Joseph-Eugene Schneider (1803 – 75)

Joseph-Eugene Schneider (1803-75) and his brother Adolphe (1802-48), whose origins were at Bazeilles near Sedan in Lorraine, gained control in 1836 of the mines and ironworks of Le Creusot in Burgundy, established under royal patronage with English technology in the 1780s.

His son Henri (1840-98), grandson Charles-Eugene (1868-1942) and great-grandson Charles (1898-1960), subsequently controlled the family concern. Schneider made his company into one of the most innovative in Europe. He encouraged Francois Bourdon (d 1865) in the development of the steam hammer in the late 1830s, and a 1300-tonne steam hammer of 1876 stands as a monument in the centre of Le Creusot.

He built vast iron-framed workshops, including a 360 m X 100 m rolling mill building erected between 1861 and 1867 that remains. The company manufactured locomotives, steamships, bridges, iron frames for buildings, including the Gare d’Austerlitz in Paris, and armaments, particularly artillery pieces. From about 1870 it produced mild steel by both the Bessemer and Siemens-Martin processes, began to use electric furnaces from 1895, and pioneered the development of special steels. In the early 20th century the Schneider concern expanded its activities, opening establishments at Bordeaux, Toulon and near Le Havre, as well as works in Brazil, Morocco, Egypt and Russia, and the large Winterslag colliery in eastern Belgium.

Schneider adopted a paternalistic attitude to his workpeople, and social life in Le Creusot was shaped by nurseries, schools, hospitals and homes for the aged provided by the company. Monuments and artefacts relating to Schneider and his family remain in Le Creusot, and locomotives built there are displayed in railway museums throughout Europe.