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August Thyssen

(17. May 1842 - 4. April 1926)

August Thyssen is born on May 17, 1842 in the industrial and mining town of Eschweiler near Aachen as the third child and first son of a wealthy catholic family of entrepreneurs. For 15 years his father Friedrich (1804 - 1877) manages the first steel wire rolling mill in the Rhine province before founding a bank. The hard work, modesty and thrift of his parents make a strong impression on the growing son. Following church school in Eschweiler, August attends grammar school in Aachen before moving in 1859 to the polytechnic school in Karlsruhe for two years to study mechanical engineering and construction. In 1861 he attends the "Institut Supérieur du Commerce de l'État" higher commercial college in Antwerp before starting work at his father's bank.

For the period, August Thyssen has a good technical and commercial education when in 1867 he is first involved in founding a company (Thyssen, Fossoul & Co.) in Duisburg with his brother-in-law Bicheroux. After only four years in which he quadruples his capital investment, he leaves the company to go into business for himself. With his father as a partner, on April 1, 1871 he founds Thyssen & Co, an iron strip rolling mill in Styrum near Mülheim an der Ruhr.

After the death of his father in 1877, August's younger brother Joseph (1844 - 1915) joins the company as co-owner. This gives August Thyssen more time to pursue other business interests, initially in the Ruhr area, later in France and overseas.

In 1872 August Thyssen marries Hedwig Pelzer (1854 - 1940), the daughter of Mülheim businessman Johann Heinrich Pelzer. In the years that follow they have four children: Fritz (1873 - 1951), August (1874 - 1943), Heinrich (1875 - 1947) and Hedwig (1878 - 1960). The couple divorces in 1885; the children are brought up by their father.

August Thyssen ca.1917. Portrait by Franz Josef Klemm

August Thyssen ca.1917. Portrait by Franz Josef Klemm

From 1878 August Thyssen starts to get involved in processing the products manufactured by Thyssen & Co., including the fabrication of pipes for gas lines. In 1882 he starts rolling sheet at Styrum, for which two years later he sets up a galvanizing shop. The foundation stone for Maschinenfabrik Thyssen & Co. is laid in 1883 with the purchase of a neighboring mechanical engineering company.

In 1891 August Thyssen takes the first step toward creating a vertical company at the Gewerkschaft Deutscher Kaiser coal mine in [Duisburg-]Hamborn, which he expands to an integrated iron and steelmaking plant on the River Rhine. Just before the First World War he starts to expand his group internationally (Netherlands, UK, France, Russia, Mediterranean region, Argentina).

For August Thyssen, the end of the First World War brings not only the loss of his numerous foreign interests and his companies in Lorraine, but also an end to his company expansion. In 1925, already aged over 80, he still has sole control over his businesses and agrees in principle to his companies being transferred to a new group, Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG. On April 4,1926 August Thyssen dies at Schloss Landsberg near Essen. Unlike his sons Heinrich and Fritz, he has not collected any notable works of art apart from seven Rodin sculptures. Heinrich and Fritz share his industrial inheritance between them. A workaholic and an extremely creative businessman, August Thyssen perfects the concept of the vertically integrated corporation. For example, he sets up a mechanical engineering company in Mülheim an der Ruhr to build the large gas engines required for his own manufacturing operations. He becomes involved in steel processing, steel coating and shipbuilding for the same reasons. Without making any technical inventions himself, but always with an eye for innovations, he rises from a medium-size entrepreneur to one of the biggest German industrialists of the first quarter of the 20th century. Business profits are invested in the further expansion of his group. In addition to this maxim, August Thyssen also donates several million marks to a variety of charitable organizations (incl. August-Thyssen-Foundation's 'Franziskushaus' orphanage and old-age home in Mülheim an der Ruhr). However, even today little is known of his charitable work. One reason may be August Thyssen's avoidance of any kind of self-publicity. His politics are conservative and nationalistic. In business matters he is fundamentally opposed to cartels and syndicates, but still joins them if it suits his purpose without playing a leading part.