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The Thyssen industrialist family in the 20th century

The studies published in this series emanate from the project “The Thyssen industrialist family in the 20th century”, funded by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and the Foundation for Thyssen Industrial History, and were carried out by a research group made up of independent historians from the universities of Cologne, Munich, Mannheim and Bonn.

Company and family history have thus far been examined for the most part separately. This series integrates both perspectives to explore economic, socio-cultural and emotional links between the industrialist family and the family business.

From the perspective of a family history inspired by cultural studies, the dynamic, constantly changing family network of the Thyssens stands at the forefront. The focus here is on the everyday practices, ways of life and identities of this cosmopolitan, globally active family. This includes aspects such as use of media techniques and the self-presentation of family members in the public sphere as well as the art collections of the Thyssens, which serve as a link between economic investment, symbolic capital formation and aesthetics.

From a corporate history perspective, attention is first of all devoted to the management of the company, above all the maxims, strategies and practices of steering and analysing various options to take; secondly, the complex network of Thyssen family foundations and trust companies, holding companies and individual enterprises, which served to develop, secure and multiply the company’s assets. Another focus is on the use of political, legal and social options in the quest for economic success. A special focus is on the Nazi era.

Margit Szöllösi-Janze was in charge of the family history part of the series, and Christoph Buchheim the company history part. Following Buchheim’s death in 2009, Hans Günter Hockerts assumed responsibility for the part relating to the Fritz Thyssen Foundation.

(Editorial by Margit Szöllösi-Janze, Günter Schulz and Hans Günter Hockerts, editors of the series)

Subproject on the History of the Foundation
  • Ein Erbe für die Wissenschaft
    Ein Erbe für die Wissenschaft. Die Fritz Thyssen Stiftung in der Bonner Republik (H. G. Hockerts)

    Amélie Thyssen, the richest woman in West Germany, surprisingly donated half of her industrial assets in 1960: together with her daughter Anita, she set up the first large private foundation for the promotion of science and research in Germany.

    This book explores the family and company history as well as the media response to this unusual transaction. In addition to the heiresses of Fritz Thyssen, her asset managers and advisors stand out, whose excellent connections extended into the Federal Chancellery. For the first time, the minutes of meetings for this “Thyssen Committee” are analysed, shedding new light on internal tensions surrounding the formation of the Thyssen Group.

    The foundation has worked to foster the humanities, social sciences and medical research. With a view to its funding initiatives and the learned members of the Scientific Advisory Council, the study makes a contribution to the intellectual history of the Bonn Republic.

Subprojects on the History of the Family
  • Die Thyssens
    Die Thyssens – Familie und Vermögen (Simone Derix)

    Immense wealth, transnational mobility, a global family network and bitter conflicts are all hallmarks of the Thyssen family in the 20th century. Their wealth is the main key to understanding the life of the Thyssens since the last third of the 19th century. It made possible extravagant lifestyles in Europe, the USA and South America. It was at the centre of fierce conflicts within the family; in times of war and crisis, however, it was also the common concern of family members. In order to preserve and aggrandise this wealth, the Thyssens developed strategies to diversify their assets as unnoticeably as possible internationally. In doing so, they anticipated practices that in some cases border on the global financial capitalism of the present day. For the first time, the study looks at the entire spectrum of participants in the interplay of family and wealth – from the male and female Thyssens to their domestic workers and their numerous legal and financial advisors.

  • Zwei Bürgerleben in der Öffentlichkeit
    Zwei Bürgerleben in der Öffentlichkeit – Die Brüder Fritz Thyssen und Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza (Felix de Taillez)

    At the beginning of the 20th century, Fritz and Heinrich Thyssen, rich sons of the Group’s founder, August, came into the light of media publicity. While one went down in history as Hitler’s financier, the other created a world-class private art collection.

    Public exposure constitutes a central category in the lives and actions of citizens among the business elite. Felix de Taillez examines media interest in the prominent brothers, from Heinrich’s early scandals to Fritz’ rise and fall in the Nazi regime. The book highlights their contrasting public behaviour and specific forms of media use – one increasingly distanced the other all the more in the international limelight. Their images were in striking contrast: Fritz Thyssen as a politically committed “business leader” and Heinrich Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza as a cosmopolitan, reserved “aristocrat”.

  • Die Thyssens als Kunstsammler
    Die Thyssens als Kunstsammler. Investition und symbolisches Kapital (1900–1970) (Johannes Gramlich)

    The Thyssens are among the most important art collectors of the 20th century. Together they amassed extensive art collections over the generations, some of them attaining worldwide repute. The book reconstructs the development of the international art market in the 20th century, analysing the collecting activities of the Thyssens against this background. It enquires into how the Thyssens integrated themselves into the art world, how they organised their purchases of art and what motivated them to collect.

    The study shows that works of art satisfied far more than just aesthetic needs. These works were also an investment and lent representative and social distinction. The Thyssens also used their art collections to satisfy tax claims, acquire a desired citizenship and establish exclusive contacts. Last but not least, their collections served to build a family dynasty.

Subprojects on the History of the Company
  • Die Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG im Nationalsozialismus
    Die Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG im Nationalsozialismus. Konzernpolitik zwischen Marktwirtschaft und Staatswirtschaft (Alexander Donges)

    In the Third Reich, Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG was one of the leading industrial groups. Alexander Donges examines how strongly state actors influenced corporate policy and what autonomous latitude existed for entrepreneurial activities.

    While development of the Group over the period before 1933 has already been extensively investigated in the literature on corporate history, the years 1933-1945 have been largely ignored. The study ties in with the debate over the question of the latitude for action for business enterprises and characteristics of the Nationalist Socialist economic system. It combines qualitative assessments of sources with quantitative analyses of key business management indicators.

  • Die Enteignung Fritz Thyssens
    Die Enteignung Fritz Thyssens. Vermögensentzug und Rückerstattung (Jan Schleusener)

    The industrial magnate Fritz Thyssen supported Hitler early on, but broke with the Nazi regime in 1939, which thereupon expropriated his property. After 1945 he fought for restitution.

    The book discusses Fritz Thyssen’s expectations, misperceptions and breaks in his relationship to Nationalist Socialism. When he escaped from Germany he risked expropriation of his property – the Nazi regime ordered just this in December 1939. The author shows how the complex process of confiscation and liquidation of Fritz Thyssen’s private and industrial property proceeded. It also looks at the process of denazification, which in 1948 was confronted with the question as to what extent Thyssen’s break with the regime could outweigh his earlier promotion of Hitler. The classification of “slightly incriminated” made it possible to apply for the assets to be returned. The restitution upon which light is shed here for the first time using the available sources was linked to economic policy issues that made the Thyssen case a special case of »indemnification«.

  • Thyssen in der Adenauerzeit
    Thyssen in der Adenauerzeit. Konzernbildung und Familienkapitalismus (Johannes Bähr)

    The Thyssen group was re-established as a family business after the Second World War. The author describes the remarkable history of the Group and its owners at the time, which is also a piece of early history of the Federal Republic.

    Today few people are aware that the Thyssen group, re-established in the wake of the Second World War, was initially a family business. The author shows how it all began and why the family finally lost its influence over the Group. Against the background of the August Thyssen Steelmill’s rise from a partially dismantled mill to become one of Europe’s largest steel producers, the work explores the connections between the family, their representatives, the management of the Group and the politics surrounding it all for the first time. The study describes a part of the early history of the Federal Republic in terms of a company history while also casting light on the beginnings of Western European integration.

  • Vom Stahlkonzern zum Firmenverbund
    Vom Stahlkonzern zum Firmenverbund – Die Unternehmen Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemiszas von 1926 bis 1932 (Harald Wixforth)

    After the death of August Thyssen, his son Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza tried to make his own way as an entrepreneur. The development of his companies has remained a little-known part of Thyssen’s history in the 20th century down to the present.

    Beginning in autumn 1926 Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemizsa began pursuing the aim of efficiently merging the share of the Thyssen group that he inherited. The holding company he founded was not successful in performing its function as a central management and control body, however. The study examines the reasons for this. It also sheds light on the development and competitive position of individual companies in Heinrich’s group up to the end of their formative phase in 1932 and explains why they were able to hold their own successfully in the market despite adverse economic conditions.

  • Zwangsarbeit bei Thyssen
    Zwangsarbeit bei Thyssen. »Stahlverein« und »Baron-Konzern« im Zweiten Weltkrieg (Thomas Urban)

    Thomas Urban examines the use of forced labourers at Thyssen for the first time on a broad scale – from the iron and steel works and a colliery in the Rhenish part of the Ruhr area to two shipyards in northern Germany.

    The name Thyssen stands for one of Germany’s most famous industrial families. But what role did business enterprises play in the “use of labour” during the Second World War? In addition to the scale and integration of forced labour in war production, the author primarily focuses on the actions of the actors – from the owner Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza to board members, foremen and all the way to warehouse personnel. It becomes clear that responsibilities in the “Stahlverein” and “Baron Conglomerate” were of a highly individual nature and that denazification after 1945 transformed perpetrators of crimes into mere “followers”.

The information on this books is taken from the publisher’s website.