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Minele de fier si metalurgia

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1 Minele de fier si metalurgia la data de 19.11.09 12:25


Like many salt and precious metal mines, the iron mine at Vajdahunyad(Hunedoara) had been in operation for hundreds of years. In 1725, after the death of the wife of Mihály Apafi II, ownership passed to the Treasury. At the time, the Treasury showed little active interest in mining, and it put the estate out on lease, first to J. G. Steinhilbert von Thalheim (for twelve years, at an annual rent of 18,000 forints), then to M. Ph. Hoffnungswald, initially for 13,000, later for 14,000 forints per year; only in 1754 did the Treasury assume direct control over the mine. At this time, iron was mined at Vajdahunyad along three shafts, two of which belonged to the Treasury and were worked by twelve villein-miners. In the older and bigger shaft, miners took out the ore on their backs, while in the other shaft, the ore was removed by a horse-powered mechanism. The third shaft belonged to a private landowner. Back in the 1670s and 1680s, the total annual output of the smelters at Vajdahunyad was no more than 300 metric tons; in 1754, a smelter was built, at Toplica(Toplita), with a capacity of 1,000 tons a year. Unlike salt mining, which was a Treasury monopoly, the mining of metals was open to private enterprise, but only in the early 1770s did entrepreneurs begin to seriously exploit these opportunities.

In 1778, the equipment at Vajdahunyad consisted of thirteen aging foundries with twenty-six furnaces; these were replaced, after 1779, with modern, high blast-furnaces. In 1779–1801, an iron refinery was constructed at Kudzsir(Cugir); this plant, like the smelter at Sebeshely, got its raw iron supplies from Toplica and from Limpért(langa Govajdia), near Vajdahunyad. A smelter was erected around this time at Felsőtelek(Teliuc), and a larger one was built in 1805–1813 at Govásdia. In 1820, the installations along the Cserna River, in the Vajdahunyad mining district, included the large smelter at Toplica and four other foundries, as well as workshops producing scythes and swords. Along the Govásdia River, there were four small and one large smelters, ten bloomeries, and three stamp mills. A forge had operated along the Zalasd River since 1782, complete with three stretching fires and two hammering machines. Foundries were also operating at Kudzsir and Sebeshely. In 1842, the Treasury's smelters at Vajdahunyad produced over five thousand tons of iron, almost three times as much as in 1778. The main development in precious-metal processing was the construction by the Treasury of a smelter, at Offenbánya(Baia de Arieş), complete with four furnaces.

In 1858, the production of crude iron in Transylvania reached some 8,500 tons, three quarters of which came from the state's ironworks at Govasdia and Rójahida. Within the limits set by demand and competition, the enterprises were able to secure a share of the market by trimming profit margins, and by improving their production techniques.

When the railway reached Hunyad County, the Brassó Company hired Belgian engineers and paid triple wages to Belgian skilled workers in order to complete two modern blast-furnaces and a machine shop at Kalán(Calan). However, the new plant — designed to use brown as well as black coal — did not meet expectations; for a time, they were used as shaft furnaces for secondary smelting, but eventually the earlier technology had to be retrieved. In 1881, as the economy recovered from another recession, the Brassó Company built a rolling mill and put into operation several steam-hammers. At the time, with a pig-iron output of 21,000 tons, it ranked as the country's fourth-largest iron producer. Its output was converted into refined cast iron at Szentkeresztbánya(localitate din Harghita), Nándorhegy(Otelu Rosu) and Ruszkabánya(Rusca Montană). In 1880, the company's smelters were manned by 853 workers, and its labour force, including those who worked in the coal mines, totalled 2,327. More setbacks were to come: technical problems with the blast-furnaces, the explosion of a boiler in 1885, a fall in the price of iron. First Szentkeresztbánya was sold, then the holdings in the Zsil Valley(Valea Jiului). The company, in which Hungarians had become half-owners, was overcome by financial problems and went into liquidation. In 1898, its former owners reopened the plant with financial backing from Austrian, German, and Hungarian sources, and the renamed Kalán Mining and Smelter Company flourished again.

At the time of the Compromise, the state operated five old blast-furnaces in Transylvania, but none of them were profitable. In the state enterprises, production evolved more evenly than in the private sector, but their development was constrained by lack of funds, and some of them were just ticking over. An outstanding metallurgist of the period, Antal Kerpely, reported that 'in and around [the Hunyad County ironworks], everything is so dilapidated and awful that we can hardly believe these are royal works.'[12]12. Quoted in V. Sándor, Nagyipari fejlődés Magyarországon 1867-1900 (Budapest, 1954), p. 173. Although the government had plans to modernize this industrial plant after the Compromise, parliament objected on grounds of economy. Thereupon, the state, with the participation of French, English, and Austrian banks, created a joint company to manage the works, but this experiment fell victim to the economic crisis of 1873. The works were finally modernized by the state in the 1880s, during the second phase of domestic industrialization. By then, the state had developed an active economic policy, one that was designed to make its enterprises profitable and to foster industrial growth by means of import substitution and an assured domestic supply of iron. Two new blast-furnaces were constructed at Hunyad County in 1884, and yet another in 1890; they were still fuelled by charcoal, which was considered safer and more economical, although the state no longer disposed of cheap sources for wood, and the charcoal had to brought in from as far as Ungvár. The new installations included an open-hearth furnace, a power station, and a housing settlement. In addition to the traditional mines, there was an open-pit at Gyalár where the rich ore was extracted by 300 miners, then shipped by rail to Govasdia. At Vajdahunyad, two cable-railways, installed in 1882, carried 1,500 buckets of ore and charcoal each day over sixty ridges and sixty-two valleys. The fourth state-owned smelter was built by domestic firms at Vajdahunyad in 1895; fuelled by coke, it was Hungary's biggest blast-furnace, with an annual capacity of 40,000 tons. Shipping problems disappeared with the completion in 1900 of the so-called Transylvanian Mine Railway. The fifth blast-furnace was built in 1902; at first, its high-quality crude iron was sold mainly to private steelmakers, but later some of it was processed at the state's metallurgical plants, notably the one in central Hungary, at Diósgyőr.

The state's iron and steel works were located at Kudzsir, in proximity to the smelters of Hunyad County. Beginning in the 1880s, they were equipped with modern furnaces, heavy and cold rolling mills, and steam-hammers. The broad range of products included commercial crucible steel and tool steel; the annual output of scythes reached 60,000 in 1900, but the manufacture of agricultural implements in Transylvania never reached a significant level, and eventually even scythe production ceased.

For a long time, small ironworks survived alongside the increasingly massive smelters. The state's ironworks at Rójahida, in Szolnok-Doboka County, ranked second in Transylvania during the 1850s, and it remained in operation until the end of the century; its annual output of 3,000–4,000 tons was refined in Láposbánya(Baita, in Maramures). The viability of medium-sized plants was exemplified by that of Szentkeresztbánya(in Harghita). Founded in the Reform Era by a venturesome mining engineer, it was sold first to a merchant, then in 1856 to the Brassó Company. The latter turned it into the third largest producer of iron in Transylvania, but poor management and the company's growing financial problems led to its closure in 1875. In 1878, it was acquired and reactivated by a landowner, Sándor Lántszky, who was also active in politics, and for the rest of the period it remained in the family's hands. The plant employed 140–150 workers, who with the aid of water power and steam-engines, produced commercial iron for ordinary use and agricultural tools; the annual turnover did not reach 100,000 forints. The company exported many of its products to Romania, including threshing-machines, ship's galleys, spades, and hoes, but after 1883 it was driven out of the market by German competition. Many workers acquired their skills at the Szentkeresztbánya plant before moving on to Kalánbánya, Petrozsény, Hunyadtelek, or Resica.

The boom in iron metallurgy coincided in time with significant consolidation in this industrial sector. The state's ironworks at Vajdahunyad and the Kalán Mining and Smelter Company accounted for virtually all of Transylvania's iron output at the turn of the century. The state encouraged the sector's development with direct investment as well as by requiring its own enterprises to utilize Hungarian products. Oligopolistic measures also played a part: In 1886, Austrian and Hungarian iron producers tired of competing and formed a cartel that brought stability to prices and production levels, although it was not able to forestall the deep slump that beset the industry in 1901–5.

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