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Franz Xaver Wertheim was born in Krems on the Danube in early 1814 as the son of a merchant. He died on 3 April 1883 as Baron von Wertheim in his own palace on Schwarzenbergplatz in Vienna. In between lies one of the most enigmatic and breathtaking careers in Austrian industrial history.

Wertheim began as a simple merchant in Krems and, as an industrialist, rose to the rank of noble baron and to the dignity of Imperial Truchsess. He was president of the Lower Austrian Trade Association, vice-president of the Lower Austrian Chamber of Commerce and Trade and a municipal councillor in Vienna, the recipient of numerous domestic and foreign orders and awards. In 1883 he left a fortune of about 5 million guilders (about 70 million euros). This made him one of the richest men in Vienna.

But in order ....

Franz Wertheim Portrait

In most biographies, Wertheim's date of birth is given as 12 April 1814, and this date is also written on his tombstone at the Vienna Central Cemetery. However, a look at the baptismal register of the parish of Krems reveals that this is the date of Franz Xaver Wertheim's baptism. His true date of birth is therefore unknown. It should be noted, however, that it was quite common at that time to equate the date of birth with the date of baptism.

1813 Wertheim Eltern Trauung
1814 Wertheim Taufbuch Krems

His father Franz, a trained tailor, came to Krems around 1812 (probably from Bavaria) and was initially a supervisor at the k.k. Tabak und Stempelamt Krems. In 1813 he married the widow Barbara Albert (née Reitmayer) and acquired a clothes shop in the house at Krems No. 296 (later No. 281, today Untere Landstraße 17). The residential address was the house at Krems No. 208 on Pfarrplatz, where Franz Xaver saw the light of day. The couple had two more children after Franz: Katharina and Karl Magnus, but both died in infancy (1815 and 1817). In 1816 Franz senior was granted citizenship, in the same year he bought a tailor's workshop in Krems.
The marriage register also provides information about Franz Wertheim's grandparents: Michael Wertheim was an iron merchant in Bavaria, his grandmother Elisabeth came from Württemberg. His maternal grandparents were the master miller Matthias Reitmayer from Immenstadt in Bavaria and his wife Franziska.

1907 Krems Ansicht Hof Untere Landstraße
1907 Krems Ansicht Pfarrplatz

Franz Wertheim attended primary school in Krems and then completed a commercial apprenticeship in Vienna. The authors of the various biographies and obituaries disagree about the nature of this education. Opinions range from an apprenticeship in commerce to studies in commerce to attendance at the Imperial and Royal Polytechnic Institute. Some also suspect a locksmith apprenticeship in combination with commercial training.
Considering the rather modest family circumstances, the simple trade apprenticeship is probably the most likely variant. Wertheim's lack of general knowledge, which later provided material for anecdotes, also speaks against a higher education. However, there is no evidence for this.

The formative and decisive period for his development and the foundation for his later career followed after his education in Vienna: Franz Wertheim spent several years on the road in Germany, France and England (perhaps also Italy). Unfortunately, no details have come down to us about his years of wandering. We therefore do not know where and how exactly Wertheim acquired his extensive specialist knowledge, which he later demonstrated. What is certain is that he returned to Krems in 1837/38 as an extremely self-confident and energetic young man.
From his father he received "a stock of Nuremberg goods to open a trading business". And thus began the success story of Franz Wertheim.

1838 Wertheim Geschäftseröffnung
1841 Wertheim Anzeige Kaufmann

"Nuremberg goods" is a collective term for all kinds of arts and crafts, utilitarian and household articles that has its roots in the Middle Ages, when traders from Nuremberg (and Augsburg) dominated long-distance trade in Europe with the products of the manufactories there. Typical articles for such shops were, for example, musical instruments, drawing instruments, measuring instruments, wire products, metal foils, glass mirrors, toys, pencils, paper, knives, needles, nails, pens as well as tools, fittings and other small iron parts.

Franz Wertheim junior opened his shop in 1838 in house no. 314 (in today's "Untere Landstrasse") in Krems. Success was immediate, as Wertheim was mentioned for the first time in a Viennese newspaper in the same year, called "Der Humorist":

"(Wertheim's Nuremberg goods shop) is furnished with such elegance that it could stand on the Graben or Kohlmarkt in Vienna. The proprietor of the same, a young, enterprising man, has brought back from his travels a good taste from London, Paris and Milan, and his efforts are amply rewarded by abundant sales."

Even the first mention of Wertheim hints at a talent that would be essential to his career: Wertheim's sense of presentation (and also self-promotion).
After only a short time, Franz Wertheim was able to expand his business and moved to the Krems town hall, one of the best addresses in the city.

In 1842 the next step was taken.

As mentioned above, tools, especially joiners tools, were also part of the assortment in Wertheim's shop. These were certainly English chisels and plane irons as well as planes and the famous plane irons from the factories of Anton Gruber in Vienna and Neustift near Scheibbs. Wertheim recognised the quality of Gruber's tools, and he also recognised the economic potential of tool making.

When Anton Gruber died unexpectedly in March 1842 and the continuation of his company was uncertain because there was no successor in the family, Franz Wertheim acted without hesitation: together with the toolmaker Georg Gleischner from Senftenberg near Scheibbs, who was supposedly Gruber's foreman, he acquired a privilege for an "improvement in the production of plane irons" in September 1842 and immediately opened a factory in Rehberg near Krems.

1842 Wertheim Privileg Gleischner
1842 Wertheim Gleischner Gründung Fabrik

In large-format advertisements in the Wiener Zeitung, Wertheim and Gleischner announce the founding of their factory, with clear reference to Gruber.
Two things are particularly striking in this advertisement: On the one hand, Wertheim warns against imitating Gruber's plane irons (just as Anton Gruber himself had done in the years before), but on the other hand, the factory sign, which can be seen in the picture of the plane iron in the advertisement, looks like a copy of Gruber's sign.
Wertheim obviously already sees himself as Gruber's legitimate successor through his collaboration with Gleischner.

But only three months later the rumours about the end of Gruber's factory prove to be false: In February 1843 Michael Holzer, according to his own information also a former foreman for Anton Gruber, buys both the factory in Vienna and the hammer mill in Neustift near Scheibbs from Gruber's heirs, including the valuable privilege on Gruber's plane irons.

1842 Wertheim Gleischner Fabrikzeichen
Gruber Fabrikzeichen

Only one month later, in March 1843, another competitor enters the scene: Joseph Herrmann, Gruber's foreman at the hammer mill in Neustift, has bought his own hammer mill in Miesenbach, a district of Neustift near Scheibbs, and has been granted his own privilege to improve the production of plane irons. And Herrmann, a trained blacksmith, is a master of his trade.
Franz Wertheim changes his tactics in the face of sudden competition.