Lichtenwörth - Nadelburg

It is generally accepted that Lichtenwörth – or “Lutunwerde”, as it was called at the time – probably dates back to the 12th century. Above all, the village of Lichtenwörth became well known because it had an early industrial manufacturing area with a needle factory called the “Nadelburg” (“Needle Castle”). This carefully planned factory settlement was way ahead of its time. Manufacturing had only existed in the form of small cottage industries up to the mid-18th century; the word “factory”, as we have come to know it today, had yet to be coined. Originally built in the mid-18th century, this workers’ settlement is now regarded as a unique ensemble throughout the whole of Europe. The houses were constructed in the typical regional style of long, extended single-storey farmsteads and were arranged in a chessboard pattern. The Nadelburg “k.k. priv. Messing- und Metallwarenfabrik” (“Royal and Imperial brass and metal goods factory”) existed from 1747 to 1930 and was once the largest factory in the Hapsburg Monarchy. Maria Theresa always kept a watchful eye on the Nadelburg and gave the project her full support. The factory compound consisted of 30 houses for the workers and had its own church, tavern and school. It was enclosed by a wall and secured by three gates: contact between the workers’ community with the villagers of Lichtenwörth was considered undesirable. Most of the factory’s products were made of brass. Initially, they consisted of sewing needles, knitting needles, pins and hairpins. Subsequent products included iron and steel wire as well as fine copper wire for making so-called “Lyonese goods”, i.e. plaited ribbons, braids and laces. The Nadelburg also produced studs, hooks, rivets, brass sheets and goods such as pots, bowls, pans and lamps as well as bells, mortars, threads, nuts, soap tins and snuffboxes, etc. Before the Nadelburg was built, all such goods had to be imported – mainly from Germany. Maria Theresa was determined to change this state of affairs by setting up the factory. Yet the Nadelburg plant never managed to break even during the whole time it was under state management. It was only after the state-owned factory had been sold to the industrialist Anton Hainisch that the Nadelburg experienced a completely unexpected boom. Hainisch and his son Michael turned the Nadelburg into an empire. But the impact of the global economic crisis and the negative effects of Austria losing the First World War eventually caused the factory to close in 1930. All in all, the Nadelburg is unique in its provenance and history. It is the only installation of its kind to have survived in Europe today. The entire Nadelburg complex was declared a listed heritage site by the Austrian Federal Monuments Office in 1986.

The Lichtenwörth community has at its disposal a building ‘ensemble’ that is unique in the whole of Europe, i.e. the Nadelburg. Only in recent years has the enormous value of industrial archaeology been recognised. It is not only the history of the ruling powers, but also that of the workforce which shows the effect of all of the historical processes to this present day. In the western part of Austria, near a place called Lichtenwoerth, lie the remains of one of the earliest needlemaking factories in Europe. Early needlemaking was done as a cottage industry or in small workshops. But it was the Empress Maria Theresa (1717-1780) who had the vision of a metal making industry on the factory model, which would decrease the Austrian dependence on imported items, while at the same time providing a decent living for the workers. As an absolute ruler, she was able to see her plans come to fruition and the Nadelburg was established in 1747 as the first workers industrial settlement in Europe.

The Nadelburg, meaning needle castle, was in fact a walled factory compound. It had three gates, and consisted of an almost self contained community. In addition to the metal working factories, (mainly brass and iron works) there was a church, a tavern and even a school. The workers were housed in 30 houses along with their families. Products included all items made from wire, including needles and pins as well as a large variety of other metal items such as pots and bells.

Unfortunately, the Nadelburg was never profitable, and the state owned facility was sold in 1815 to the industrialist Anton Hainish. He and his son Michael drastically changed the work force and benefits and on the rising tide of the industrial revolution made the factory compound a financial success, as could be viewed from their luxurious villa. However, world war I and the following economic upheavals reversed the fortunes of the company and it closed in 1930. Due to the lack of understanding, everything was allowed to gradually fall into disrepair following the closure of the factory in 1930. The villa (the so called castle Nadelburg) and most of the Nadelburg were demolished for modern housing, no doubt a great loss to the community. A small part of the Nadelburg remains, along with a few walls of the original needlefactory building.

It is only in the last few years that an appreciation for this unique structural jewel has been rekindled. Restoration and reconstruction work has, however, hardly been carried out due to a lack of finances, among other things. For example, the remains of the guesthouse were demolished in 1991 and were not rebuilt despite being listed under a preservation order. The needle factory that was built in 1747 has not been preserved either; only two walls remain (and within the confines of these, a housing development has been established) to remind one of this unique factory. Our private museum offers a fascinating view in the history and industrial practices of the region. A restored “Nadelburg”, exactly as it stood during the era of Maria Theresa, would not only constitute a cultural feat but would also be such a unique attraction that Lichtenwörth would have no competition for miles around, probably even beyond our borders. If this were to be carried out, many other tourist towns would envy Lichtenwörth with its most beautiful panoramic view into the eastern foothills of the Alps.

Home page first developed in 2002. -- Robert Bachtrögl -- A-2493 Lichtenwörth-Nadelburg, lower austria -
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