Iron: Together with salt, iron is one of the oldest and most important products mined. As indicated by archaeological finds, the first major occurrence of iron-mining occurred during the Iron Age (8th century B.C. to 15. B.C.). During the later period of the Iron Age (La Tène Culture), iron gained particular importance among the Celts, who had migrated to Austria from the West, especially for weapon and tool production. The importance of "iron from Noricum", probably mined at the Erzberg near Huettenberg, is demonstrated by the impressive excavations at nearby Magdalensberg. Because of its quality, the Romans also valued the iron produced here, which was smelted and forged in draft furnaces.
After the migration of the Germanic peoples had interrupted iron mining for many centuries, there is evidence of renewed mining activities from the 11th/12th century at Huettenberg and at Erzberg in Styria. Shaft furnaces, known since Roman times, were used to smelt the iron. During the Middle Ages, these furnaces were gradually moved to the valleys, where bellows could be operated by water wheels (Radwerke ironworks or balling furnaces). Hammer works, which were necessary for iron processing and required great amounts of wood for fuel, were widely distributed throughout the country in areas rich in wood and water. Each of the various branches of ironmaking, i.e. processing of pig-iron, low-grade steel and finished products, was therefore a decisive factor in shaping particular regions ( Eisenwurzen), most of all in Styria, Carinthia and Upper Austria. Carinthian and Styrian refining processes ensured distribution of this Steel worldwide.
This steel also formed the basis for the quality of the finished objects, which were produced with a marked division of labour. Smiths, locksmiths and cutlers were typical occupations around Steyr, Leoben, Waidhofen an der Ybbs and Scheibbs. From 1504, Innsbruck became a centre of armourers; in Thoerl (Styria), a large armourers' workshop with an early capitalist structure was set up by Sebald Poegl; Ferlach (Carinthia) has since been a centre of gunsmiths ( Guns). Scythe production was widespread and the Kirchdorf/Micheldorf guild represented the highest concentration of scythe producers. The wealth of the citizens of these towns was, however, based on trading these products rather than only their production. Iron from Vordernberg went primarily to the South and East, but also to the West via Salzburg. Most of the iron from Innerberg went north. Carinthian iron was sold by two rival towns, Althofen and St Veit an der Glan.
Although ironworking enjoyed a high reputation in the 16th century, it was hit by the negative effects of the change in the major trade routes, the expulsion of Protestant entrepreneurs and the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War. With the foundation of the "Innerberger Hauptgewerkschaft" iron company in 1625, the government established a large ironworking plant with a central administration. After the troubled times of war and religious conflict, it was decades before ironworking could revive under the influence of mercantilism (around the middle of the18th century). Among the measures promoting this development was the liberalisation of wood and provisions supply and of the iron trade under Emperor Joseph II. In Vordernberg, Archduke Johann reformed iron making through the foundation of the "Vordernberger Radmeister-Communitaet" in 1829.
By this time, industrialisation in England had already brought technological change, which also reached Austria, albeit with some delay. From the middle of the 18th century, the balling furnace was replaced by the flowing furnace, which after 1820/30 developed into Blast Furnaces. The old open furnaces gave way to the English puddling ovens around 1830/40, and rolling mills were erected in the place of hammer mills. This new development was furthered by the requirements of railway construction and mechanical engineering. Large rail-rolling mills were set up in Carinthia, in Zeltweg, Graz and in Ternitz, engine factories in Vienna (Simmering, Floridsdorf), Wiener Neustadt und Linz, important iron and steel works were founded by A. Schoeller in Ternitz, by J. H. Bleckmann in Muerzzuschlag, Count H. Henckel vonDonnersmarck in Zeltweg, the brothers E. and A. Boehler in Kapfenberg and F. Mayr in Donawitz. In 1900, the Austrian arms factory, founded by J. Werndl in Steyr in 1869, was one of the biggest metal-working companies of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
After 1860, the Bessemer process and Siemens-Martin process as well as the transition from charcoal to coke firing again changed the conditions of iron and steel production. The most important plants in Styria and Carinthia merged into the Oesterreichisch-Alpine Montangesellschaft in 1881, with Donawitz as the main works, which focused on the mass manufacture of steel; the works in Kapfenberg, Muerzzuschlag and later Judenburg, where the first Austrian electric furnace was set up in 1907, produced special steel and high-grade steels.
In the inter-war period, the huge iron and steel industry went through a crisis, with subsequent unemployment. From 1926, Oesterreichisch-Alpine Montangesellschaft had become dependent on the German "Vereinigte Stahlwerke" (United Steelworks). In 1938, the huge "Reichswerke AG Herman Goering" iron and steel works in Linz was constructed in a very short time and had reached vast proportions by the end of the war. In 1946 all the large iron and steelworks were nationalised under the VOeEST ( VOEST, Vereinigte Oesterreichische Eisen- und Stahlwerke AG) ( Nationalised Industry). This merger, and the 1948 iron and steel plan, formed the basis for successful reconstruction with the assistance of Marshall Plan funds. In 1952/53, Linz and Donawitz achieved a worldwide breakthrough in metallurgy with the implementation of the large-scale LD Process.
Since the 1970s, far-reaching restructuring has transformed the iron and steel industry in Austria. In 1973, Alpine and VOeEST merged to form VOEST-APLINE AG, and in 1975, Schoeller-Bleckmann, Boehler-Werke and the Steirische Gussstahlwerke AG in Judenburg merged to form the Vereinigte Edelstahlwerke AG (VEW). However, the crisis in the European steel industry also affected the Austrian iron and steel industry, since 1990 incorporated in the Austrian Industries AG, and led to further structural changes. Since 1994 state shares have been greatly reduced through takeover by Oesterreichische Industrieholding AG. However, the Corex process, developed by VOEST in the late 1980s, again represented a technological milestone. In the period 1998-1990 the metal production and processing sectors employed 32.505 staff in Austria and several companies reported high export rates.
Literature#H. Pirchegger and R. Toepfner, Eisen immerdar, 1951; M. Mitterauer (ed.), Oe. Montanwesen, 1974; M. Wehdorn, Die Baudenkmaeler des Eisenhuettenwesens in Oesterreich, 1982; P. W. Roth (ed.), Erz und Eisen in der Gruenen Mark, 1984; Beitraege zur eisengeschichtlichen Forschung in Oesterreich, 1986.