PHILIPS and Leopeold Lanegger
In this series of articles about inventors and alchemists we will showcase individuals developing original ideas in industry and science. May we introduce to you: Leopold Lanegger!
In memory of Wim van Gerven († 17-03-2000), grandson of Leopold Lanegger.
The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was formed at the end of World War I, when, in 1918, the state rose from the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its neighbouring states. Since the traditions of ancient Greece and Rome, of Byzantium and, as well as, Western and Central Europe were diffused, clashed and sometimes took root in this region, this multinational society bears Slavic, Eastern and Western imprints of great complexity and diversity. Here in the north, of what now is called Slavonia, south of Maribor in the Austria-Hungarian Empire of the Habsburg Dynasty, Leopold Lanegger was born in 1877, in a village called Oplonitz. On the Yugoslavian map of today this village is called Oplotnica. In these troubled times, when the industrial revolution boomed as the population quickly doubled, a huge flow of migrant workers travelled through Europe, millions emigrated to Africa and north and South America. They were all following the movements of the newly formed colonies, the forming of new national and political states with new courts or political centres, new military bases, the new industrial centres with the rail road tracks and harbours or simply trying to escape from cholera, communism, authoritarian regimes, hunger or poverty hitting the world.
As descendants of nomadic Huns drifted westward from Mongolia, Lanegger learned the trade of glassblowing while travelling through southern Europe from one glass manufacture to the other, following a trail from Klagenfurt (A), to Triëst (I), Greece, Turkey, Spain and back to Austria again where he finally settled, in 1905, near Vienna. As glass blowers did in those days, they took their suitcases, blowing pipe, tools and family and followed their work. Telegraph and telephones made communication easier and Lanegger could read and write six languages fluently. Glassmakers were exempt from duty and taxes and easily passed through customs, since they were always very welcome to bring their skills and knowledge to new employers.
At the time, Lanegger arrived in Vienna, he had attained the status of Hüttemeister -technically responsible for running the daily organisation of the glass making- and his job was to lead the glass teams, ordered the coals, wooden moulds, chemicals and batch materials, to run the big and smaller furnaces with nine and six pots and tanks, the different annealing kilns, to program the scheme of the day’s work, control the process from sand to product, and if needed, to blow the pipe himself. In his recipe booklets are hundreds of formulas: I have found compounds ranging from the batch of Kugler glass (coloured glass rods for overlaying transparent glass), toughened cylinders and flasks for Schott glass works, crystal and coloured glass objects for lamp shades and vases to the glass for Osram to blow light bulbs. So he obviously was involved in making the technical glass types and semi-manufactured products for other European glass factories. A letterhead I found in his files showed the address of Josef Inwald, the glass factory in Floridsdorf near to Vienna. This consortium whose headquarters was in Prague had several glass factories in Germany, Slovakia and Bohemia where they produced coloured glass, Bohemian crystal ware, siphons, bottles, light shades and light bodies.
He was personally, for that time, well off: he owned a housing block, worked hard and enjoyed life by playing the accordion in an Austrian orchestra, shopped for his daily smokes and eating at restaurants.
Immediately after the First World War Philips from Eindhoven, the Netherlands travelled to Vienna to request Lanegger to come to Holland and help building the first Philips Glass Factory. Lanegger packed his trunks again, along with the glass follies made in his spare time, and with his wife and four children took the train to Eindhoven where he lived in a hotel while waiting for the houses and factory Philips were building in the Glaslaan to lodge the hundred families that Lanegger had to persuade to follow him. In this former glass district in Eindhoven, most German and Austrian glass blowers lived in close communities. It was not easy for them to be accepted in this Catholic, post war atmosphere (although the Netherlands had been neutral) in a city where many Protestant foreigners landed, coming from the north of the Netherlands and Europe. In this atmosphere the poor population was unemployed and not skilled enough to make the transition from an agricultural culture to heavy industry. More isolation followed when their children studied at the Philips’ schools, used the company’s sporting facilities, the library or wooden shed for their music and theatre plays. Philips had a steady grip on their children as future workers.
For the factory’s need inspired Lanegger to learn more about electricity resulting in his developing the production of glassblowing of hand made radio tubes, Roentgen lamps and light bulbs and the pulling of glass rods. He changed the compounds of the clay pots to last longer, blew the biggest pieces during the night with two of his best Master blowers and even when he slept, he heard in the roar of the furnace whether or not the melt would be good enough for the next day’s work! One of his sketchbooks shows the glass balloon designs in all varieties of forms and shapes that we still know today.
By the end of the 30s, he retired and enjoyed his final party in Alpignon, Italy where the Philips glass balloon factory S.A.I. organized a banquet. While, he saw the depression spreading over Europe and World War II developing, he followed with great interest, the progress of electrical devices that Philips developed from TV screens to the most advanced medical applications in glass. Lanegger saw the city grow from the former small web of villages to become one big ‘light town’ where factories dominated life in the 1950s.
After an interesting life Lanegger died in 1962, knowing that also his work made Royal Philips Electronics one of the biggest industries of Europe.
With many thanks to Mrs Irma van Gerven-Lanegger
21/7/2000 © Angela van der Burght for This Side Up!