Johann Heinrich Schüle (1720–1811)

Johann Heinrich Schüle was a pioneer in the industrial-scale production of printed cotton fabric in eighteenth-century Bavaria. He broke through traditional restrictions at the city of Augsburg to establish a large export business. At its peak in the 1770s it employed 3,500 people.

He was born at Künzelsau in Württemberg where his father was a nail smith. Aged 11 he began an apprenticeship with a haberdasher in Strasbourg. At 25 he went to Augsburg in Bavaria, a financial and trading centre on routes from Italy to northern Europe and western to eastern Europe. Schüle worked for a haberdashery firm in the city and in 1748 married the daughter of the owners, Catharina Barbara Cristell. When he took over the business he saw opportunities to develop the trade in fine cotton fabric (calico) with fashionable printed designs. He bought fabric from weavers in Augsburg and had it printed in Hamburg and then hand-coloured in Augsburg. In 1759 he opened his own printing works but continued to put out the work of painting to domestic workers and residents of the Augsburg poor-house. His high-quality products found markets across Europe. With demand increasing, he began importing British and Indian calico, which broke the protectionist trading laws of the city and its weavers’ guild. When he was prosecuted he moved to Heidenheim an der Brenz in Württemberg and set up the Württembergische Cattunmanufactur.

In 1768 his dispute with the Augsburg weavers’ guild was settled in his favour. In 1770-2 he returned and built a three-storey factory just outside the city walls. It was designed by the architect Leonhard Christian Mayr in the style of a palace in a ‘U’ shape with wings over 100 m long either side of gardens closed off by iron gates. Schüle and his family lived at the centre with workshops for copper-plate engravers, printers and painters in the wings. In 1772 he was awarded the title of Edler von Schüle. About 3,000 people were working for him and the business was continuing to grow.

In the 1780s the business suffered competition from factories elsewhere in Europe and from a growing textile sector in Augsburg that benefitted from his skilled workforce. Schüle handed management to his sons in 1792 and then returned ten years later but the business closed in 1808 under the disruption of the Napoleonic Wars. A section of the factory survives as a university building. The emblem from its gates and other material about calico printing are displayed in the industrial museum.