Alice Reininger

Die kameralistische Tuchmanufaktur in Apatin, 1764–1771 / The Cameralist Cloth Factory in Apatin, 1764–1771

Jan. 1, 2011

cameralist manufacturers
Maria Theresia



After the end of the Seven Years' War and the loss of the Silesian goods and factories, the Empress Maria Theresia strove to stimulate industry throughout the entire Empire. Another fundamental aim was to use economic reforms to encourage unity within the Empire and improve the living conditions of the people. A second wave of intense colonization began in the south-eastern reaches of the Empire. Foreign settlers coming in from the West, with their experience in the farming and manufacturing industries, would prove highly beneficial to the Kingdom of Hungary. Starting in 1763, the resettlement of the Bačka (Bacica) region was led by Anton von Cothmann, Court Counsellor and Director of Salt Mining in the Kingdom of Hungary. He was supported by his secretary Wolfgang von Kempelen. In the same year Franz Anton Moderfeldt was tasked by the Empress with forcing the inhabitants of the Bačka (Bacica) region to grow dye plants such as woad and madder. Moderfeldt had been a tax collector in Silesia and after the war had moved to Vienna with his family. He claimed to be experienced in textile manufacture, which was the decisive reason behind him being sent to Apatin to arrange what was required in that area. Moderfeldt founded a small cloth factory and employed a large number of willing workers. He was not greatly concerned about financial performance, the quality of the products, or whether he could sell them, as he had received a substantial amount of state capital, which he now used as he saw fit. When Cothmann and Kempelen arrived in Apatin during their inspection tour in the mid-1760s, they were astonished to find this small factory in operation because, as Kempelen established in his 1771 report, it had not been officially sanctioned. However, because the factory was already so advanced in production, it was decided to allow it to continue, albeit under severe restrictions. Moderfeldt paid no attention to the demands of the Hungarian Court and continued working in the manner to which he was accustomed. After his sudden death Heinrich Stredula took over the management of the factory. He was another man who had little notion of how to run a factory. When the problems began to get out of hand, the President of the Hungarian Court, Grassalkovich, after consultation with Vienna, replaced Stredula with Wolfgang von Kempelen as the new director in November 1767. Due to work commitments, it was only six months later that Kempelen was able to travel to Apatin, take stock and reorganize the company. The cloth factory was kept running but the cotton spinning mill, linen weaving mills and flax production were shut down, as was cultivation of the anillo or indigo plant. Instead, Kempelen ordered the cultivation of the dye plants woad and madder, as well as hemp, because these plants were well suited to the climate in the area. At the same time the growing of mulberry trees was encouraged for the rearing of silkworms. This particular branch developed comparatively well in the following years. The construction of new factory buildings was even considered. Despite this new direction and the more promising situation, the losses incurred by the factory continued to increase and more and more grants from the state to survive. Kempelen had to concede that he was unable to manage a factory when his official duties required him to be in Bratislava. He set about finding a new director and found one in Julius von Weissenbach. Weissenbach began in his new position in 1769. With a great deal of effort, and yet another financial boost from the Empire, Weissenbach began to restructure the factory; working practices were simplified, work-shy employees were dismissed and the quality of the goods was improved. Weissenbach proved himself to be precisely the right man to take over the management of the factory and rectify its shortcomings. In 1770 the factory buildings flooded, leading to a lengthy halt in production. With his cleverly targeted writing, an anonymous informer made the most of this opportunity to sabotage all the well-managed trading operations and pending orders (placed in advance due to the good quality of the cloth). At this point the officials in Vienna began to react. The report of a specially-formed expert commission attested to the leadership qualities of Weissenbach and refuted the false charges. One bone of contention however concerned the debts which amounted to over 50000 florins. In Vienna none of those responsible wanted to invest in the factory any more. Grassalkovich used this to his advantage and allowed the factory in Apatin to close without further ado one year later. Despite all the difficulties, he saw in Apatin a company that could nevertheless pose a threat to his newly-founded textile factory in Hatván. In May 1772 Julius von Weissenbach submitted a final report concerning the closure of the factory. A loom was gifted to each weaver who wished to continue working independently, and the majority of the remaining materials and equipment were transported to Hatván. Weissenbach looked after every single employee and strove to ensure that they each found a new place of work. The newly built factory buildings were later converted into homes for officials.