{3-71.} Change and Tensions in Industry and Mining

By the end of the 18th century, the demand for manufactured goods had grown sufficiently to warrant some significant development in Transylvania's industrial sector. According to the data submitted to Vienna for the statistical yearbook, the number of independent craftsmen had risen from 40,000 in 1830 to over 60,000 in 1847; however, around half the increase was accounted for by better surveying methods. In the 1840s, the food, drink, and catering sector absorbed a third of these craftsmen, including some 3,100 millers, 3,330 brandy distillers, 4,000 tavern keepers and barmen, 700 innkeepers, 700 fishermen, 1,300 butchers, and 1,000 bakers. The leather, clothing, and textile industry employed 1,900 tailors, 1,200 weavers, 1,700 tanners, 1,200 furriers, 400 harness makers, 350 hatters and 350 ropers. There were, in addition, 2,210 blacksmiths, 1,400 carpenters, 800 bricklayers, 1,400 potters, 1,000 cabinet-makers, and 900 wheelwrights.

Since craftsmen accounted for three percent of the population, over ten percent derived their livelihood from this economic activity. In fact, such distinctions were somewhat misleading, for it was said that in Transylvania 'the craftsman is also a peasant, he functions as his own salesman, and the villager is also a craftsman.'[61]61. J. Hintz, 'Stand der Privatindustrie, der Fabriken, Manufakturen und Handlungen in Siebenbürgen im Jahre 1844,' Archiv des Vereins für siebenbürgische Landeskunde II, p. 450. Most of the master craftsmen in Kolozsvár, Torda, Enyed, and certain other Hungarian towns were also renowned 'vine-growers.' Economic commentators frequently deplored that there were many master craftsmen, even in Nagyszeben, who squandered their time on farming, 'wine, and other speculative activities.' The industrial hierarchy thus reached from village craftsmen who earned two to three forints a year to wealthy urban patricians; there was, in addition, and in part subordinated to this hierarchy, an extensive handicraft industry. The regional division of labour encompassed a number of peasant communities that specialized in a product. Romanian tanners from the Hétfalu and Porcsest districts and woodcarvers {3-72.} from the Érc Mountains enjoyed a good reputation. One observer recorded the rather prejudicial comment that 'Hungarians show little interest in taking up a trade, and Székelys hate the idea.'[62]62. Kőváry, Erdélyország statisztikája, p. 216. Yet another observer, one who was eminently familiar with conditions in the Szászföld, found that 'nowhere else in the country does one find people who try so hard to exploit the opportunities for earning money outside agriculture as in the Székelyföld; in some respects, the Székelys are the Swiss of Transylvania.'[63]63. Hintz, 'Stand der Privatindustrie,' p. 434.

Meanwhile, in regions whose geographic circumstances did not encourage commerce and trade, entire districts seemed to survive in a state of almost total self-sufficiency. This was the case in Doboka County, where, according to statistical reports, every taxpaying household engaged in weaving and spinning. There were, spread over the county's 161 villages, 142 millers, 144 tavern keepers, 111 brandy distillers, 47 potters, and 45 furriers; fewer than half of the villages had a blacksmith, although over a hundred people practised this trade.

The Brassó district served as a counterpoint to this rather archaic and closed world. There, among the Romanian, Hungarian, and Saxon peasants, household crafts had become oriented to production for the market. It was a sign of the growing division of labour that the number of independent craftsmen (both guild members and outsiders) in twenty-nine villages in the Barcaság approached that of craftsmen in the town. A statistical survey showed that, in 1837, there were 4,933 craftsmen in the towns and 4,212 in rural areas. Even if allowance is made for the fact that the survey was based on a very broad definition of industrial activity, the disproportions that it reveals are striking. The reported ratio of craftsmen to population was one to twelve in the Brassó district, one to seventeen in the Nagyszeben district, and one to nineteen in the Háromszék district; whereas it was one to thirty-seven in the counties, one to thirty in the Székelyföld, and one to twenty-three in the Szászföld. A town that specialized in long-distance trade {3-73.} would draw qualified workers from a wide area, including smaller towns; in the process, the growing numbers of domestic and seasonal workers came to constitute a proto-proletariat. This is why one-fifth of Brassó's 25,000 inhabitants were registered as 'foreigners' in the 1850 census. The 1,400 independent craftsmen employed 8,000 additional workers. In the weavers' village of Nagydisznód, population three thousand, the number of seasonal workers and employees drawn from other localities approached a thousand.

The number of craftsmen exceeded a thousand only in the two largest Saxon towns, Brassó and Nagyszeben, and in the Hungarian ones, Kolozsvár and (arguably) Marosvásárhely. Only in Brassó did the number of guild master-craftsmen exceed a thousand; in the other three towns, their number ranged between 700 and 800. There were more than forty guilds in both Saxon towns, but fewer than thirty in the Hungarian ones. The trend was to greater specialization: sixty different crafts were practised at Zilah, a town with a population of only a few thousand. There was also a high degree of regional and local specialization. The textile industry was concentrated in the Saxon towns, and the leather industry in Hungarian towns. Bootmakers accounted for a third of the guild craftsmen in Kolozsvár and Marosvásárhely, and in dozens of small towns, their number exceeded a hundred; the craft seemed almost a criterion of urban status.

Leather and leatherware were among Transylvania's major industrial products. In the 1840s, the annual output was valued at 5 million silver forints and accounted for eight percent of total production in the Habsburg empire. Transylvania's total industrial output represented a much smaller proportion of that of the empire. It amounted to fourteen silver forints per capita, three times the level in Galicia, but only a third of the level in the monarchy's economically more developed provinces. Austrian statisticians calculated, on the basis of raw material inputs, that Transylvania's annual output {3-74.} of flax, hemp, cotton, and salt had a market value of nearly three million silver forints in each case, and of woolens and metal products, nearly two million forints.

South and southeastern Transylvania's wool industry stood out in the geographical context of the Carpathian Basin and the Balkans. For one thing, its market extended to all points of the compass. For another, it lacked major competitors. Apart from 'gubás' peasant producers on the Hungarian Great Plain and in the Szilágyság, the only other major producers of woolens — whose customers included the Turkish army — were found in the foothills of the Balkan range, in the Gabrovo and Slivno districts.

Industrialization was one reason why the urban-rural nexus in Transylvania, marked by conflict and mutual dependence, resembled, on a reduced scale, the more developed model prevailing in western and central Europe. Brassó's guild-controlled woolen industry (consisting of three guilds with 170 master-craftsmen) accounted for 20–25 percent of the country's output, and a third of this came from the Romanian suburbs and the surrounding villages. Nagyszeben, with two guilds and eighty master-craftsmen, accounted for less than ten percent; on the other hand, the five hundred guild master-craftsmen in the weavers' village of Nagy- disznód, a mere fifteen kilometres away, produced over a third of the total output of woolens. The other Saxon and Hungarian towns contributed only a small fraction.

Transylvanian industry was distinguished by a heavy consumption of raw material. A hundred kilograms of wool cost 224 silver forints in Bohemia and 80 forints in Transylvania. Transylvania's wool industry consumed, by weight, one-third as much raw material as the Bohemian one, yet its output, by value, was only 12 percent of that of the latter. Transylvania's output was comparable to that of the Italian provinces, and double the output of Galicia.

Transylvania's wool industry illustrated the regional division of labour. Located at the periphery of East-Central Europe, the {3-75.} country served a mediating role and functioned as an industrial 'centre' oriented toward southeastern Europe. Mediation, in this case, signified not only the transmission of goods but also active participation in the marketing of raw material and finished goods. Wool from Wallachia was processed in the Brassó district and reached the markets of Pest and Vienna under the label of Transylvanian wool. On the other hand, Transylvania's industry looked abroad for new techniques and skilled workmen. Between 1821 and 1839, only four inventions were patented in Transylvania, which placed this province, in area the third largest in the empire, second to last in ranking by number of patents; in the same period, Lower Austria had 1,624 patents, Bohemia 200, and Hungary 87. Transylvania's master craftsmen imported carding and spinning machines to compensate for the shortage of thread and improve quality. The 'German journeyman' became an emblematic figure in the industry; the master craftsman would try to exploit the privileges of the guild to bind his German journeymen, while the latter exploited their technical expertise in their relations with the master. The master craftsmen also had to contend with competition from a younger generation of Transylvanian journeymen who had learned new techniques during their compulsory apprenticeships abroad.

The efforts of master craftsmen to keep journeymen in a state of dependence drove many among the latter to emigrate to the Romanian principalities, where, over time, they came to form small Hungarian and Saxon colonies. The competition represented by these émigré craftsmen did not fail to provoke concern in Transylvania, even at the level of the Gubernium. However, the much-commented crisis of the guild system arose not from this circumstance but from the proliferation of autonomous manufacturing enterprises. Visitors from Hungary would observe with envy (and some exaggeration) that, in Saxon towns, 'some people, using only simple equipment and employing no more than 10–20 assistants, could make as much money in a year as a Hungarian landowner's {3-76.} bailiff who supervised 50–100 cotters.'[64]64. J. Téglási Ercsei, 'Utazások Tordavármegyében,' in Az utazás divatja, p. 31. Such craftsmen, whether they made shoes or soap, had more silverware than noblemen disposing of fifteen to twenty serfs had in 'copper and tinware.' On the other hand, the guilds were efficient organizations when it came to guaranteeing the supply of raw materials, executing major orders, and establishing shared facilities, such as fulling mills; the guilds at Nagyszeben even set up a wool-spinning factory. To be sure, the guilds could not fully protect their members against misfortune. The account book and Bible in the home of a Nagydisznód weaver were not for show. Miscalculation could lead to bankruptcy, but prudent management could bring great rewards. A visitor was struck by the fact that 'people here can improve their fortunes more quickly than in other parts of the country.'[65]65. A. Kurz, 'Briefe von Reise,' Blätter für Geist, 26 October 1838, no. 43.

Transylvania's wool producers could anticipate that if they applied foreign innovations and exploited their access to raw materials, if they responded to demand and tried to shape it, they could maintain their position in the regional division of labour. The future of the still-vigorous cotton industry seemed less promising. In Segesvár, which marketed its cotton goods mainly in the Székelyföld, it was still a common saying that 'craftsmanship is as good as gold'; in the 1820s, the linen-makers' guild adopted the fast shuttle, and the number master craftsmen and looms doubled over the next twenty years. There were three looms per master, and of the 700 independent craftsmen in the town, 140 belonged to this guild. Even in Szászsebes, which suffered from the predominance of Nagyszeben, a factory was founded, equipped with looms imported from Vienna and Moravia, to compete with the guild. The imported or improved looms helped to raise productivity, as did the thread imported from Vienna. Imported thread caused a slow decline in the extensive household industry of cotton-spinning in the Székelyföld and the Barcaság. Yet, as late as the 1840s, a Bulgarian merchant from Brassó ventured to set up a spinning-mill with machines that he himself had improved; and the manager of {3-77.} the paper mill at Orlát persuaded the enterprising, provincial high commissioner, Bedeus, to establish another spinning-mill in the same location, near Nagyszeben. The success of these initiatives was short lived. Initially, the imported Austrian thread served as a stimulant, but within ten years, the trickle had turned into a flood, and imports, including finished textiles, swamped Transylvania's cotton industry.

Crafts outside the guilds evolved in a pattern that had been set in the 18th century. Felt factories — such as the wool-weaving mill set up on the 'English model' at Cód by ophthalmologist Ioan Piuariu-Molnár — became derelict or were converted into brandy distilleries. Their fate was an ominous warning, but it did not prevent attempts at reviving silk production. In the mid-1840s, aristocrats and merchants joined forces to set up a silk mill at Kolozsvár; one of their targets was the Vienna market, but they could not resolve the chronic problem of raw material supply, and the enterprise went bankrupt.

Industrial initiatives that were based on agriculture, and notably on the great estates, met with greater success. The management of such enterprises was typically entrusted to experts from the more developed regions of the empire, or even from abroad, and skilled labour was recruited in similar fashion; thus, in some cases, a new settlement arose next to a freshly-founded glassworks. A joint stock company was formed to found a sugar factory. Paper mills and glassworks were modernized. There were now eighteen of the former, and seven of the latter; never had so many factories of this type operated on a continuous basis in Transylvania.

Reflecting on the record of the 1840s, Kolozsvár's papers could justifiably rejoice at the recovery of industry from its earlier 'stagnation.' Many believed that if small enterprises banded together, they could escape the pauperization that marked the more developed capitalist economies of the times. Several industrial associations were established to promote innovation. They organized exhibitions {3-78.} of industrial products in the Saxon towns and were justifiably proud of the medals and praise they earned at exhibitions in Pest and Vienna. When news reached Brassó of a new Prussian trading group formed to capture the market in the Romanian principalities, the local press issued a veritable declaration of 'industrial war;' the eventual failure of the Prussian enterprise was hailed as a victory.

Such bursts of optimism were mixed with an equally justified concern at the comparatively low level of industrialization in Transylvania, and at the fact that what industry there was lacked the technical sophistication of its western competitors. People drew all the more consolation from a belief that the treasures under the soil were inexhaustible.

Indeed, although the smelting industry suffered from technological backwardness, the ample ore deposits bore the promise of a rosy future. Transylvania's 120–130 foundries and forges accounted for one percent of the iron produced in the empire, but they consumed twice as much coal as plants where 'iron was smelted in a scientific fashion.' Primitive smelting methods produced crude iron of such low quality that 'apart from forged pieces, almost all iron products, including cast-iron stoves, have to be imported from the Banat, Styria, or Bohemia.'[66]66. Kőváry, Erdélyország statisztikája, p. 217. Iron was shipped to Brassó even from Miskolc, in Hungary, and some Transylvanian peasants travelled to Debrecen for certain iron products. The Moldavian market was flooded by Russian exports in the 1820s, as was the Wallachian market by English and Austrian raw iron and ironware in the 1840s. Although some 5–10 percent of Transylvanian production could still find buyers abroad, Brassó's traders tried to keep up with the times by shipping ironware from Pest and Vienna to the Balkans.

In these circumstances, joint-stock companies and individual entrepreneurs — landowners, merchants, engineers — had to have a sense of public responsibility as well as an interest in the market in order to take the risk of setting up new smelters and forges, especially {3-79.} when it came to the Székelyföld, which was not well-endowed with ore. The romantic figure of the pioneering entrepreneur was well represented by Péter Rajka. He gave up a promising career as a lawyer to pursue further studies at Vienna's Technical University and, brushing aside efforts to keep him there, came home to start a factory, or, more precisely, a workshop in Kolozsvár. When supplies ran short, or the order book was empty, he had a hard time keeping his twelve assistants busy; if a shortage of cash forced him to lay off his workers, he would have a hard time enticing them back when orders flooded in from landowners.

While the Saxon weavers' village of Nagydisznód exemplified a community that rose with the waves of a boom, the Hungarian miners' village of Torockó illustrated a very different kind of social and economic struggle. In the 1790s, the local intelligentsia devised a scheme to obtain the status of free town for their community. Armed with a document, forged by their lawyer, which attested that the inhabitants were of Austrian ancestry, they initiated legal proceedings to be exempted from services to the landowner, but the initiative failed. Despite a low birth rate, by 1847 the population of the village neared two thousand. There were 127 miners, 104 charcoal burners, and 52 ironmasters who manned the twelve iron-smelters and forges with 84 assistants. Torockó iron enjoyed a wide reputation, reaching to the Romanian principalities; it made for excellent hoes, and for ploughs that were said to be tough enough to cut through stone. The Torockó works accounted for 15 percent of Transylvania's annual output of 3,000 tons, and it produced some 12,000 ploughshares a year. The miners and smelter workers had their lands cultivated by people from neighbouring villages, and their clothes were ornamented to disguise their legal status as serfs. At times, they would put these clothes in pawn to buy the 'white bread' and meat needed to sustain them in their increasingly hopeless labour on the almost exhausted ore field. When the brook that fed the water mills of the forge happened to run dry, they {3-80.} would be 'overcome by a strange change of mood, like the depression that spreads among workers at a great factory when they suddenly find themselves without bread and cash'; but when 'the spark of a notion that there might be a better future ignites the town, both rich and poor feel something like rush of warm blood and regain their fighting spirit.'[67]67. S. Szentmártoni, 'Torockó,' Biblioteca Academiei, Cluj-Napoca, Ms. u. 1386. In 1847, that notion was the emancipation of serfs, and its effect was felt throughout the world of miners.

At the time, mining was regarded as one of the most secure sectors in Transylvania's economy. The annual output of rock-salt, 50,000 tons, accounted for a third of total production in the monarchy. Two-thirds of the salt was shipped on small vessels along the Maros River to southern Hungary, where part of it was sent on to Serbia and Croatia. Transylvanians were even prouder of the fact that the nearly six tons of gold extracted each year in the Érc Mountains not only accounted for 60 percent of monarchy's output but also made their country the leading gold producer in Europe (excluding Russia), and thus a 'rival to Peru.'[68]68. Kőváry, Erdélyország statisztikája, p. 78. However, precious-metal mining was a powder-keg of social tensions.

These great expectations rested on rather weak foundations. To be sure, reforms were enacted that spurred the production of precious metals. In the 1820s, the treasury took note of the inefficiencies of centralized management as well as of the gradual exhaustion of the lodes, and it began to encourage private initiatives in the sector. Within the next twenty years, the private sector came to account for 75 percent of the output of precious metals. Meanwhile, the treasury's mining domains helped to sustain the industry by collecting and smelting the ore.

There were, among the treasury's 250–300 civil servants, a few dozen engineers. Most of them had graduated from the mining academy at Selmecbánya, in northern Hungary, an institution that enjoyed a high reputation throughout the monarchy as well as abroad. Of the 4,000 students who graduated from the academy between 1771 and 1848, nearly three hundred came from Transylvania, {3-81.} among them a few ethnic Romanians. In the 1830s, a training school was founded for mine inspectors in the Érc Mountains, at Nagyág, a location where the treasury had done an exemplary job of seeking out new lodes. Indeed, professional qualifications were given greater weight in employment at the treasury than in other government agencies. At the level of the Gubernium, commoners could aspire no higher than the post of secretary, but at the treasury, even a man of serf origin could become councillor, as was the case with Márton Debreczeni, a noted organizer, researcher, and inventor. He had installed the first steam engine on the Zalatna estate, where he also drew up plans for a steam locomotive — this at time when the public only knew of 'steam machines' from painted backdrops at Kolozsvár's carnival. When Debreczeni perfected a screw mechanism for pumping air into smelting furnaces, his name became known across the monarchy and as far as Bavaria. His efforts at reorganization brought a fourfold increase in revenues from silver smelting and major improvements in the iron plant at Vajdahunyad; in the meantime, he discovered how to apply salt residues to the production of sodium carbonate.

The controlling positions in mining sector were held by Transylvanian, Austrian, and even French aristocrats, as well as by merchants and civil servants. Forty-seven mines came under the authority of the treasury, although the latter held only a quarter of the 6,000 shares; ten percent were held by members of the aristocracy. The world of mining was divided, in the parlance of the times, into three social 'orders.' First came the 'smallholder employers' who made their living principally from mining; this group consisted of Hungarian, Saxon, and Romanian burghers and nobles. At the bottom of the social scale were the labourers, whose wages barely reached subsistence level. In the middle were the working smallholders; those among them who farmed on the side were denied the tax-exempt status of miners. Their task, for which they received some compensation in cash, was to cut and cart firewood for the {3-82.} smelters. Many of them also worked part-time at ploughing and harvesting in the lowlands, for what they grew in the infertile soil of mountain areas barely sufficed to feed them for three months of the year. The tax rolls for 1831 indicate there were 3.500 miners and 6,400 serfs among the 10,000-odd taxpaying householders in the Érc Mountains mining district of Alsó-Fehér County, and some 9,000–10,000 miner-householders in the whole of Transylvania.

The Érc Mountain's serf-miners, together with their families, constituted a community that numbered around 80,000–100,000 and accounted for the majority of Transylvania's miners. Their lives were marked by pervasive poverty that was only rarely relieved by a stroke of good fortune. Peasant miners lived in the hope that they would accidentally strike a rich lode. As in the case of farmers, the family served as the basic production unit. A knowledgeable observer, the mine-tribunal assessor Zsigmond Szentkirályi, estimated that the average family size was five among farmers but only four among miners. 'The father cuts the rock along with his son, and his daughter, with the help of a horse, carts its to the crusher.' The process was 'as wasteful of energy and time as in centuries past,'[69]69. K. Szathmáry Pap, Erdély képekben (Kolozsvár, 1841), p. 5. although there came some relief in the form of minor innovations; a crusher that worked without hydraulic power was referred to in the treasury's report as a 'mira machina' (miraculous machine).

By now, there were so many bore-holes that the rock-faces in the Verespatak district resembled wasps' nests. The search could pay off, and the miner who struck a lode would spend lavishly to display his new-found wealth. A French traveller who visited the home of a Romanian burgher in Verespatak noted in some astonishment that the upstairs room was decorated with a print of Leonardo's 'The Last Supper' as well as 'a rather comic icon of Saint Peter.'[70]70. De Gerando, La Transylvanie et ses habitants II, p. 294. There was a sharp contrast in the Érc Mountains between the German and French fashions sported by nobles and the {3-83.} coarse garb of the peasants; but the more affluent peasants 'displayed a certain refinement that, in Transylvania, was matched only by Székely freeholders and Saxon villagers.'[71]71. Zs. Szentkirályi, Az erdélyi bányászat ismertetése (Kolozsvár, 1841), p. 217.

Although civil servants were not allowed to publish books, Szentkirályi defied the ban with a survey of Transylvanian mining. Citing the example of the free peasants, he argued that the treasury should allow serfs to commute their obligations; as freemen, they could win representation in the diet and county assemblies and thereby promote the interests of the community of miners.

The ecological impact of mining cast a darkening shadow over its prospects. The more ore that left the mines, the greater the demand for fuel in the smelters. Wood was essential both for mining and for the carving and building activities of the peasants, and the forests were becoming depleted. The serfs, already resentful at the burden of socage, took a dim view of the treasury's efforts at reforestation, which reduced the area available for grazing. The discontent turned into organized resistance to the treasury. The more deprived serfs drove their better-off fellows, whose interests were also hurt by the treasury, to invoke the privileges granted by Hungarian — in contemporary parlance, 'national' — princes, and demand reduction or abolition of socage as well as free access to woodlands; on one occasion, in 1837, the authorities had to dispatch troops to restore order.

Such episodes failed to undermine popular faith in the 'good Emperor.' The peasants who lived in a state of feudal dependence continued to entertain monarchist illusions. This was partly the byproduct of a bureaucratic political system rooted in the feudal social structure, and partly a reflection of the prevailing cultural conditions.