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Max von Duttenhofer: the founder of Rottweil ammunition

Early Career

 

The future Gunpowder King from Swabia (located in the southern part of Germany in the territory of today's federal state of Baden-Württemberg) started his career as a modest pharmacist in the city of Ulm, just like his father Wilhelm Duttenhofer (1800-1854)

However, his energetic mother, Thessaline Duttenhofer (1808-1889, née Widmaier) − who probably inherited her entrepreneurial talent from her father, a merchant from Schömberg  − sold the pharmacy as decided to enter what she thought had been a more profitable business: gunpowder manufacturing. 

She was persuaded by the hefty dividends that she received from participating as a partner in one of the small gunpowder factories in the town of Rottweil where Max was born. A year before his death, Wilhelm Duttenhofer invested in this young company. After his death, this share was transferred to Duttenhofer's enterprising and resourceful wife, who also decided to open her own business. In 1857, she bought an older gunpowder factory that had been founded back in the 15th Century in Rottweil (at that time such small factories were called "gunpowder mills"). 

Max Duttenhofer became head of this former "mill" in 1863 − when he was only 20. He more than made up for his lack of experience with an excellent education, which he obtained by studying chemistry at the Polytechnic Institute in Stuttgart, as well as his brilliant organizational, scientific and technical abilities.  Despite the fact that the company originally had only six employees, Duttenhofer's gunpowder factory was at that time one of the most advanced in Germany. Of course, Max Duttenhofer's marriage in 1866 to Anna Flaiz, the daughter of the new factory's owner, strengthened the family business. They had three children: a son and two daughters.  

Picture of the Duttenhofer Gunpowder Factory 
A postcard with a picture of the Duttenhofer Gunpowder Factory in Düneberg

Max von Duttenhofer: "The Gunpowder King"

 

Prussia's participation in the military campaigns of 1864, 1866 and 1870/71 against Denmark, Austria and France, as well as the development of the mining industry and the construction of railroads meant that there was an ever increasing demand for high-quality gunpowder for military and industrial purposes. In 1871, Duttenhofer bought two more gunpowder plants located nearby in order to withstand the tough competition. This is how in 1872 the Rottweil Gunpowder Factory turned into a joint stock company. The company was expanded at the same time, and five years later a branch factory was opened in Düneberg near Hamburg. Otto von Bismarck provided the site along the River Elbe for the factory from his estates. By the way, the Alfred Nobel factory, where the famous Swedish chemist produced dynamite in 1866 for the first time, was built just five kilometres from this place. It is no wonder that the factories of Nobel and Duttenhofer near Hamburg were called Germany's "powder chamber" up until 1945.

Max Duttenhofer became chairman and managing director of the company, and the company's name was changed to "The Rottweil - Hamburg Gunpowder Plant". Thus, Duttenhofer's plant in Germany became the only full-fledged competitor of the United Rhenish Westphalian Gunpowder Mills. 

The C82 prismatic powder invented by Duttenhofer started to be used widely, particularly for artillery, and in 1882 Duttenhofer concluded an agreement with the United Rhenish Westphalian Gunpowder Mills, under which all military gunpowder had to be jointly produced to allow for smoother operations.  During the years of 1883-84 the Rottweil - Hamburg Gunpowder Plant bought up five more gunpowder factories, including two in Württemberg and three in Bavaria, and established sales offices in Belgrade and Hamburg. Since 1882 the company had focused on the production of gunpowder for commercial applications. Other foreign branches of the company that supplied Duttenhofer's gunpowder throughout the world from the United States to China followed its example.

Photograph of Max von Duttenhofer
Photograph of Max von Duttenhofer with his personal signature

The invention of smokeless gunpowder

 

At that time the entire gunpowder industry was working towards the same goal: the creation of new chemical formulations to replace smoking powder.  In 1884, Duttenhofer was one of the first − along with Paul Marie Eugène Vielle − to achieve this goal, having obtained the so-called Rottweil chemical powder. 

Duttenhofer's new "brown prismatic powder" consisted of nitrocellulose and was able to burn almost completely without smoke. It became the first German variety of smokeless powder, which in 1887 the "Krupp of Southern Germany" introduced to Prussian leaders. 

After that Max Duttenhofer received a large government order, and his factory became one of the first industrial producers of smokeless gunpowder. Duttenhofer's previously acquired factory for the production of cotton fibre that was needed to manufacture gunpowder containers provided a platform for the rapid development of the technology. The German entrepreneur quickly adapted it for the production of cellulose nitrate, which was the most important component of smokeless gunpowder. The word of the new product quickly spread among competitors, and as early as in 1889 the Prussian military factory in Spandau produced a significantly better quality "bull's eye powder." Duttenhofer immediately responded to the situation and re-focused his production on more advanced grades of gunpowder.  

Package of Rottweil Waidmannsheil hunting cartridges
The legendary Waidmannsheil hunting cartridges sold under the Rottweil brand name were created thanks to Max von Duttenhofer's company

1890: The Rottweil powder factory is the group with weapons and ammunition

 

That same year, Max Duttenhofer became chairman of the supervisory board of the Rottweil - Hamburg Gunpowder Plant. But in 1890 he merged his company with his long-time rival to form the United Cologne - Rottweil Gunpowder Mills, and Duttenhofer became Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the new company.  

Later the company underwent further mergers and acquisitions: in 1894 the company merged with explosives factories, and then, as the result of a deal to combine plants for the production of rifles and ammunition, the German Weapons and Munitions Public Limited Company was formed. Notably, the company absorbed the factory of the Mauser brothers in Oberndorf near Rottweil. 

Thus, the German arms industry consisting of weapons, ammunition and gunpowder manufacturers was united into a powerful corporation whose development was guided by Duttenhofer's strategy. The latter was the chairman of the supervisory board of the Mauser factory in Oberndorf, the Daimler automobile factory in Untertürkheim, and the Disconto-Gesellschaft Scientific and Technical Society in Berlin. 

In 1898 he helped create the Centre for Scientific and Technical Research in Babelsberg and was chairman of its board of trustees. Thus, he became a pioneer in the field of industrial research. Duttenhofer was chairman of the Chamber of Commerce of Rottweil for 25 years, where he led the German Party for many years. The "Iron Chancellor" Otto von Bismarck, who was his neighbour in Düneberg, maintained friendly relations with Duttenhofer. Duttenhofer did a lot for Rottweil, where he maintained his residence. A tireless worker, Duttenhofer was a far-sighted and tough person. He made decisions based on the needs of his business, but in life he remained a kind and modest man who took care of the people who depended on his support.

The legacy of Max von Duttenhofer 

Max Duttenhofer's company reached its apogee after its founder’s death. His brother Karl Duttenhofer (1849-1921), who was formerly the director of the company branch in Düneberg, became head of the gunpowder empire built by the "Krupp of Southern Germany". During the First World War more than 2,000 workers were employed at Duttenhofer's gunpowder factory in Rottweil. Actually, it was more than just a factory: it was a complete industrial complex with numerous facilities (140 buildings) and a private electrical power plant. Incidentally, this power plant is a true architectural masterpiece, and it is one of the city's tourist attractions. 

We should also not forget to mention Max Duttenhofer's role in the development of the gunpowder industry in other countries as well. He was the co-founder of the Russian Society of Gunpowder Producers and similar enterprises in England, Holland and Japan. He was awarded the title of Secret Commercial Counsellor, and in 1896 he was awarded a title of nobility.

Unlike other great gunsmiths, including Nobel, Krupp and Mauser, the name Duttenhofer did not become a trademark, although Bismarck repeatedly offered to rename the gunpowder factory in Düneberg as the "Duttenhofer Factory".  Nevertheless, sportsmen and hunters are quite familiar with Rottweil brand ammunition, which has gained popularity around the world and owes its origin to Max von Duttenhofer's company. 

The RWS brand was created from the Rhenish Westphalian explosives factories, which came in 1931 to the Dynamit Nobel.

Since 2002, both ammo brands include Rottweil and RWS to the Swiss Technology Group RUAG. In Germany, the RUAG Ammotec is headquartered in Fürth, where the company developed both brands with over 1,000 employees, produces and distributes worldwide.

For more information on RWS and Rottweil ammunition visit the https://rws-munition.de/en.html

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