The Cannon Kings

Essen’s industrial success couldn’t have happened without the Krupp family’s steel-making empire. Like many other German companies, Krupp has a long history — with a few not-so-secret skeletons in its closet.

In 1826, Alfred Krupp inherited a five-man steel foundry; when he died in 1887 it was among the largest companies in the world, revolutionising labour practices by offering sick pay, pensions, housing estates and free medical care to its 20,000 workers. They initially built locomotives and other railway materials, but Krupp soon realized where the real money was — weapons.

“The Cannon King” Krupp outfitted the 19th-century German and Prussian armies, and his successors later built the first German submarine and the largest guns of WWI. Hitler contracted them to manufacture tanks, artillery and munitions — a disastrous move for Essen, which became a prime Allied bombing target.

In 1945, the ruined factory was confiscated and Alfred’s great-grandson convicted as a slave labourer. Years later he was given back the firm and rebuilt Krupp as an industry leader. A 1999 merge with their largest competitor created ThyssenKrupp AG, the fifth-largest corporation in Germany, and one of the largest steel manufacturers in the world.

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