23 May 1612
Thomas Lebzelter, councillor and tradesman from Leipzig, receives the high office approval from Elector Johann Georg I to construct a smelting plant with four smelting furnaces – exclusively on the Halsbrücke plot. And with this historical “smeltery on the Halsbrücke Spar”, our story begins.
The delayed effects of the 30-year war cause the Halsbrücke smeltery to shut down for two years. From 1663, the smeltery is re-opened and upgraded by the Freiberg Chief Smelting Office under the ownership of the Electorate of Saxony: it now has two lead shaft furnaces, two single-blast furnaces, three smelting furnaces and a cupellation furnace.
Russian tsar Peter the Great visits the Ore Mountains mining region, which includes a trip to the Halsbrücke smeltery. But Halsbrücke is also an interesting destination for natural scientists, with Alexander von Humboldt visiting the smeltery’s amalgamation works in 1797, for example.
Establishment of the Halsbrücke smeltery’s amalgamation works. This is seen as a model establishment for European barrel amalgamation – a method based on the work of Christlieb Ehregott Gellert and that originated in Halsbrücke and was adopted in countries such as Russia and America.
Following a fire in 1792, the amalgamation works is re-constructed in 1794 and then enjoys 67 years of uninterrupted operation.
Smeltery engineer, chemist and inventor Wilhelm August Lampadius establishes the first ever gas lighting system on the European continent. It was first used in a kitchen at the Halsbrücke smeltery, then a few months later in the amalgamation chamber of the amalgamation works.
Former site plan of the Halsbrücke smeltery site
Change in production methods due to the introduction of English reverbatory furnaces.
At the same time, Wellner’s double furnaces also start to be used for the smelting of lead ore. Production increases three-fold to 30,000 tonnes per year by 1865.
Gay-Lussac towers are used at the Halsbrücke smeltery for the sulphuric acid lead-chamber process. In the same year, the first Pilz furnaces are introduced for the processing of lower-grade ores. The “Plattner gold extraction” process using chlorine gas is introduced in 1885. However, the continual increase in production volumes leads to increased environmental impact.
At 140 metres, it was the highest chimney stack in the world: the “Hohe Esse”. Combined with its geographical location, this means that exhaust gases are emitted at a height of over 500 metres above sea level, which is a huge help in the dispersion of harmful substances out of the Muldental valley. Feinhütte Halsbrücke is still responsible for the full functionality of the Hohe Esse today.
Almost all of the emissions are now guided to the Hohe Esse via a 500-m-long flue gas duct. The smokestack is still literally one of the biggest attractions in our regions, and continues to be a proud symbol of the Halsbrücke smelting history.
This and other postcards show how proud the region was of the “Hohe Esse” smokestack.
In June of this year, the region becomes connected to the rail network. The timetable now includes expansion, and ores from all over Europe and overseas start to be processed. Over the following years, lead solder technicians from Halsbrücke also construct industrial systems throughout Germany and in Russia, Holland and even Sumatra.
16 July 1892
On 16 July 1892, King Albert of Saxony visits the Halsbrücke smeltery to demonstrate his deep connection to the mining and smelting site of Halsbrücke. (The original bronze casting is exhibited in the administration building.)
In the 1920s, new branches of production emerge: these include precious metal salts such as auric chloride, bright gold, silver nitrate and finished and semi-finished products for the jewellery and watchmaking industry. This is also a reaction to the fact that the Freiberg ore-mining plant has been shut down since 1913. Modernisation is now also on the cards. In 1922, for example, gas cleaning starts to be performed based on the Cottrell method using electrostatic technology. In 1923, the excess heat from two melting furnaces is used to produce steam. In 1925, a giant of technology is decommissioned: the “Schwarzenberg” blowing engine that has been in use since 1862.
Halsbrücke starts performing the process of lead electrolysis, which is used here as a refining method until 1991. From 1937, ore is once again mined from the Freiberg galleries and processed in the Halsbrücke smeltery.
The Nazi dictatorship and the ongoing war lead to a massively increased strain on the site, both socially and economically. In the final months of the second world war, Halsbrücke suffers attacks and destruction by low-flying aircraft. And then the surrender. Shortly after, the supply of steam and electrical energy is shut off.
The Halsbrücke smelting works is initially allocated to “Industrieverwaltung 5” [industrial management 5] for non-ferrous metals and is therefore under the control of a department for state-owned companies within the Ministry for Economic Affairs. In 1949, the company changes its name to VEB Hüttenwerk Halsbrücke – a name it keeps until 1956. VEB Freiberger Bleihütten is then formed from Halsbrücke and Muldenhütten.
The smeltery becomes part of the new “Albert Funk” publicly owned mining and metallurgical works. The foundation of this conglomerate marks a new direction for Halsbrücke: the smeltery is now primarily focused on the mining of precious metals and the expanded production of precious metal and lead products.
After the reunification of Germany, the Freiberg mining and metallurgical works continues to operate as a state-owned enterprise under the responsibility of the Trust Agency. However, the “smeltery” production area is only seen as a component of the Muldenhütten smelting works – and is soon considered unsuitable for restoration or privatisation. The smeltery is therefore on the brink of permanent shut-down just in time for the 380-year anniversary in May 1992.
The determination of the founders of Feinhütte Halsbrücke GmbH pays off: The new GmbH (private limited company) is established on 7 August 1992. Production starts just 3 months later. With eight remaining employees and no external or other investors. Despite all doubts and resistance from the Treuhand (‘Trust Agency’) and other sceptics, proper operation is restored in record time and new customers in Germany and Europe are won over by the “Made in Halsbrücke” quality over the following years. It’s no coincidence that many customer and supplier relationships have existed for over 25 years.
Re-founded and never standing still: With investments in the high tens of millions, all processes are continually optimised. And further investments are made in the company every year. The current status: The Feinhütte Halsbrücke smelting plant now produces practically every tin and lead alloy, in an almost unlimited number of variants and formats. And for customers from all branches of trade and industry. The results: “Made in Halsbrücke” metallurgical quality is once again synonymous with top quality, individual solutions and innovations all over the world.
1638 m² roof area, 250 kWhp: With its own latest-generation photovoltaic system, the Feinhütte Halsbrücke smelting plant becomes more independent, and more green. It is making an active contribution to the energy revolution and reducing CO₂ emissions.
When Tobias Patzig enters the company, one thing is clear: Family tradition is key here. After passing his degree in Dresden and spending a year gaining practical experience abroad, the young industrial engineer decides: He’s going to join the company founded by Lothar Patzig. Grandson Tobias probably already knew that long before as he carried out internships and holiday work in every department while his interest in the smelting craft continued to grow.
Maintaining and expanding the traditional business and continuing it into the future are the key tasks for the entire Feinhütte team, and the foundation for future success and completely new opportunities. It’s the combination that makes the difference. Feinhütte skilfully combines the wealth of experience in its current team with new young team members, guaranteeing a highly dynamic environment and a thirst for knowledge.
Toasting the first quarter of a new century. With colleagues and 200 invited guests. In an unusual yet magnificent setting. After all, as well as celebrating 25 years of Feinhütte Halsbrücke GmbH, the occasion also marked four hundred years of smelting tradition at the same site. To many more years of successful and reliable partnership. Glück auf!
Latest construction site completed: Another piece of history is showcased thanks to the completely renovated administration building and the complex and faithful reproduction of the stone coat of arms that used to adorn the former amalgamation works. And of course it’s a more pleasant working environment too.
Electrolysis reloaded: With the restoration and optimisation of the in-house electrolysis technology, atomic purification is now used, which allows for the production of outstanding tin-lead alloys. The degree of purity of these alloys far surpasses that of customary solders – companies involved in tin-lead applications all love using the new “Feinhütte Elyt”.
The Erzgebirge/Krušnohoří Mining Region is included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The region applied for the title with 17 component parts on the Saxon side and 5 on the Bohemian side.
With its 800-year history in silver and tin mining and the subsequent ore smelting, Freiberg and the surrounding area is now one component of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The decision by the World Heritage Committee underlines the metallurgical history of the entire region.
We at Feinhütte Halsbrücke want to continue to drive forward metallurgical innovations in the future, and to carry on contributing to the success story of the Freiberg/Halsbrücke region. Glück auf!