Karl Godulla (1781–1848)

In the early nineteenth century Karl Godulla (or Karolus Godula) was a pioneer of the industrial revolution in Silesia - then in Prussia but today part of Poland. He developed mining for coal and zinc in the region and built the largest industrial empire of the period in the German states.

Godulla’s family were farmers in Upper Silesia and he attended grammar schools at Rudy (now in Poland) and Opava (now in Czechia). In 1801 he was given a job on the estates of Count von Ballestrem. He was promoted several times until, in 1809, he became treasurer of the estates. In 1812 he was responsible for Ballestrem’s new Carl zinc smelter at Ruda, which he expanded to become one of the largest in the world. Count von Ballestrem rewarded Godulla with shares in the works. The income from this enabled him to become active as an entrepreneur himself, in addition to his work as general representative of the von Ballestrem companies.

When other landowners prevented the estate from buying mines for calamine (zinc carbonate) to supply its smelting works, Godulla began prospecting in a new area west of the town of Bytom. He found rich veins to exploit and agreed with the landowner there to establish the Mariengrube mine and divide profits equally. In the following years, he invested his earnings in other mines, steelworks and transport facilities. He lent money and acquired bankrupt businesses. Zinc production was at the heart of his fortune. The material was needed for making brass, and demand for it grew even greater after it started to be used in galvanising in around 1840. Upper Silesia and Godulla’s mines and smelters dominated world production. He was known as the ‘king of zinc’.

When he died Godulla owned numerous zinc mines, coal mines and zinc smelters as well as very large estates and shares in other properties. He never married. He left money to all his employees and the rest of his fortune to the daughter of a miner, Johanna Gryzik, who was aged 6 when he died. At the age of 16 Johanna was given a title as Gryzik von Schomberg-Godulla, taking the names of her benefactor and the great house that he built. She married Count Hans-Ulrich Schaffgotsch and continued to manage the Godulla enterprises.

Under communism after World War Two the estates were confiscated. Godulla was forgotten and his mansion was demolished. More recently, the importance of the ‘king of zinc’ and his adopted daughter have been recognised again.