Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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August Borsig

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"THE story of a successful self-made man is always interesting to record, and the closing of the locomotive works at Berlin, on the 31st of October, appears an appropriate time to say a few words about a man who has made his mark in Germany, inasmuch as he was the first to start a locomotive factory in the country, which soon attained a great continental celebrity.

August Borsig was born at Breslau in 1804, the son of a carpenter, who on leaving the elementary school at fourteen years of age began to learn his father's trade. In the winter he attended the Breslau Technical School, where he showed such good parts that his father was recommended to send him to Berlin for further instruction; so in 1823 be left home for that purpose. In the Technical Institute there he showed so little love or aptitude for chemistry to suit the ideas of the director, Beuth, that he forced him to quit the school. In passing it may be related that subsequently Borsig nevertheless named one of his locomotives after this pedagogue. Borsig now returned to practice, as science did not appear to be his forte, and he obtained a suitable situation in the machine factory of Egells, in Berlin, which so well suited his talents that we find him in 1836 the manager of the establishment. In the same year he started on his own account by purchasing, out of his savings, a piece of land, which still formed part of the large area in which the present works stand. In 1837 he was able to start his new factory, the motive power for which was at first supplied by horses; but after a few months he had constructed for himself and set to work a steam engine with duplicate boilers. Borsig began the manufacture of locomotives in 1841, after the first Prussian railway between Berlin and Potsdam had been opened, which took place in 1838. At that time Borsig had conceived the idea of making locomotives; but the difficulties he encountered were so great that it was only in 1841 the first machine could leave his works, but the results obtained at the trial, in June of that year, were quite satisfactory. From this time forward the undertaking increased and flourished till 1880. In 1842 eight, and in 1843 ten locomotives were built. The hundredth was finished in August, 1846, and in 1847 sixty-seven had been already exported; and in March, 1854, the factory celebrated the completion of the five-hundredth, on which occasion Borsig was created a Privy Councillor.

The output and capabilities of the works will be seen when it is mentioned that in August, 1858, the one-thousandth locomotive was paraded through Berlin on the line which connects the several railway stations of that town; on the 2nd of March, 1867, the 2000th was completed; on the 19th April, 1873, the 3000th; on the 7th December, 1888, the 4000th; and in September, 1886, the 4208th, which was the last made at the works in Berlin. The 2000th received the gold medal at the Paris Exhibition in 1867. But in other branches as well Borsig has earned honourable mention, for in 1850 be established an iron-works, with rolling mills, at Moabit, near Berlin, in order to emancipate himself from England, and in the same year purchased the machine factory and foundry there already existing, which is, and will be, still carried on. But besides these he was the proprietor of the now-called Borsig-Ironworks, blast furnaces, and coal mines, near Gleiwitz, in Silesia, whence he drew his raw materials for the factory in Berlin . Borsig not only made locomotives, but also other constructions in iron, as the domes on the Palace and Nicholai Church at Berlin amongst many others. Borsig died at the age of fifty, in 1854, and left a large properly, which his son, Albert, was able to manage, and carry on in the same spirit as his father, and brought the business to the time of his death, in 1878, to a high pitch of perfection. Since then it has been managed by his executors. But from the year 1876 the locomotive trade began to collapse, and only eighty were built in that year, fourty four in 1877, seventy six in 1878, and thirty five in 1879. At the present moment only 24,500 marks is paid for a normal goods locomotive, which is just one half of the sum paid in 1872. It is worthy to be remarked that out of Borsig's workmen 637 have all celebrated their twenty five years' term of service in the factory."[1]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer 1886/11/12