August Borsig (1804–54)

(Johann Friedrich) August Borsig was the founder of one of Germany`s principal engineering companies. He was born, the son of a carpenter in Breslau (Wroclaw) in Silesia, and studied building for a time before embarking on a commercial education in Berlin, which led him towards engineering.

He worked on the assembly of steam engines at F A Egell`s Neue Berliner Eisengiesserei near the Oranienburger Tor, where he served for some years as works manager. He subsequently acquired a site for a foundry on Chausseestrasse adjacent to his former employer`s works, where the first castings were made in 1837. He produced sugar refining machinery, but focussed increasingly on locomotives. In 1840 he completed a 4-2-2 locomotive that competed successfully with one made by Robert Stephenson in England, which stimulated orders. His 24th locomotive was exhibited at a fair in Berlin in 1844, and his 100th was completed two years later. He also manufactured water pumps, and structural ironwork for the domes of the Nicolai church in Potsdam and the Stadtschloss in Berlin.

He set up a second works at Berlin-Moabit in 1847, and new machine shops and a foundry in Kirchstrase in 1850, by which time he was employing 1,800 men on the three sites. He had a reputation as a benevolent employer who provided educational facilities, dining rooms and swimming pools for his workers. His company gained increasing numbers of export orders, particularly from the Habsburg Empire, and in the year of his death completed the 500th Borsig locomotive.

By 1872 Borsig was the largest producer of locomotives in Europe, with works at Zabrze in Silesia and at Dortmund, as well as those in Berlin. It entered a period of relative decline after the death of August Borsig`s son Albert in 1878, and went through many mergers in the 20th century. It continued nevertheless to produce notable locomotives, including the three class 05 streamlined 4-6-4s of 1935-37, which set various speed records. One of them is preserved at Nuremberg. The last of 16,352 steam locomotives produced by Borsig was completed in 1954.

The imposing Borsig Gate, a structure in the Gothic style erected at the entrance to the company`s main complex in Berlin, is now the entrance to a retailing centre that occupies the former engineering shops. The complex also includes the Borsig-Turm of 1922, a 65 m high, 12-storey office block, which was reputedly Berlin`s first skyscraper.