Anton Gruber at the Lower Austrian trade association

On 6 April 1840 Anton Gruber gave a speech to the Lower Austrian Trade Association, which was founded in December of the previous year. At that time he was 22 years old and had just taken over the two tool factories of his father Franz Gruber, who died in November 1839, which enjoyed an excellent reputation throughout the monarchy.

​But first a little excursion to the emergence of the Lower Austrian trade association:

The members of the trade association were men from the trade, commerce and science. At the monthly meetings, the latest inventions, materials and production methods were presented and discussed, and traders from all sectors reported on their own experiences and production methods. The association had its own library with a reading room for the further education of its members and created an extensive collection of models, samples and commercial products. All tradesmen were admitted to membership, regardless of company size and status. The aim was to promote national industry as a whole.

However, it was a long and winding road to the founding of the trade association. Industrialization was a time of profound change, the first factory founders were largely pioneers and visionaries, politically more part of the liberal camp. The Austrian policy of the Vormärz (1815-1848), however, was not aimed at change, but at the preservation of the political order of 1815 (Vienna Congress). Emperor Franz II (I.) and above all his state chancellor Metternich were declared opponents of all democratic, liberal and national currents. Metternich established, approved by Emperor Franz, a system of censorship and spying, political associations and public political activity of any kind were forbidden. This arch-conservative attitude of the emperor and especially Metternich caused considerable difficulties for the Austrian economy, because the head of state was suspicious of any form of change or even reform. Austria couldn’t keep pace with England and France in the important first phase of industrialization.

As early as 1822, the director of the k. k. Polytechnic Institute, Professor Johann Joseph Prechtl, presented an organizational plan for the establishment of an association for the promotion of national industry. But even 12 years later, his entry was still unanswered. In March 1835, Emperor Franz II (I.) died. In his last will he ordered the succession to the throne of his son Ferdinand, although he was considered incapable of governing due to several sufferings (epilepsy, rickets, hydrocephalus). For this reason, he provided him, also testamentary and at Metternich's instigation, with a "secret state conference" which de facto ran the government business. It consisted of Archduke Ludwig (Ferdinand's uncle), Archduke Franz Karl (the older brother of Ferdinand and actually rightful heir to the throne), State Chancellor Metternich and his political opponent Count Kolowrat-Liebsteinsky.

In November 1835, after the first Vienna trade exhibition, Messrs Coith, Spörlin, Hornbostel and Arthaber (representing the industrial and commercial stand in the exhibition commission) made an application to Emperor Ferdinand I. to approve the establishment of a trade association.

But it took until October 20, 1839, for the emperor to agree, after reviewing a draft of the statutes and a list of members, but with the limitation that the association may not be called Austrian, but only Lower Austrian trade association.

In December 1839 the first general meeting with the election of the association management took place, the constituent assembly was held on 25 January 1840. Ferdinand Graf Colloredo-Mannsfeld was elected as the first chairman, Archduke Franz Karl took over the patronage, Count Kolowrat-Liebsteinsky held the position of a curator. Archduke Johann, State Chancellor Prince Metternich and Chief Chancellor Count Mittrowsky von Mittrowitz became honorary members.

Stand des niederösterreichischen Gewerbevereins 1840
Verwaltungsrat des niederösterreichischen Gewerbevereins 1840

The young factory owner Anton Gruber was thus one of the first to speak in front of the assembled trade association on 6 April 1840. He seems to have been a visionary from the same beat of his father and used this stage for a passionate appeal to give his subject the attention it deserved.

Here is his speech, as printed in the first issue of the “Meetings of the Lower Austrian Trade Association” in 1840:

 

 

On the need to produce and disseminate good tools.

 

By

Mr. Anton Gruber,

 

k.k. tool manufacturer

(presented at the Monthly Meeting on 6 April 1840.)

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Today I would like to draw the attention of the association, which has set itself the elevation of the fatherland industry to its great charitable goal, to draw attention to an object in the commercial sector which seems to be insignificant but plays an important role in the field of the commercial industry, and whose usefulness, importance and necessity will be properly assessed by any experienced professional.

Not glossy silk fabrics, not tastefully crafted cotton and sheep wool products, not magnificent gold and silver works that involuntarily attract the eye are the object I will mention; but only simple, unsightly tools made of steel and iron are the benefits, importance and indispensability of which only fall into the eye of the connoisseur. It is an article without which no craftsman, however skillful, can bring to light something perfect or do something successful, and many of the workmen of the outside world only thanks the good tools for their extended reputation and the excellence of their products.

We are not talking here about artificially assembled machines, which form the soul of the factories, steamships, locomotives and other great enterprises, but of the simple, small, but just as charitable tools as there are: plane irons, chisels, saws, cabinet scrapers, knives, drills, wood turner’s and wood carver’s irons, etc., of which each type again contains several subdivisions. – According to the diversity of the shape and determination of the planes, there are: roughing-, smoothing-, toothing-, double-, rebate-, shoulder- and molding-irons, etc., and each of these subdivisions differs again in many ways according to the width of 1/4 inch to 4 inches. There is an equally great diversity in the chisels, where there are firmer and bevel-edge, straight, skewed, paring chisels, gouges and mortice chisels, etc., from which again each variety, as in strength, so also in width differs in many ways.

The saws, which are divided into frame-, compass-, coping- and fret-saws, are just as different, and of which each variety once again breaks down into several subdivisions according to the difference in length and width. What a wide field do not all these above-mentioned, so many sorts of tools offer for the direct use of whole trades, only engaged in woodwork, and for their indirect influence on all imaginable other trades, factories and arts, may they now process clay, stone, metal or other materials!

The effects of the more or lesser excellence of these tools on the whole of industry are certainly not overestimated when one claims that without planes, saws and chisels every industry is completely paralyzed, and if it is at its disposal, but of poor quality, it is always in a state of childhood; only in possession of functional, genuine tools it is possible for the industry to meet the requirements of need and convenience no less, such as those of fashion, taste and luxury.

These comments are likely to be sufficient to gain the conviction that the dissemination of good tools has a major impact on the commercial industry, and how much it is desirable that this manufacturing industry should be given due attention at a time when a laudable aspiration and a general competition in industry is being felt in all the countries of Europe, and an association has just emerged in Austria, too , which has shown a more orderly, facilitated and lasting direction for commercial activity and to lift up the fatherland industry, has presented itself as a trend. If this sector of manufacture had been maintained with the mindfulness it deserves, its design would certainly be even more pleasing than it already is. For a number of years, however, efforts have been made in Austria to use more serious research and efforts to perfect the tools and to reduce the primacy of foreign countries, as so many gradually established tool factories, which deal with the production of tools, prove.

I can say without any glory that my deceased father, Franz Gruber, was the first in Austria to set up his own factory for the production of tools in Vienna, and that my restless quest has also succeeded in applying significant improvements to the steel-plated cutting tools, thereby saving a large mass of English steel every year and making the tools perfectly good and durable.

May the association graciously accept these remarks about the tools and not ignore my intention that I was only trying to lift up the generally so unnoticed facilities of the trades, namely the tools, and to pay tribute to this industry, which is certainly so important.

 

 

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With this speech, with his youthful vigour and his already proven skills, Anton Gruber hinted at achieving great things. But fate meant it differently to him. Less than two years later, on 28 March 1842, he died of typhoid fever at the age of just 24.

His factory was taken over in 1843 by a merchant and owner of a small factory for plane irons from Krems an der Donau: Franz Wertheim.

But he proved to be a worthy successor: within three years, he transformed Gruber's factory into one of the largest manufacturers of tools for woodworking, and with his factory for fireproof safes founded in 1852, he rose to become one of the monarchy's greatest industrialists.

Franz Wertheim shaped the Lower Austrian trade association, which the young Anton Gruber wanted to win for his cause, first as vice-president and later as president.

To some extent, this closed a circle.

Sources:

Die Chronologie des Österreichischen Gewerbevereins - Österreichischer Gewerbeverein, 2014, pdf

Verhandlungen des niederösterreichischen Gewerb-Vereins, Erstes Heft, Wien, 1840 - Google Books

Franz II. (I.) - Wikipedia (english)

Ferdinand I. - Wikipedia (english)

Franz II. (I.) - Wien Geschichte Wiki

Ferdinand I. - Wien Geschichte Wiki

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