(1857–1922), Hungarian economist. According to family lore, Manfréd Weiss’s grandfather, Barukh Weiss, had been a simple village artisan. Probably originally from Moravia, the family, which settled in Pest, was relatively prosperous by the time Weiss’s father, Adolf B. Weiss (1807–1877), married. Several relatives made their living trading in produce, and in the 1860s and 1870s the family was involved with the emerging mill industry. Weiss was the sixth and youngest child. He studied at a commercial academy and after a short trip abroad, he joined the family business, immediately changing its profile to a more dynamic and versatile enterprise.
In 1882, Weiss founded Hungary’s first canning factory in Budapest with his brother Bertold; the company later turned into one of the major suppliers of the joint Austro-Hungarian army. In catering to the needs of the military, the company had to expand its line of products continuously. Over the years, it established and managed several other significant industrial enterprises, some related to the army. In 1892, the Weiss brothers founded the country’s first ammunition factory on the island of Csepel, close to Budapest. They also cofounded—with 50 percent ownership—the Hungarian Textile Industry Company, the country’s largest enterprise of this sort, in Rózsahegy (now Ružomberok, Slovakia), and in 1890, they helped establish the Hungarian Industrial and Mercantile Bank.
By the time of the Millennium Exhibition in 1896, the Weiss brothers already occupied a prominent position among companies that made industrial products. Weiss’s brother Bertold then withdrew from the family enterprises and became a member of parliament. When Weiss assumed the exclusive management of the company, Emperor Franz Joseph awarded him a title of nobility with the predicate csepeli (referring to the town of Csepel).
Weiss gradually expanded the scope of production at his Csepel factories. His goal was to produce all parts of his goods, from the basic material to the end products. He eventually developed one of the country’s most significant roll mills and later expanded production to artillery ammunition, army ovens, mobile kitchens, and even military cooking boxes. Csepel gradually became not only the leader in Hungary’s metal works industry, but also the country’s largest privately owned factory with access to the most remote areas of the world.
In the years immediately before World War I, Weiss embarked upon several additional large-scale investments. He established a steel factory and, fighting domestic competition, launched the production of large-caliber artillery shells. He probably knew that war was inevitable, and he organized his factory accordingly. At the end of the war, István Tisza, the former prime minister, expressed his deepest appreciation, saying, “Only two things came through: the heroism of our sons and the productivity of Manfréd Weiss.” After the war, Weiss transformed his factory to produce a variety of goods, from horseshoe nails to milk containers to motor cars.
Weiss attempted suicide by poison when his factory was nationalized at the time of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, but thanks to quick medical intervention, he survived. However, his life—even if only symbolically—had come to an end. The collapse of the factory was dramatic: the several thousand workers employed during the war dwindled to several hundred, and the occupying Romanian army looted the premises.
László Varga, “Manfréd Weiss: The Profile of a Munitions King,” in Jews in the Hungarian Economy, 1760–1945, ed. Michael K. Silber, pp. 196–209 (Jerusalem, 1992).
Translated from Hungarian by Anna Szalai