Reinhard and Max Mannesmann
Versatile inventors with exciting life stories
It was in 1885 that the brothers Reinhard and Max Mannesmann patented the world’s first procedure for rolling seamless steel tubes. This invention revolutionized pipeline construction, mechanical engineering and automobile manufacture. It marked the beginning of what has meanwhile become 130 years of steel tube history, which is continued by the Mannesmann business unit of Salzgitter AG. At the end of the 1890s, Mannesmann also began production of welded steel tubes. By this time, however, the brother inventors had long since vacated their management posts at Mannesmannröhren-Werke.
Reinhard Mannesmann journeyed to the USA in 1893, accompanied by some of his younger brothers, in order to capitalize on the international tube rolling patents that had remained in the family’s ownership.
He began with a presentation at the World’s Fair in Chicago, which was so convincing that the renowned US inventor and entrepreneur Thomas Alva Edison described it as the most impressive thing he had seen there:
„A masterpiece of Men as Men should be“.
Max Mannesmann remained in Germany, where he represented the family’s interests as a member of the supervisory board of Mannesmannröhren-Werke and negotiated the financial framework for their final exit from the company. What at this time no one knew, was that none of their subsequent inventions nor the numerous businesses they founded would enjoy similarly great and lasting success. Some in failing even incurred high financial losses, among them the two companies that Reinhard Mannesmann established in the USA in the 1890s to produce bicycle tubes.
The success at the World’s Fair had opened the doors to the upper echelons of society and of the business community. Reinhard and his brothers received invitations to the White House and to the retiring room of the US Senate. Yet they were no more able to translate this into financial success, than to convert Reinhard’s innovative ideas on how to exploit Niagara Falls as a power source. In 1899 Reinhard Mannesmann returned to Germany, if not for long.
In an exchange of letters between their home in Remscheid and the USA, Reinhard and Max Mannesmann had discussed whether a tube production facility of their own and the construction of pipelines in Russia might prove suitable alternatives. Reinhard even conceived the idea of pipes for the pneumatic transportation of packets between St. Petersburg and Moscow. Several visits to Russia, including by Max Mannesmann, followed a pattern similar to that in the USA – with business meetings, celebrations and even hunting trips to Siberia. All without notable business outcome.
Reinhard and Max Mannesmann also pursued other ideas in parallel and supported their younger brothers’ inventions and business start-ups, including for example a new kind of gas lamp. Max Mannesmann also founded his own “Technical Office” in Remscheid as a base for his own diverse activities as an inventor and their exploitation. Among the patents registered were practical applications such as prefabricated concrete houses, but also curious ideas such as shoes with toe compartments. In 1908 he acquired an interest in an automobile factory in Aachen.
Reinhard Mannesmann took an increasingly intensive interest in ore mining and bought up mines and mining rights in Germany and abroad. This interest extended so far that in 1906 he spent several months honeymooning with his young wife in Morocco. Reinhard suspected that the ore deposits discovered in south west Spain continued into north Africa, and he was keen to explore the business opportunities. He forged contacts with the local people and in the following years made large-scale purchases both of ore mining rights and of land for agricultural use. Some of his younger brothers followed him to the country, and several large farms and trading companies were established. The activities of the Mannesmann family in Morocco in total reached such a scale that they triggered colonial policy disputes between France, Germany and the local inhabitants. Then in 1914 with the outbreak of World War I, they came to an abrupt end.
Even during his intensive period in Morocco, however, Reinhard Mannesmann regularly put other business opportunities to the test. In 1911 he supported an expedition to investigate the availability of rubber and ore deposits in Peru. It is said that in later years as the sole result of this adventure he occasionally produced a Peruvian necklace of nut kernels, which he allegedly described as his wife’s “most expensive piece of jewelry”.
From the start of the war, Reinhard and Max Mannesmann concentrated on military supplies and trading. Reinhard – although he was by this time 58 years old – was called up as a reserve officer and stationed in Bulgaria and Romania. It is likely that the competent authorities wished to profit from his extensive experiences abroad. Max Mannesmann died in 1915 at the age of 57 as a result of pneumonia which he contracted while testing a device for transporting wounded soldiers at the front. After the war ended, Reinhard Mannesmann continued his automobile business and his development work. He died in 1922 at the age of 66.