The Krupp works and Thyssenkrupp AG, Essen

By Wolfgang Landgraeber and Bernhard Trautvetter

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1. company history

In the decades before the First World War, the Krupp works grew into the dominant arms supplier in Germany, and helped the German Empire, founded in 1871, to become a European Great Power. „From the mid-nineteenth century on, the factory in Essen built steel artillery
pieces that could shoot further and more accurately than the conventional iron and bronze mortars. The best-known of the numerous models of gun was the 42-centimetre mortar ‚Big Bertha’“(1).

Krupp weapons were supplied not only to Germany’s, but throughout the world, including to the Ottoman Empire and South America. Warships, such as the Goeben and Breslau, armor- clad with Krupp steel, in particular were of central importance for the Ottoman Empire. The Goeben catapulted Turkey at Germany’s side into the First World War. It made the Black Sea
practically into German inland waters, and blocked the Russians‘ access to the Mediterranean. It indirectly provoked the Allied landing at Gallipoli (Dardanelles), where 252,000 British and French troops and their allies were killed or wounded. And all this happened although the British and French dominated the Mediterranean at the start of the war. In the summer of
1914, the Goeben (1,013-man crew) and the protected cruiser Breslau (373-man crew) were the only two warships that embodied the Emperor’s dream of German sea-power in the Mediterranean.“ (2) In 1910, Berlin sold the later Torgud Reis — formerly the HMS Weißenburg — an armored vessel of the Imperial Navy clad with Krupp steel, to the Ottoman Empire.

The steel 28-cm guns of the Navy ships of this class were also products of the Krupp firm, as were the guns of the fortresses of the Dardanelles at the strait of the Bosporus. The guns were almost all made in Germany, and until the middle of 1914, they could still be shipped by sea from Germany. The installation of the heavy cannons under the direction of German specialists required much effort. Some fortresses were actually built around the guns.

Colonel Colmar Baron von der Goltz was assigned by Emperor Wilhelm, among other things, to offer the Ottoman Empire Krupp cannons. „Alfred Krupp himself regarded German diplomats in Turkey as his salesmen.“ Von der Goltz had already previously arranged the supply of large quantities of Mauser rifles with the Sultan. Thus he succeeded in creating, besides the rifle monopoly, a second monopoly on artillery in the Ottoman Empire — at the expense of the French and British arms makers who had previously dominated this market segment.

In the Krupps‘ Villa Hügel in Essen, in those days „the mighty of this world were pleased to call . Under Emperor Wilhelm II, the Krupp firm became the armory of the German Empire. The Emperor was a frequent visitor. In the Villa rooms reserved especially for him awaited him.“(4)

During this period, Krupp grew into a worldwide business. The railway boom of the nineteenth century, huge blast furnaces, and in connection with this a leap in steel production, innovative products such as the seamless steel wheel and ship propellers, Krupp armor plating for naval vessels and the artillery business made Krupp the largest corporation in Europe and
Germany’s main supplier of armaments before the First World War. In Essen alone, the Krupps‘ headquarters, the firm already employed 40,000 people at that time.“(5)

Gustav Georg Friedrich Maria Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, who first as a member of the supervisory board [Aufsichtsrat], and then as its chairman, of the industrial firm of Krupp played a decisive role in the orientation of many business deals, including with the Ottoman Empire, must be considered the main party responsible.

He had become acquainted with Bertha, the eldest daughter and sole heiress of the business, when serving as a secretary of the Prussian embassy to the Vatican. After their marriage, it was important to Emperor Wilhelm II that the name Krupp should not disappear from the succession of the firm. In a royal Prussian decree, he announced that she was to be called Bertha „Krupp von Bohlen“, and he Gustav „Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach“.

In accordance with Friedrich Alfred Krupp’s last will, in 1903, the year after his death, the company was converted into a public limited company, of which 99.9% of the shares were to
go to Bertha. Its opening capital was about 40 million dollars. By the beginning of the First World War, this amount had almost doubled.

After their marriage, Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach was made a member of the supervisory board of Friedrich Krupp AG in 1906, and chairman of the supervisory board in 1909. The Krupps‘ career showed the close links between the complex state apparatus of the Empire and industry, the Krupp family in particular. In 1910, Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und
Halbach was made a member of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society [the predecessor of the Max Planck Society]. After the German Empire had initiated the First World War with its declarations of war on Russia and France, the company, under the direction of Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, concentrated its production largely on armaments.

That the Krupp firm must have known about the deportations and killings of the Armenian minority in the Ottoman Empire is suggested by contemporary sources: „The German military was also involved in the logistics of the deportations, as shown by a deportation order signed by Lieutenant-Colonel Böttrich, the head of transportation (Railway Department) in the Turkish Grand Headquarters in October 1915, which affected Armenian workers on the Baghdad Line. The Baghdad Line itself and the Anatolian Railway also served to transport captured Armenians before this.“(6) The Krupp company participated directly in the building of the Baghdad Line.

That Krupp also played an important role in the arming of Latin American countries in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was demonstrated by the historian Jürgen Schäfer.(7) In Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile, German army instructors had already begun to re-organize and modernize the armed forces before 1890. German weapons, mainly Mauser
rifles and Krupp cannons, which had won comparison firing trials against European competitors, played an important role in this modernization, and helped to reinforce the Prussian-German influence among the military leaders of these countries, and establish a rifle and cannon monopoly there. Even after the merger with the steel-making group Thyssen to form Thyssenkrupp AG, Krupp remained one of the most important arms manufacturers and exporters of Germany and Europe.

Today, Thyssenkrupp presents itself on its company Web site as a diversified industrial group focused on steel working, with more than 158,000 employees at 500 locations in 79 countries throughout the world.

Its product range officially includes – besides naval shipbuilding – construction, buildings, infrastructure, mining, metals, chemistry, energy, household appliances, food and drink, aviation, machinery making and plant construction, oil and gas, and special-purpose vehicles.

Official sales for activities continued in 2018: about 41.5 billion euros (8)

The shareholder structure is stated as follows:

20.93% Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach Foundation (AKBH)

15.08% Cevian Capital

3.06% BlackRock

2.98% Franklin Mutual Adviser

57.95% scattered holdings

Chairman of the managing board: Heinrich Hiesinger

Chairman of the supervisory board: Ulrich Lehner

Earnings before interest and taxes (forecast for 2017): 1.8 to 2.0 billion euros (9)

2. sources



(3) William Manchester, Krupp. Chronik einer Familie, Munich 1982, p.166



(6) Jürgen Gottschlich: Beihilfe zum Völkermord. Deutschlands Rolle bei der Vernichtung der Armenier, Berlin 2015

(7) Jürgen Schäfer, Deutsche Militärhilfe an Südamerika – Militär- und Rüstungsinteressen in Argentinien, Bolivien und Chile vor 1914, Düsseldorf 1974