From family firm to joint-stock company

150 years of engineering by Polyisus – a portrait

2009 is a special year for Polysius – 150 years ago the company is founded by Andreas Ernst Gottfried Polysius (Fig. 1). Born the son of a duke’s head shepherd on 17.11.1827 he earns the money to train as a metal worker by herding sheep. In 1859 Andreas Ernst Gottfried Polysius opens his own workshop, the birth of the firm of Polysius. However, this is still some way from the production of cement plants, which Andreas Ernst Gottfried Polysius himself will never witness. Particular mention should be made of the safes built by Gottfried Polysius (Fig. 2) and his door forged in 1875 for the ducal castle in Dessau (see p. 36 above).

After the death of the company’s founder the company passes to the second generation – the sons Max and Otto Polysius recognize the newly-established cement industry as a profitable area of work and so pave the way for a worldwide company. In 1888 Otto Polysius writes: “A year ago I designed a new type of grinding system, which, due to its outstanding efficiency, has had such significant success, chiefly in cement grinding plants, that in a relatively short time I have already had orders for 24 items.”

The economic tempo continues. In 1890 the G. Polysius iron foundry and engineering works delivers 70 grinding systems, including to Switzerland and England (Fig. above). In addition to these there are transmission systems and friction couplings. The next step is the conquest of the world market. Chicago is the setting for the World’s Columbian Exposition in May 1893. The 400th anniversary of the discovery of America is celebrated in the white city made of steel and plaster. There are 70 000 exhibitors. In the machinery hall Max Polysius presents the entire range of products from Dessau (Fig. 3). Concering the comminution machines the “Official Report” states that “G. Polysius, ­Dessau, exhibited four underflow grinding systems in different sizes that are used for grinding hard materials such as cement clinker, limestone, clay, gypsum, fireclay, barytes, emery, basic slag, bones, pigments, salt, alum, ores, broken bricks, etc.”

G. Polysius has a magnificent order book at the start of the new century. A second works is built with a direct link to the railway system. Almost 400 workers are now employed. The first complete cement factory is supplied to Egypt in 1907. China follows a year later. The ­breakthrough into the world market has been achieved.

The outbreak of the first world war in the summer of 1914 brings this history of success to a halt. Many business connections are suddenly broken off. The need is now for cannons instead of cement factories and mills. The former share of the world market is successfully re-established after the end of the first world war. Foreign currency helps to bridge the economic crises and inflation. The management and the design offices are extended in 1922, and a new laboratory and the companies own research centre are built. The cement plants from Dessau are now major exports throughout the world. In 1927 a subsidiary is formed in the USA: Polysius Corporation, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania/USA.

At the end of the twenties Max and Otto Polysius receive vigorous support. Their sons Otto, Gustav, Walter and Gottfried Karl Polysius join the company. On 01.07.1928 the general partnership is changed to a joint-stock company. The shares remain in family ownership. G. Polysius has invested intensively in research and development from the design of the first rotary kiln in 1904. From 1927 Dr Georg Lellep, working in conjunction with Polysius, revolutionizes traditional cement production with the LEPOL process. The LEPOL kiln – named after the engineer Lellep and Polysius – reduces fuel consumption by a third.

However, further marketing of the LEPOL kiln proves difficult at first in 1929, in the midst of the world economic crisis. G. Polysius AG, Dessau, also enters into a severe, long-lasting, crisis. In 1933 the National Socialists come into power. The economy is boosted by government programmes. Over 40 LEPOL kilns are now being delivered around the world every year (Fig. 4).

The second world war starts in 1939 with the German attack on Poland. Many international business connections are abruptly severed. The Dessau works has to change to arms ­production. Machine parts for the air force and the locomotive and tank programmes are now being produced instead of cement plants. In 1944 towards the end of the 2nd world war Dessau is razed to the ground. Production continues in spite of major damage. After the end of the war the works is expropriated by the Soviet occupation authorities. The future history of the G. Polysius then follows a divided path – the former Polysius AG, Dessau, is transformed in 1946 into a Soviet joint-stock company and after 1953 is administered as VEB Zementanlagenbau. In Neubeckum Polysius GmbH develops from Westpol GmbH founded in 1946.

Gustav Polysius survives the air attack on Dessau in March 1945. After the end of the war Dessau is occupied first by American and then Soviet troops. He hopes to be able to rescue the company for the family. In letters to the military administration he emphasises that none of the family had been members of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, the company belongs solely to the family and not to any Nazi organization.

The works has to make reparations to the USSR. A son-in-law of Max Polysius, Dr Curt Prüssing, forms a purchasing company in the West Zone – Westpol GmbH. This enables Gustav Polysius to build the first cement plant in the USSR. Gustav Polysius stays in Dessau and does not want to move to the West Zone. In July 1946 it is too late. G. Polysius AG is expropriated and Gustav Polysius is arrested. He is placed in a special Soviet prison in the former Buchenwald concentration camp where he dies of hunger and deprivation on 09.03.1947.

“In spite of the expropriation of the works in Dessau Polysius lives on in Westpol GmbH in Neubeckum. We will start supplies again as soon as we can” writes Westpol GmbH in 1946 to customers and business friends throughout the world. The young company in Neubeckum starts under the most difficult of conditions. Two rooms in the basement of ­Spiekerstrasse 14 constitute the first office for four employees (Fig. 5). A ­talent for improvisation is required. Tables, chairs and a typewriter are hired. Paper, pencils and erasers can often only be obtained on the black market.

Larger offices are rented in 1948 in the former Neubeckum pharmacy, and at the same time new construction starts at Graf-Galen Strasse 17, the present company head office (Fig. 6).

After the end of the war Dr Curt Prüssing ensures the continuation of the company in the West. With great diplomatic skill he manoeuvres the young company through all the pitfalls of the post-war period. On 25th February 1949 the shareholders’ meeting decides to change the company name of ­Westpol GmbH to Polysius GmbH. At first there is still a lack of any of the basic requirements for carrying on business. In spite of this some small spare-parts contracts are carried out in Germany by early 1947. The completion and installation of a LEPOL kiln, which had been partially delivered to a cement works in southern Germany during the war, are also successfully accomplished. In August of the same year contact is made by a south German cement works that also wants to install a LEPOL kiln. Payment is to be made by deliveries of sawn timber. The arrival of the first wagon-load of timber in Neubeckum is an event with inconceivable consequences.  With support from the municipal administration in Neubeckum a plot of land is made available to Polysius on Graf-Galen Strasse.

The financial conditions remain extremely tight. The monetary reform leaves a total of just 12 000 DM. When the wages and Christmas bonuses are paid on Christmas Eve 1948 no-one knows how the January wages are to be paid. The uncertain position causes some employees to give in to enticements to change jobs. Disposal of the last free assets gives the company a further 18 000 DM of capital. This saves the company.

The company’s own small workshop is built in 1953 and the collaboration with Dr Georg Lellep is renewed through a licensing agreement. Business experiences an unforeseen boost. The land holding is doubled and a new research centre is built in 1957. Including its subsidiaries in England and France Polysius GmbH now has about 700 employees.


The worldwide presence is increased by forming subsidiaries. By 1971 Polysius is represented by subsidiaries in England, France, Spain and South Africa. The technical development and the associated management of more complex and larger contracts (Figs. 7–11) rapidly exceed the company’s financial ­capacity. It is only a matter of time before the Polysius family decides to place the fate of the company in hands with greater financial capacity. In 1971 Fried. Krupp GmbH takes over the majority capital holding and creates the preconditions for further positive development. It is now possible for Polysius to carry out major projects anywhere in the world, which could not have been managed without the financial capacity of the new owner. An impressive number of new plants are built worldwide. More subsidiaries are formed in countries outside Europe.

The reunification of Germany and the opening up of Eastern Europe gives rise to an enormous need for construction, which is reflected in a rising demand for cement. Completely obsolete cement plants have to be modernized or – as with the Bernburg works – re-built. The emphasis at Polysius is on environmental protection, increased energy efficiency and replacement of natural resources by alternative materials. In 1992 Polysius AG is integrated into the Krupp plant construction division. The amalgamation with the Thyssen Group to form ThyssenKrupp AG represents another decisive milestone – Polysius is now represented in the international company sector of ThyssenKrupp Technologies, which enables it to meet the challenges of the new millennium.

The market presence is greatly strengthened by the acquisitions that have been made. The Polysius’ operating areas are expanding and stabilizing the company against fluctuations in the economic situation. Polysius’ chequered history ­represents a special commitment for each generation – an awareness of tradition and an innovative approach to current challenges. Many generations have provided examples of this approach.

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