Essen in detail

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Feature: The Krupp Dynasty – Men Of Steel

Steel and Krupp are virtual synonyms. So are Krupp and Essen. For it’s this bustling Ruhrgebiet city that is the ancestral seat of the Krupp family and the headquarters of one of the most powerful corporations in Europe.

It all began rather modestly in 1811 when Friedrich Krupp and two partners founded a company to process ‘English cast steel’ but, despite minor successes, he left a company mired in debt upon his death in 1826. Enter his son Alfred, then a tender age of 14, who would go on to become one of the seminal figures of the Industrial Age.

It was through the production of the world’s finest steel that the ‘Cannon King’ galvanised a company that – by 1887 – employed more than 20,000 workers. In an unbroken pattern of dazzling innovation, coupled with ruthless business practices, Krupp produced steel and machinery that was essential to the world economy.

But Krupp also provided womb-to-tomb benefits to its workers at a time when the term ‘social welfare’ had not yet entered the world’s vocabulary.

Krupp will forever be associated, however, with the Third Reich. Not only did the corporation supply the hardware for the German war machine, it also provided much of the financial backing that Hitler needed to build up his political power base. Krupp plants were prime targets for Allied bombers. After the war, the firm slowly lost its way and in 1999 merged with former arch-rival Thyssen.

An excellent source for an understanding of what the Krupp family has meant to Germany is William Manchester’s brilliant chronicle The Arms of Krupp (1964).