order from America. Although preparing the new decoration required plenty of experience (the ration of scrapped pieces reached 50-60 per cent) the aggregate value of exports had reached 120-150 thousand forints by the last quarter of 1949. Besides the items mentioned so far, household hollow ware, bottles, cylinders for kerosene lamps, and fine white and colour ware was made in 1949. The value of these was in excess of one million forints. There were some advances made with respect to welfare and cultural services, too: a canteen, a doctor's surgery, factory baths, and a library were opened.
From 1950 the factory reshaped its production profile. As exports now mainly went to the East, the American cut chalices were replaced by plain, colour tumblers, which boosted the quantity of production. Of the total annual production value of 9 million forints, 2 million's worth was made up of exports. Technical equipment- was also changed in the course of the year when two belt-coolers were installed. The furnaces were fed by a gas generator. The investment funds made continually available were enough to finance the reconstruction of the old unhealthy buildings, too. The low, dilapidated, shingle-roofed building of the large kiln and the timber structures were replaced with modern concrete constructions. An electrical workshop, a Diesel-hut and new materials warehouses were built, while the fireclay-grinder was renovated. The superannuated iron shop was converted into a fine-grinding facility for the apprentices. The old, decrepit funnel of the large kiln was demolished and replaced with a new, forty-meter tall one.
In 1952, the ratio of exports was in excess of 50 per cent of the factory's total production value, and in 1953 the combined weight of products was over a thousand metric tons. In 1955 the factory received a loan from the National Bank to reduce production cost. The money was used to expand the large kiln and to build a new, six-square-metre tank furnace. The old underground gas lines were raised above the surface. A new disk-cutting facility and a fine-cutting workshop were built. Simultaneously with the latter a packing plant was also installed in 1957 with the old one converted into a materials depot. Technical equipment was upgraded with the purchase of several new machines and instruments, which made work easier and improved productivity at the same time. The number of employees also increased.
In 1956 the glass factory joined the revolution including a strike whose economic consequence was put at a loss of some 2 million forints according to the next auditing. What suffered must have been domestic sales, as there were no back orders registered in the company's exports. The revolutionary council of workers was set up on 27 October, on which day production was also suspended, to be resumed on 17 December. As the chief engineer saw to it that furnaces were kept hot in case they froze, so restarting production involved no undue difficulties. While the director of the plant resigned on his own accord, some foremen and employees were dismissed by the workers' council. Until 20 February 1957, when a new director was appointed, the chief engineer discharged all managerial duties.
By 20 March, business was back to normal although it was not until the beginning of summer that the intensity of work reached the required level. With the director at the top of the company hierarchy, it was the chief engineer who attended to the practicalities of management as "appointed deputy". The various plants came under his supervision. By the end of the year 682 employees worked for the factory, 614 of whom were blue-collar workers. Production measured in tons was in excess of 1,600 and in forints 15 million, 11 million of which was made up of exports. (What makes this result all the more precious is the fact that there were rumours circulating that payment by the piece was to be replaced by flat rates some time in the year, for understandable reasons, the news was not received with any enthusiasm.)
The production units of the plant at the time were:
2 12-pot smelting furnaces with a smelting surface of 14 square metres
1 3-pot vertical recuperative furnace with a surface of 5 square metres
2 1-ton horizontal recuperative tubs with a surface of 2 square metres
1 6-metre IMAG-type vertical recuperative tub
It was partly fine white and colour hollow ware that was made with these smelting furnaces and tubs, partly common household and restaurant hollow ware. Pressed glass was also made but in decreasing quantities in accordance with factory policies. Thanks to amicable relations with the mines in the region, nationwide coal shortages did not hit the factory very hard, thus the minimum amount required to keep the furnaces in operation was always at the kiln's disposal. In spring the factory's range of products was also altered. The production of glassware for medical use and Petri dishes was begun. Laboratory jars were mainly made at Salgótarján, but as foreign demands could not be met with capacities available there, Ajka also had to pitch in. 1957 turned out to be successful year as the balance sheet showed a credit of 408 thousand forints, something. The workers, too, could now feel happy about this, as their wages were increased by 15 percent during the year.
Magda Nemeth: “Japanese” beakkers with richly cut decoration, 19961958 is a year marked by the renovation of the furnaces. This operation involved the shut-down of each furnace for a thirty-day period. For that reason the production of fine-cut ware fell off for a while. What counter-balanced the loss was the production of headlight-covers. Although measured in tons the amount of ware produced was less than before, its net value was increased by 3 million forints. Export revenues also grew 3 million forints. The factory could have achieved even more, but in accordance with contemporary usage an intermediary export-import company was placed by the state between manufacturer and buyer. Ajka's relations with Ferunion, as the go-between was called, was far from harmonic. What now threatened to stall continuous production was the so-called allocation-system. It was a step in the right direction taken in the field of welfare and health that a new, up-to-date packing unit was opened alongside the fine-cutting workshop. The system of issuing protective and working clothes was also regulated and the construction of workers' apartments was begun. The successful year was closed with ambitious plans for the future.
After a promising 1958 the next year began with poor results. In spite of the growing workforce, production value decreased. Due to mechanical failure some 160 blowers' shifts were lost and the rate of scrap also grew. Ware whose quality fell short of export requirements were not accepted by domestic wholesalers either. Several export consignments contained ware with glass granules deposited on the bottom of glasses, which is why these shipments could only be sold at a discount. But these difficulties were eventually overcome, for which much of the credit went to the unchanged management of the factory, and significant achievements were eventually recorded. Although officially launched on 1 January 1960, the reconstruction project had in effect begun in 1959, when a number of construction jobs were started to be continued well into the 1960s.
The factory's daring ambitions were validated by optimistic predictions made by the company's export-dealer about the potential expansion of the markets for hollow ware.
On the other hand, the insufficiency of the factory's infrastructure is indicated by the fact that only a third of the then significant sum of nearly 35 thousand forints invested at the time was used to procure production-related equipment with the rest spent on the upgrading of auxiliary and welfare units.
Naturally, the factory needed more and more raw materials and transportation had to be stepped up, too. The capacity of the factory's railway side-line had to be increased to three cars a day. The changes in production capacity, technical equipment and the range of products did not leave the make-up of the personnel unaffected either: the number of technicians was meant to be raised to 28, that of workers from 750 to 822. Per-capita annual production was to be increased from 52,500 to 68,800 forints. In terms of weight this meant 2.57 tons compared to the previous 1.97. The final deadline for completing the new installations and putting them into operation was set to 1963. The individual reconstruction jobs were to be started in the following three phases:
Phase 1: generator unit and kiln-house 01/10/1959
Phase 2: materials depot, mixer, side-line 02101/1962
Phase 3: other installations 03/1960
<< Part Three   Part Five >>

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