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Hegenscheidt-MFD: the long history of our sister company

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The Hegen­scheidt com­pany site in Erkel­enz in an aerial pho­to­graph from 1954 Photo: Hegenscheidt-MFD

Wars move the eco­nomy in seve­ral ways. The change of pro­duc­tion to arma­ments, the relo­ca­tion of pro­duc­tion faci­li­ties to »safer« areas, the dis­mant­ling and rem­oval of faci­li­ties after a vic­tory in the win­ner count­ries. In other cases, the peo­ple flee only with their know­ledge. 72 years ago, in 1947, the way of Hegen­scheidt com­pany from Rabi­tor, Upper Sile­sia ended in Erkel­enz, which had been con­que­red by the Soviet army and had became Polish. This year, the com­pany is cele­bra­ting its 130th anni­ver­sary there. The com­pany has made a name for its­elf in machine tool indus­try, espe­ci­ally with wheel­set pro­file lathes for rail­ways. Today the com­pany sup­plies com­plete auto­ma­tic sys­tems for wheel­set main­ten­ance and manufacturing.

The ori­g­ins of the named Hegen­scheidt family comes from Altena in West­pha­lia, from where Carl August Wil­helm Hegen­scheidt moved to Gli­wice in Upper Sile­sia and foun­ded a com­pany for wire, nails and chains in 1852, where his son Wil­helm acqui­red his first entre­pre­neu­rial expe­ri­ence in this com­pany, beofore he foun­ded a firm for buil­ding fit­tings in Rati­bor in 1889. The date of birth of today’s com­pany Hegen­scheidt. Wil­helm Hegen­scheidt sold the com­pany to Emil Blau in 1896 and inves­ted in the emer­ging Upper Sile­sian heavy indus­try. His­to­ri­cally he is known as one of the co-foun­ders of this industry.

Gene­ral view of the com­pany in Rati­bor in 1912, Photo: Hegenscheidt-MFD

Accor­ding to the infor­ma­tion of the future owner of the com­pany, Ber­nard Schon­dorff, Rati­bor had the advan­tage of being an agri­cul­tu­ral small town on the edge of the Upper Sile­sian indus­trial area, where suf­fi­ci­ent workers could still be found – this was simi­lar to Erkel­enz, which was cho­sen as the loca­tion in 1947 for the same reason. The­reas well as here, accor­ding to Schon­dorff, employees of the core work­force were working part-time on farms as a second main­stay, which hel­ped to ensure loyalty to the loca­tion and com­pany. For the pro­duc­tion of buil­ding hard­ware, the com­pany incre­asingly pro­du­ced the auto­ma­tic and semi-auto­ma­tic machi­nes its­elf – thus the pro­duc­tion of machine tool was estab­lished. Addi­tio­nal machi­nes for mining and indus­try were added to the pro­duct, in which the com­pany finally spe­cia­li­zed. This deve­lo­p­ment was par­ti­cu­larly pro­mo­ted by the rail­way lines, which were built with increased inten­sity and were sent to Rus­sia. The acqui­si­tion of Hegen­scheidt by Emil Blau, a talen­ted tech­ni­cian and inven­tor from Aus­tria, also played a decisive role in this. Emil Blau’s inven­tion of a mecha­ni­cal pro­file copy­ing sup­port for machi­ning wheel pro­files was pro­du­ced until 1956. Com­ple­men­tary com­pa­nies such as an axle fac­tory, wel­ding shop and a foundry were also acqui­red. The Ger­man Natio­nal Rail­way sup­plied 60 per­cent of its requi­re­ments from Hegen­scheidt, while exports pro­vi­ded ser­vices to the for­eign mar­kets exclu­si­vely in Eas­tern Europe, Rus­sia, Bela­rus, Ukraine in the Bal­kans and China.

Com­pany foun­der Wil­helm Hegen­scheidt. Photo: Hegenscheidt-MFD

After the Hit­ler regime became more and more powerful, the orders suf­fe­red a strong inter­rup­tion due to Emil Blau’s Jewish ori­gin. He died in 1932 and his widow offe­red the com­pany to Adolf Schon­dorff for take­over with all assets and lia­bi­li­ties in exch­ange for an life annuity and left Ger­many to Denmark.

At the begin­ning of the 1930s, engi­neer E.H. Adolf Schon­dorff took over the com­pany, which had grown from 1200 employees in 1912 to 2500 in 1944 – but in Janu­ary 1945 the end was immi­nent, when the Soviet army had sur­roun­ded the Sile­sian indus­trial area. Only at Rati­bor was a »gate« left open to the west, through which a large part of Ger­man indus­try fled, which was able to make a sto­po­ver at Hegen­scheidt, as Adolf Schondorff’s son, gra­duate engi­neer Bern­hard Schon­dorff, remem­be­red in 1964. The com­pany had a 24-hour can­teen, which was ser­ved by its own agri­cul­ture, inclu­ding pig bree­ding; the refu­gees were well cared and could stay overnight.

But Hegen­scheidt-Schon­dorff also wan­ted to go to the west before the con­quest. With one metre of snow and 30 degrees below zero, a truck and car con­voy for 28 fami­lies was put tog­e­ther, white­washed for camou­flage, which Ber­nard Schon­dorff led bet­ween the retrea­ting armed forces and the advan­cing Red Army in the almost undis­tur­bed no man’s land in such a way that they were »not sub­jec­ted to any nui­sance«. They were taken to Erfurt in Thu­rin­gia, where Schon­dorff recei­ved orders from the Minis­try of Trans­port in Ber­lin to return to Rati­bor, which had not yet been inva­ded, to take out the 14 finis­hed wheel-set lathes in the fac­tory, because they were important for the lar­gely des­troyed rail­way infra­struc­ture. Schon­dorff had 33 rail­way wagons at his dis­po­sal and they even left the fac­tory – the now libe­ra­ted Cze­chos­lo­va­kia, through which the train had to pass, clo­sed the bor­der. The com­pany was over.

Thu­rin­gia was occu­p­ied by the Ame­ri­cans, who, accor­ding to the Allied agree­ments, left it in July 1945, but who gave Hegen­scheidt with a train of 80 wagons to take the com­pany to the Ame­ri­can zone in Munich. But there was no cont­act per­son because of the evacua­tion, no one went there.

After losing a large part of their cus­to­mers and pro­duc­tion faci­li­ties, the Schon­dorffs and employees moved fur­ther west, asking the VDW (Ger­man Asso­cia­tion of Machine Tool Manu­fac­tu­r­ers) to look for part­ner com­pa­nies where pro­duc­tion could be re-esab­lished, if they had func­tional machine tools. Seve­ral com­pa­nies, such as those in Düs­sel­dorf, Karls­ruhe and Gie­ßen, were eli­mi­na­ted because they had been dis­mant­led by the Wes­tern Allies. In Erkel­enz they finally found the drill rig manu­fac­tu­rer Alfred Wirth & Co., who then built new wheel­set lathes for the Hegen­scheidt com­pany, which its­elf ope­ra­ted as a sales and con­s­truc­tion office. Initi­ally it had to stay with this type of machine, because the other pro­duc­tion plants in Rati­bor had not moved along. Based on the expe­ri­ence gai­ned in the sec­tor of axle jour­nal bur­nis­hed tech­no­logy, addi­tio­nally fine rol­ling machi­nes were built.

The Hegen­scheidt-Com­pany in Erkel­enz in a nowa­days view, pho­to­gra­phed from the air. On the right you can see the rail­way sta­tion. Photo: Hegenscheidt-MFD

In 1964, Hegen­scheidt employed 100 sala­ried employees and 150 workers in its own com­pany in Neus­ser Straße, wher­eby the 15-tons wheel­set lathes con­tin­ued to be manu­fac­tu­red by the workers and by Wirth. A high per­cen­tage of the company’s own employees were engi­neers and desi­gners who, among other things, deve­lo­ped the world’s first fully auto­ma­tic wheel­set lathe. Inno­va­tions were also made in the field of rol­ling machi­nes, pri­zes were won and the com­pany made con­ti­nuous progress.

In 1995, the spe­cialty rail equip­ment sup­plier Voss­loh-AG purcha­sed Hegen­scheidt, until Pro­fes­sor Hans J. Nau­mann acqui­red the com­pany in 2001. From 1970 to 1982 he was alre­ady a share­hol­der and mana­ging direc­tor of Hegen­scheidt, adding to it with the purchase of its machine tool com­pa­nies owned in the USA and Ger­many. The result was the emer­gence of the Niles-Sim­mons-Hegen­scheidt Group (NSH-Group). His son, John Oli­ver Nau­mann, has also been a mana­ging direc­tor of the group for seve­ral years. The group is broadly posi­tio­ned in the machine tool and mecha­ni­cal engi­nee­ring indus­try at a num­ber of loca­ti­ons world­wide with pro­duc­tion faci­li­ties, sales and ser­vice offices.