Guide to the Unterwellenborn Iron Works

Unterwellenborn Iron Works, title pageUnterwellenborn Iron Works, title page

A. Dürkop: Führer durch das Eisenwerk Unterwellenborn bei Saalfeld a. d. Saale. Saalfeld : Verlag der W. Wiedemannschen Buchhandlung, [1892]

A guidebook on iron and steel works in a rural German backwater? Like a guide to the Louvre or Versailles or some world famous cathedral? It seems like a crazy idea at first sight. And yet nowadays industrial culture tourism is a booming industry. However, what's different about Maxhütte, iron and steel works in Unterwellenborn and the subject of this book, is that it's not an industrial monument at all but a fully operational production facility. The Maxhütte in Unterwellenborn, a small town in Thuringia, was founded in 1872-73 as a subsidiary of the Maxhütte in the Oberpfalz area of Germany. The location in Thuringia was ideal because it was close to an iron ore mining area. Twenty years after the works were built, a gentleman by the name of A. Dürkop, about whom nothing more is known, described the iron and steel works in terms usually reserved for a Gothic cathedral. He explains his rationale in the Preface:

"On his frequent visits to the Unterwellenborn iron works – undertaken either to instruct himself about the manufacture of iron and steel or to act as a guide for other visitors – the author invariably enjoyed the kindest treatment from the factory's officials, and their courteous willingness to answer the layman's questions and explain the processes in the blast furnaces and the machines was tireless.

But not everyone is privileged to visit the foundry a few times every year and have friendly guides to explain and expound. In such circumstances a printed guidebook is most welcome. The reader may peruse it before visiting the site or use it as a guide during the visit. And it can be consulted afterwards in order to refresh one's memory and recall what one has seen on the tour."

"A layman most readily understands what a layman writes"

Unterwellenborn Iron Works, ConverterUnterwellenborn Iron Works, Converter

Dürkop admits that he is "not an expert in the field of the iron industry" but he believes: "A layman most readily understands what a layman writes." The guidebook is designed to "give the non-specialist an insight, in simple and readily understandable terms, into the magnificent operation of such a plant and explain the stages that the ore must pass through before it becomes a finished steel ingot or steel rail." The small volume has nine chapters dedicated to mining, the extraction and preparation of ores, blast furnaces, tapping, iron casting, the Bessemer converter process, steel casting, the rolling mill, and the production of bricks and cement from the slag. Every year some ten million bricks were manufactured from the furnaces' slag. The slag heap still dominates the landscape even today. Iron production in Unterwellenborn was shut down in 1992, but an electric steelworks with a rolling mill has been operating at the site under the name Stahlwerk Thüringen (Thuringia Steel Mill) since 1995 and it has been part of Companhia Siderúrgica Nacional, a Brazilian company, since 2012.

"If you want to take away a visible memento of the Maxhütte ..."

Unterwellenborn Iron Works, advertisementsUnterwellenborn Iron Works, advertisements

The author also took into consideration the practical needs of a visitor to a steel mill. Want a souvenir? "Dear reader, if you want to take away a visible memento of the Maxhütte, I advise you to ask for a piece of spiegeleisen – fine white, steel blue, red and golden in hue. The mill owners' generous hand has placed abundant samples of this beautiful iron outside the windows of the chemical laboratory. Don't hesitate to take some, that's why it is there." The annex contains advertisements from hotels and restaurants where the steel mill tourist could refresh himself and wash off the dust of the foundry and the slag heap. The advertising possibly explains how the book, which was sold for 50 pfennig, was financed. Unfortunately, the paper used was of correspondingly poor quality and has become seriously browned; without paper de-acidification, it will disintegrate to dust in the foreseeable future. That would be a real pity because the copy in the Iron Library is the only one to be found in any library.

Unterwellenborn Iron Works, advertisementsUnterwellenborn Iron Works, advertisements