Krupp Works Open at Essen Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Despite the company’s slow beginning, the opening of the Krupp Works presaged the dominance of heavy industry, especially the manufacture of steel, in the industrialization of the European continent, and the Krupp Works eventually played a major role in the European arms race.

Summary of Event

The Industrial Revolution Industrial Revolution;and steel industry[Steel industry] has long been regarded as the seminal development of nineteenth century Europe. A central role in Europe’s industrialization was the emergence of the steel industry. The major force behind the transformation of the European steel industry was the emergence of the Krupp Works of Essen, Germany, as one of the Continent’s leading producers of steel. Krupp Works Germany;Krupp Works Steel;Krupp Works Iron;and steel[Steel] [kw]Krupp Works Open at Essen (Sept. 20, 1811) [kw]Works Open at Essen, Krupp (Sept. 20, 1811) [kw]Open at Essen, Krupp Works (Sept. 20, 1811) [kw]Essen, Krupp Works Open at (Sept. 20, 1811) Krupp Works Germany;Krupp Works Steel;Krupp Works Iron;and steel[Steel] [g]Germany;Sept. 20, 1811: Krupp Works Open at Essen[0530] [c]Manufacturing;Sept. 20, 1811: Krupp Works Open at Essen[0530] [c]Business and labor;Sept. 20, 1811: Krupp Works Open at Essen[0530] [c]Trade and commerce;Sept. 20, 1811: Krupp Works Open at Essen[0530] Huntsman, Benjamin Krupp, Friedrich Krupp, Alfred Krupp, Friedrich Alfred Krupp, Helene Amalie Ascherfeld

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the predominant industrial metal was iron, both cast and wrought—not its stronger alloy, steel. Great Britain was the major iron producer Great Britain;iron production , and steel products represented only a tiny component of its iron industry, largely used in the manufacture of springs for clocks and expensive table utensils. British steel production was concentrated at Sheffield, in northern England, and benefited from the work of the Chemistry;and steel[Steel] chemist Benjamin Huntsman Huntsman, Benjamin , who in the middle of the eighteenth century devised a better and more reliable method of making steel than that heretofore used. Huntsman’s method was to heat pig iron ingots in clay pots, or crucibles, that absorbed the excess carbon of the pig iron and produced, with only one reheating, steel that could be manipulated to make goods that were in heavy demand.

The Huntsman technique was kept secret in Sheffield, but the city’s manufacturers of steel products that were superior to anything else then available took advantage of their reputation and their products were admired throughout Europe. However, by the early nineteenth century, some knowledge of the crucible methodology had begun to leak out, and European manufacturers attempted to duplicate it. That, in fact, was exactly the intent of the German Friedrich Krupp, Krupp, Friedrich who on September 20, 1811, set up a small steelworks on the banks of Germany’s Berne River, a tributary of the Ruhr, in the provincial town of Essen. At that time, the German states, like the rest of continental Europe, were cut off from importing British products by France’s Napoleon I. A major stimulus to Krupp was the offer of a substantial prize to the German who devised a method of making crucible steel comparable to the Sheffield product.

It eventually took more than twenty years for the small Krupp enterprise to master the crucible steelmaking technique. Meanwhile, the number of men working for Krupp varied from one to seven, and Krupp himself—who had no particular expertise in this field—experimented and hawked the results of his experiments around the small principalities of western Germany. During this crucial phase, Krupp was sustained by the substantial economic resources of his grandmother, Helene Amalie Ascherfeld Krupp Krupp, Helene Amalie Ascherfeld , and by the Krupp family business, which had been trading successfully for more than two centuries in western Germany. Krupp himself was never to reap the rewards of his efforts, as he died a discouraged man in 1826.

It was Krupp’s teenage grandson, Alfred Krupp Krupp, Alfred , who built the Krupp Works into the monolithic business that it later became. The younger Krupp achieved this success largely because he was a remarkably effective marketer. However, he also made good use of the vast economic resources of his mostly female relatives. In fact, there are those who maintain that it was the female Krupps, not the male members of the family, who were the true founders of the business. The role of the women, however, remained largely hidden.

Krupp Works exhibit at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The center of the exhibit is a massive wheeled cannon.

(Library of Congress)

The first steel products of the Krupp Works to benefit from the marketing skills of the family were molds sold to the small principalities of western Germany for making coins. These high-quality molds established Krupp’s reputation. The market for steel then expanded with the creation of the Zollverein, a customs union encompassing much of central Germany in 1834. After it was formed, Alfred Krupp rushed to market his products throughout Germany. When railroads began to be built in Germany during the 1840’s and 1850’s, Krupp expanded his operation greatly, and the numbers of Krupp employees grew from single to double digits. By 1849, the Krupp Works had perfected steel springs and axles for railroad cars, and Krupp began marketing steel railroad-car wheels that were cast as a single piece. This innovation played a major part in the expansion of the business during the second half of the century, along with the replacement of iron rails of the earliest railroads with steel rails. Production of railroad supplies remained a major component of Krupp’s business and included much of the equipment and rails used on Canadian and early U.S. railroads.

It was the arms business, however, that made Krupp the powerhouse that it was to become by the end of the century. Alfred Krupp, Alfred applied his considerable marketing skills to winning over the Prussian government and selling it ever-larger weapons. When these helped Prussia win battles during its brief war Prussia;Seven Weeks’ War[Seven Weeks War] with Austria in 1866 and its 1870 war with France, Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871)[Franco Prussian War (1870-1871)];weapons Krupp’s dominance of the arms market became unrivaled. Krupp then became a major contributor to the European arms race that characterized the last years of the nineteenth century, spilling over from artillery pieces that grew ever larger and more destructive to increasingly powerful naval vessels. Krupp also developed nickel steel that made possible relatively lightweight armor for the new fleet that the ambitious German emperor, William II, was building to keep up with Great Britain’s Royal Navy Royal Navy .

Through the rest of his life, Alfred Krupp steadfastly refused to convert his family business from a sole proprietorship to a corporation. During the 1860’s, he created the Prokura, a five-person management unit that ran much of the firm’s day-to-day business. However, at his death in 1887, control of the entire firm passed to his son, Friedrich Krupp, Friedrich Alfred (Fritz) Alfred Krupp. Although the younger Krupp was not highly regarded by his fellows, he proved to be an effective manager of his inheritance. Under his direction, the Krupp Works continued to expand. By 1871, it had 10,000 employees; by the end of the century it had about 43,000. Fritz abolished the Prokura and replaced it with a management board, but final decisions always rested with him. What he did not do was produce a male heir who could take over the firm on his death in 1902. He was survived by two teenage daughters. Almost unavoidably, the firm became a corporation. However, almost all its shares were held in trust for the elder of Fritz Krupp’s daughters.


The Krupp Works has been much demonized, especially for its role in providing war materiel to Germany’s government during World War I and World War II. Nevertheless, it was not fundamentally different from similar industrial empires elsewhere in the world, notably in the United States. Krupp rode the wave of industrialization during the early nineteenth century, when it was immeasurably assisted by the dominance of steel as the raw material of modern industry.

In some respects Krupp was a model of corporate welfare, as the company created a host of services to its employees: housing, insurance, health services, even grocery stores. The extent to which the company promoted large industry, and especially the production of armaments, has permanently tarnished its reputation, and may well have inspired the heir to the Krupp fortune voluntarily to give much of it up in 1965.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Batty, Peter. The House of Krupp. Rev. ed. Lanham, Md.: Cooper Square Press, 2002. First published in 1967, this survey of the Krupp dynasty from its founding to mid-twentieth century provides the most readable and concise study. Batty thoroughly investigates Alfred Krupp’s youth and is adroit at displaying the youthful factors that later played a role in his direction of the firm.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Henderson, W. O. The Rise of German Industrial Power. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975. A comprehensive history of Germany’s rise to industrial preeminence in nineteenth century Europe.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Landes, David. The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Nations Are So Rich and Some So Poor. New York: W. W. Norton, 1998. Major work by America’s preeminent historian of technology that gives a concise explanation of the problem of making steel during the early years of the nineteenth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Manchester, William. The Arms of Krupp, 1587-1968. Boston: Little, Brown, 1968. A massive account by an American writer of popular histories. Manchester demonizes the firm, but he did consult the Krupp archives.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Showalter, Dennis E. Railroads and Rifles: Soldiers, Technology, and the Unification of Germany. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1975. A close study of Krupp’s role in the unification of Germany. The author focuses on Krupp’s early years of business and his successful association with the Prussian government through the acquisition of government contracts. Especially well covered are Krupp’s armaments contracts during the critical period of German unification during the 1860’s and 1870’s.

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Categories: History