It was on September 6, 1858 that the Actien-Gesellschaft Ilseder Hütte was founded in the small rural town of Groß Ilsede, in what was then the Kingdom of Hanover. The purpose of the company was to exploit the rich local deposits of iron ore for the manufacture of pig iron.
The shareholders who invested in the undertaking at the time were aware that they were running a big financial risk. For one thing, the ore was hard to work due to its low iron content and the high proportion of phosphorus. What’s more, some of them had already recently incurred large losses in backing an entrepreneur whose attempt to establish a mining and smelting business in the same location had ended in spectacular failure.
The first ten years in the life of Ilseder Hütte were erratic – due not least to the weak economic situation at the time – but generally successful. The first blast furnace was commissioned in 1860, marking the start of pig iron production. Since the ore was initially extracted by surface mining, the costs were low, and the smelting process consumed far less coke than had originally been assumed. The development of an effective transport infrastructure served to compensate for the cost of bringing in coal, the bulk of which, for lack of viable deposits closer to home, was sourced from the Ruhr area.
Step by step, the company added more blast furnaces, other necessary facilities and a coking plant of its own. Ore extraction was expanded with the introduction of deep mining, and the company created an extensive social network to provide for the needs of its ever-growing workforce.
With the exception of a few skilled specialists, most of the workers were initially drawn from the local Ilsede-Peine region; however, soon they had to be recruited from further afield. The company housing built by Ilseder Hütte in particular set an example that was admired even beyond the locality.