Das ehemalige Wasserwerk an der Siegburger Wahnbachtalstraße wird 1923 Standort des aufstrebenden Betriebs.Walterscheid GmbH Logo


Mühlengasse 6 Siegburg
Deutlich gewachsene Belegschaft: Mitte der 1920er Jahre posiert Jean Walterscheid (zentral mittig) mit seinen Leuten.
Die Königlichen Werke beschäftigten tausende Arbeitskräfte. Nach der Schließung des Preu- ßisch-Königlichen Feuerwerks- Laboratoriums 1919 verliert auch Jean Walterscheid seine Arbeit.
Mit der Erlaubnis der britischen Besatzungsbehörden nimmt Walterscheid im Herbst 1945 den Betrieb wieder auf. Viele Mitarbeiter hat Bernhard Müller selbst zurückgeholt – bei Touren mit dem Fahrrad in der Umgebung.
Kriegszerstörungen in Siegburg: Ab Herbst 1944 nehmen die Luftangriffe auf Siegburg zu, am 28. Dezember 1944 kommt es zu einem besonders verheerenden Angriff.
Mitarbeiter am Wehr des Mühl- grabens Mitte der 1930er Jahre: Viele werden einige Jahre später zum Kriegsdienst eingezogen.

The foundation –
the era of Jean Walterscheid

1919 – 1952

Beginnings in the washhouse

In the summer of 1919, Jean Walterscheid set up a small work-shop in a former washhouse in Siegburg. The 27-year-old seeks his fortune through self-employment. He manufactures sprockets for bicycles and carries out repairs. The company grows quickly. In 1934, Walterscheid leases the “Hansenmühle”, where he establishes a production area. He forges all kinds of axles and axle shafts for vehicles, which are the foundation of the company’s future success.

Jean Walterscheid

Jean Walterscheid founds a metal goods factory in 1919.

Siegburg 1919: Jean Walterscheid has survived the war and also found happiness in his private life. He marries Gertrud Buchholz from Mülldorf (now part of Sankt Augustin). But what about his professional future? The 27-year-old makes a brave decision and takes the step into self-employment. As a passionate cyclist, he decides to manufacture sprockets for bicycles. He took over a lathe from his workplace at the now closed Siegburg armaments factory and rents a former washhouse on Mühlengasse (now Mühlenstraße) where he sets up his lathe. He is supported by his friend Adolf Mletzko, who also becomes a partner. In September 1919, the Mletzko & Walterscheid metal goods factory commences operation. The two owners employ one worker, so they now form a trio. This marks the start of a company’s success story. But who is Jean Walterscheid?

Johann Josef Walterscheid was born in Siegburg in 1892, the son of Peter and Anna Walterscheid. He is referred to in the French form “Jean” or “Schäng” as is common in the Rhineland. After attending primary school, in 1906 he starts an apprenticeship as a lathe operator at the “Königlichen Werke” in Siegburg. He is employed in the pyrotechnics laboratory, one of the two armaments factories. His hobby is cycling: in 1908, he becomes a member of the Siegburg cycling club. After completing his apprenticeship, he briefly joins a company in Hameln before he returns to the pyrotechnics laboratory in 1912. He experiences how the arms factory produces armaments for the First World War (1914–1918) under intense pressure.

As the First World War ends with the capitulation of Germany in November 1918, the allied troops occupy the Rhineland. The first to arrive in the district are Canadians, followed by the English and, finally, the French. Siegburg, on the right side of the Rhine, also belongs to the French occupied area as part of the bridgehead around Cologne. The German military is forced to leave the region, and the armaments industry is banned. The bullet factory and pyrotechnics laboratory are closed on 13 September 1919 and the employees are dismissed. The attempt to convert the factories to peacetime production fails after a few years. Only a few of the 27,000 employees manage to keep their jobs, and Jean Walterscheid is not one of them. He now takes the step into self-employment.

Mitgliedskarte Radfahrerverein Siegburg

A fascination for cycling – Jean Walterscheid has been a member of the Siegburg cycling club since 1908. This becomes a business idea: the manufacture of sprockets.

Bullet factory and pyrotechnics laboratory –
“Königliche Werke”

The “Königliche Werke” employed thousands of workers. After the closure of the Prussian Royal Pyrotechnics Laboratory in 1919, Jean Walterscheid is one of many to lose his job.

Until 1919, Siegburg’s industrial development is dominated by “Königliche Werke”, two large armaments factories erected in the late 19th century. After the Franco-German War and the foundation of the German Reich in 1870/71, the government in Berlin expects another war against the “archenemy” France. As the Rhine is a natural line of defence, a site for an armaments factory close to the river is sought to ensure the rapid supply of ammunition. But the factory has to be far enough away that it is not be involved in the fight-ing and easily taken by the enemy. Siegburg, with a railway connection to the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress (near Koblenz) and the Ruhr district, which supplies the raw materials, is the ideal place.

1873 marks the start of construction of a bullet factory at “Haufeld” in Siegburg, which commences production two years later. However, for a long time the fuses have to be delivered from Spandau, until the government decides to manufacture these in Siegburg as well. The pyrotechnics laboratory is constructed in Brückberg to the north-west of the town (now Luisenstraße/Barbarossastraße) and starts production in 1892.

The “Königliche Werke” increase the population of Siegburg from just under 5,000 (1871) to over 16,000 (1905) residents. 5,000 people are employed by the “Königliche Werke” directly, and many more by suppliers. This boom results in the growth of the town well beyond its medieval heart; modern Siegburg is born. When weapons production is hugely expanded in the First World War, the bullet factory and pyrotechnics laboratory employs over 27,000 employees – more than the town’s population.

Jean Walterscheid (2. von links in der mittleren Reihe) beschäftigt schnell rund 15 Mitarbeiter, hinzu kommen erste Lehrlinge.

Jean Walterscheid (2nd from the left, middle row) soon employs around 15 staff, including first apprentices.

Success despite difficulties

In 1923 the former waterworks on Wahnbachtalstraße in Siegburg becomes home to the up-and-coming operation.

Erfolge trotz Widrigkeiten

Significant growth in the workforce: Jean Walterscheid (centre) poses with his people in the mid-1920s.

Walterscheid’s operation runs surprisingly well despite the difficult circumstances. The economy recovers very slowly after the war, as there is a shortage of resources as well as sales opportunities. The political situation is also tense. The inflation in 1922 is an additional burden on business. Siegburg, which was occupied until 1926, particularly suffers due to the closure of the “Königlichen Werke” and growing unemployment. Economic life only starts to stabilise after a currency reform is implemented in November 1923 following a period of hyperinflation.

The new turning shop opens at Mühlengasse 9 despite all the adversities of the post-war years. Walterscheid and his employees manufacture sprockets for bicycles as well as all kinds of spare parts and carry out repairs. They receive so many orders that the washhouse is soon too small. In 1923 Walterscheid relocates to the former Siegburg waterworks on Wahnbachtalstraße, which runs along the River Sieg in the south-east of the town. His friend Mletzko withdraws from the shared undertaking and Walterscheid begins to deliver to manufacturers and distributors. Walterscheid manufactures around 5,000 threaded parts for overrunning clutches for bicycles for its first major customer, “Frankfurter Torpedo-Werke”. He now employs 15 staff and, beginning in 1923, also trains technical apprentices. Many enjoy the operation’s familial atmosphere, Jean Walterscheid is a popular manager. In the evenings he enjoys occasionally bringing a carton of beer for the workers in the factory hall.

But the relatively stable years ended with the collapse of the New York Stock Exchange in October 1929, which triggers the Great Depression. In Germany, many companies go bankrupt and unemployment rises rapidly. Walterscheid also loses numerous orders and has to drastically reduce his workforce. Of the 76 employees, for a time only three to four remain. The operation keeps its head above water with repair work (including in a rayon factory).

New products and new location

Even before the National Socialists come to power in 1933, the economy starts to recover; the Nazi regime stimulates this development even further with economic policy measures. During this period, Jean Walterscheid, like many others, ventures to try something new. As his operation already repairs motor vehicle shafts, he now wants to supply automotive manufacturers directly. To do so, he has to outsource a number of production steps. The company Wilhelms in Wahlscheid forges the first flanged shafts that are then transported to Siegburg by handcart, which takes a lot of time and effort. As the forging orders increase, Walterscheid sets up a weekly collective transport from Wahlscheid to Siegburg, but he knows that to seriously enter the business, he needs new company premises.

In 1934, Walterscheid leases the “Hansenmühle” on Bachstraße in Siegburg, directly on the mill stream. This is where the Hansen family operated a hammer mill until the First World War, most recently for the axles of horsedrawn carriages. Walterscheid converts the factory’s production to axle shafts for lorries and cars, and soon once again employs 15 staff who saw, forge and shape square steel bars. For the forge, he uses a gas motor that his father, Peter Walterscheid, operates. After forging, the shafts are centred before they pass through further steps: straightening, turning, milling, tempering and, finally, inspecting. As shaft production continues, Walterscheid also enters the area of drive technology. The turning shop, headed by Michael Wiehl (referred to as Wiehls Michel), repairs and soon also manufactures cardan shafts.

In der Hansenmühle schmieden Walterscheids Leute am Reckhammer Achswellen für Lkw und Pkw.

Walterscheid’s people forge axle shafts for lorries and cars on a hammer forge in the “Hansenmühle”.


Cardan shafts

Cardan shafts, named after Italian scholar Gerolamo Cardano (1501–1576), are drive shafts that are divided by one or more joints or attached between two joints. They provide better power transmission. Cardan shafts are used in lorries and trucks as well as bicycles and motorbikes. They are also used in tractors and agricultural as well as other work machines. Gerolamo Cardano and the shafts named after him also give their name to the company Uni-Cardan AG.

Walterscheid’s dilemma

Despite the new products, it is a rocky path for the operation. Jean Walterscheid himself mentions “being on the brink of bankruptcy”. The workforce jokingly refers to the “Hansenmühle” as the “Walterscheid’sche Zwickmühle” (Walterscheid’s dilemma).

As a married couple, the Walterscheids live on the operation’s premises until 1937. The chief financial officer, Eduard Orthen, has his office in the Walterscheids’ living room. Besides this, there are four administrative rooms: the secretary’s office, the switchboard, reception and accounts. Even the production department works using simple methods; a large waterwheel on the mill stream powers most of the machines. When the town blocks the mill stream on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul (29 June) in order to clean it, the wheel and therefore also production at Walterscheid come to a standstill. At the mill, at the end of the day, apprentices haul the finished parts up a stone staircase to the upper floor. This is where they are packed and transported to Siegburg station on two-wheel carts along dirt tracks. This is another job for the apprentices, but the business owner sometimes also helps. “When we started producing lorry axles, Jean Walterscheid sometimes still shouldered the axles himself and transported them to the railway by motorbike”, remembers an employee.

Walterscheids Produktpalette: Achswellen für verschiedene Fahrzeuge

Walterscheid’s product range: axle shafts for various vehicles

Bernhard Müller

Bernhard Müller

Bernhard Müller is born in Lohmar on 5 April 1918 as the son of Heinrich and Elisabeth Müller. After primary school, in 1932 he starts a commercial training position with Josef Schmandt, the subsequent mayor of Siegburg. In 1935, he switches to Walterscheid, where he quickly attracts attention with his skills. In 1937, the 19-year-old is already a commercial manager. The Second World War interrupts this career when Bernhard Müller is drafted. When he is seriously wounded in Africa, he is discharged by the Armed Forces. In 1943, he returns to Siegburg, resumes his work at Walterscheid and becomes an authorised representative. Following his adoption by Jean Walterscheid in 1952, he names himself Bernhard Walterscheid-Müller and subsequently becomes the owner of the company.

The economy under National Socialism

Mitarbeiter am Wehr des Mühl- grabens Mitte der 1930er Jahre: Viele werden einige Jahre später zum Kriegsdienst eingezogen.

Employees at the mill stream weir in the mid-1930s: many are drafted into military service a few years later.

The National Socialists intervene heavily in the economy and establish a tightly organised system. The regime prepares for a war of aggression and aligns the economy accordingly. This is also felt by Walterscheid: for example, a government commissioner in Berlin determines the price of axle shafts. In 1937, Walterscheid is able to convince the price commissioner to set significantly higher sales prices using a new calculation. From this point onward, sales and profits increase significantly year by year. Walterscheid purchases the formerly leased “Hansenmühle” and upgrades his plants. He establishes a new forge and purchases electrical machines so that production becomes independent of the mill. When Jean and Gertrud Walterscheid move to a bungalow on Alte Lohmarer Straße, this opens up space for extensions.

The Second World War starts with the Armed Forces’ attack on Poland on 1 September 1939. The longer the war lasts and the more intense the fighting, the more the Nazi regime focuses the economy on armaments production. Walterscheid also receives armaments orders and delivers axle shafts to the Armed Forces. But maintaining production and even expanding it for arms is difficult as more and more employees are drafted into military service. Walterscheid, like most German companies, therefore uses forcibly recruited workers: about 35 prisoners are forced to work for the operation during the war. Many of them come from the Siegburg prison and youth detention centre, where they are generally imprisoned as opponents of National Socialism. Some of these forced workers originate from France, Belgium and the Netherlands. In contrast to forced workers from Central and Eastern Europe, workers from these countries are treated and catered for reasonably well. A relatively good environment exists, particularly in smaller operations such as at Walterscheid – not least because every worker was urgently needed. After the war, some of the forced workers confirm that they had received additional food and were treated humanely.

Auf Walterscheids Schmiedehalle weht beim Richtfest 1939 die Hakenkreuzfahne.

The swastika flutters at Walterscheid’s forging shop at the topping-out ceremony in 1939.

Closure after bombing

Following the Armed Forces’ initial military successes, the tide turns in 1942, and German power in the occupied areas starts to crumble. The first major air attacks, such as the “1,000 bomber raid” on Cologne in May 1942, means that the effects of the war are now also being heavily felt by the German people. Siegburg initially remains largely protected from heavy bombing. Still, Jean Walterscheid creates a bunker with space for the entire workforce between his home and the factory to protect employees. The roof is reinforced by a thick layer of turnings. From 1943, production is continuously interrupted by air raid sirens, and employees are often forced to flee to the bunker. An apprentice is required to “quickly grab the debtor’s case with documents for the financial receivables and bring them to safety”.

In the autumn of 1944, the air raids on the Sieg district increase, and on 28 December 1944 there is a devastating attack on Siegburg. During the raid, a bomb falls into the mill stream directly in front of Walterscheid’s company premises and another hits several of the company’s terrace houses. A third bomb hits near the new forging shop, which is largely destroyed. Because of the destruction, Jean Walterscheid ceases production.

Kriegszerstörungen in Siegburg: Ab Herbst 1944 nehmen die Luftangriffe auf Siegburg zu, am 28. Dezember 1944 kommt es zu einem besonders verheerenden Angriff.

Wartime destruction in Siegburg: in the autumn of 1944, the air raids on Siegburg increase, with a particularly devastating attack on 28 December 1944

„Macht die Achse peng, ab zum Schäng“
(When the Axis goes bang, off to Schäng)

As US soldiers occupied Siegburg in April 1945, the town and its surroundings lay in ruins. The operation at the “Hansenmühle” had been shut down for months. Employees had been killed in action or deployed as soldiers throughout Europe. Jean Walterscheid battled health problems and transferred the management of the operation to his authorised signatory, Bernhard Müller.

Bernhard Müller rides through the Sieg district on his bike, recruiting workers. Many of the old employees are relieved to have work and help with the new beginning. Some even contribute their savings and become silent partners. In October 1945, Bernhard Müller receives permission from the Allied military governments to operate a business enterprise. He later says that permit # 100 for Western Germany cost him “a few bottles of wine and a hangover”.

Walterscheid restarts its operation with eight employees, but the production of axle shafts is out of the question for the time being. There is a lack of raw materials, intact machines and paying customers. As the Mark is practically worthless until the currency reform of 1948, the first transactions are bartering arrangements. Walterscheid repairs agricultural equipment and, in return, receives food such as butter and potatoes from the farmers with which he then pays his workers. The agricultural business is profitable, Walterscheid workers are seen at more and more farmyards in the Sieg district. A fitting advertising slogan quickly spreads: “Macht die Achse, peng, ab zum Schäng!” (When the Axis goes bang, off to Schäng!)

Mit der Erlaubnis der britischen Besatzungsbehörden nimmt Walterscheid im Herbst 1945 den Betrieb wieder auf. Viele Mitarbeiter hat Bernhard Müller selbst zurückgeholt – bei Touren mit dem Fahrrad in der Umgebung.

In the autumn of 1945, Walterscheid resumes operations with the permission of the British occupation authorities. Bernhard Müller retrieved many employees himself during bicycle tours in the surrounding area.