Charles de Wendel (1809–70)

Charles de Wendel was an iron and steel manufacturer in the Lorraine region of north-east France. When he joined the family company it produced about 1% of French pig iron. When he died it was the largest producer in France and employed 7,000 people.

Wendel came from a family of steelmakers. His ancestor, Jean Martin Wendel, bought the Hayange ironworks in Lorraine in 1704, which became the largest iron forge and foundry in the region in the eighteenth century. De Wendel’s father, who was the manager of the ironworks, died when de Wendel was 16. His mother managed the company while he studied at the École Polytechnique in Paris and went to Britain to study mining and metallurgy. He returned to France in 1834. He shared control with his mother and his brother-in-law, Baron Théodore de Gargan, until 1851, when he became sole manager.

De Wendel and his family expanded operations at the existing Hayange ironworks and another ironworks at Moyeuvre. In the early 1850s, de Wendel, Georges Hainguerlot and others formed the new Stiring coal company to open deep coal shafts at Schœneck. He had already built a new forge and rolling mills at Stiring on the Franco-German border. This principally made wrought-iron rails and eventually converted to steelmaking. He also bought a further coal mine at Petit-Rosselle. De Wendel was administrator of the Compagnie des chemins de fer de l'Est and he negotiated for branches to connect the new works to the company’s coal mines and coke works at Stiring and at Seraing, across the Belgian border. Nearby he founded Stiring-Wendel, a model workers’ settlement, begun in 1846. He provided schools, a church, shops and housing and the workers and their families benefitted from health insurance and pensions.

oon after de Wendel died, much of Lorraine was absorbed by Prussia (it was returned to France at the Treaty of Versailles). His mother, aged 86, took control once again and converted the business to a joint stock company in which the family retained shares.