Johann Conrad Fischer

Company founder
(14 September 1773 - 26 December 1854)

Fischer went to school (Gymnasium) in Schaffhausen and then started an apprenticeship in his father's workshop as a coppersmith and making hand-driven fire-fighting pumps (Feuerspritzenmacher). In 1792, he set out as a wandering journeyman, his travels taking him to Germany, Scandinavia and England. On returning to Schaffhausen in 1794, Fischer took over his father's business. In 1802, he purchased a former mill in the Mühlental valley outside Schaffhausen, where he set up a small foundry for bells and the fire-fighting pumps, thus laying the foundation for today's international corporation. Around 1806 he was the first on the European continent to succeed in producing "crucible steel". Fischer was invited by the French Ministry of the Interior to settle in France but turned down the offer. He began creating cast steel alloys with other metals. In 1807 he created a low-alloy manganese steel, in 1814 so-called yellow steel with copper, in 1819 a silver-steel alloy and in 1823 steel with chromium.

Expansion

The nickel steel alloy developed by Fischer in 1824 brought the company orders from Austria, France, Germany and England. The decisive step forward was the switch from nonferrous heavy metals such as bronze, cooper or brass to iron and steel. The rapidly expanding watch, textile and machine-making industries had an insatiable demand for these metals, which were cheaper and, at the time, "leading edge". Around 1825, Fischer began to produce solely steel and files, leaving off manufacture of his traditional products. The new products also opened up new markets for Fischer. Whereas the output from his copper foundry in the period 1811-1816 found customers mainly in the Canton of Schaffhausen, German-speaking Switzerland and southern Germany, his steel manufacture widened the scope to French-speaking Switzerland (the watch industry in the Jura), France, Germany and Austria.

A tireless inventor

In 1827 Fischer succeeded in manufacturing malleable cast iron. His last alloy – which he called Fischer metal – was cast steel containing one third copper. Fischer did not live long enough to see this invention used in railway axle boxes. Except for making files, Fischer did not consider the possibility of processing the steel himself. During Fischer's lifetime, what was later to become a large corporation was still a company managed along patriarchal lines. Fischer saw himself as an inventor rather than as an entrepreneur. In 1819, he helped set up a steel factory in La Roche near Montbéliard in the Franche-Comté and later concluded licence agreements with companies in London and Liège. Since Austria was the only country with patent legislation, Fischer had almost all his inventions patented in Vienna. This explains why Austria was the first country in which Fischer expanded. He also set up steel foundries in Austria: at Hainfeld in 1827, Traisen in 1833, and Salzburg in 1839. He appointed his sons Georg, Berthold and Wilhelm to manage these works.

Inspiration from travel

In 1814, in the wake of his initial successes and the lifting of the Continental embargo, Fischer travelled to England and published his impressions in a Journal. On his journey through the English Midlands, he was a critical observer of the upheaval that later became known as the Industrial Revolution. His subsequent travels took him back to England as well as to France, Germany and Austria. Fischer's journals bear witness to the industrial and technological leaps that Europe was taking at the time. Fischer also used his skills and knowledge to benefit his native city. In 1797-1798 he was a member of the Kleiner Rat or Municipal Council. In 1801 he was appointed Mining Administrator for the exploitation of the Bohner iron ore mines, a post he held until 1851. From 1828 to 1846 he was a Grossrat or member of the Council Executive. In 1831 he was Federal Diet delegate for Schaffhausen, from 1831 to 1835 the city's first Mayor (Stadtpräsident) and a member of the Municipal Parliament until 1847. He had a wide circle of friends , both in Switzerland and numerous European countries, with whom he regularly corresponded. Among his correspondents were the sons of James Watt , the inventor of the steam engine, and the physicist Michael Faraday . Fischer was married to Katharine Fischer-von Waldkirch and was one of the outstanding personalities of Schaffhausen in the 19th century.

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