Karl Wittgenstein

Karl Wittgenstein (8 April 1847, Gohlis, Saxony – 20 January 1913, Vienna) was a German-born Austrian steel tycoon of Jewish origin. A friend of Andrew Carnegie, with whom he was often compared, at the end of the 19th century he controlled an effective monopoly on steel and iron resources within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and had by the 1890s acquired one of the largest fortunes in the world.[1] He was also the father of Ludwig Wittgenstein, one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century.

Family background and origins

Karl's father, Hermann Wittgenstein 1802-1878
Karl's parents Hermann and Fanny Wittgenstein, with their eleven children. Karl is second to the left

The grandfather of Karl Wittgenstein was an estate manager named Moses Meyer, who came from Laasphe in the former Wittgenstein kreis (county). He moved to Korbach before 1802, where he was a merchant.

Around 1808, Moses Meyer named himself Wittgenstein, after his birthplace Siegen-Wittgenstein and thereafter was known as Moses Meyer Wittgenstein.

At first, Wittgenstein's business became the biggest and most successful enterprise in the city of Korbach, but also shortly thereafter began to decline. He had a son, Hermann Christian (b. September 12, 1802 in Korbach; d. 1878 in Vienna) who moved the business to Gohlis at the end of the 1830s. From there, the family continued to prosper financially. In 1938, to escape Nazi racial laws and to be reclassified as half Jewish, his descendants claimed that Herman Christian was not the son of Moses Meyer Wittgenstein but rather the illegitimate offspring of a prince of the House of Waldeck.

After Hermann Christian converted to Protestantism, he married Fanny Figdor in 1839. She came from one of the most important business families in Vienna.

Karl, born in 1847, was the sixth of eleven children of Hermann and Fanny. Three years later the family moved to Vösendorf (Mödling district) in Austria, where his four younger siblings were born. One of his brothers, Paul Wittgenstein (1842-1928), was the father of Dr Karl Paul Wittgenstein who married Hilde Köchert, daughter of renowned Viennese jeweller Heinrich Köchert: their son Paul Wittgenstein (1907-1979) was "Wittgenstein's Nephew", the central character of a book by his friend Thomas Bernhard.

Life and children

Hermann Christian's family moved in 1860 to Vienna, where he was involved in the furniture industry, and was financially extremely successful. In 1865, the young Karl secretly left home and sought his fortune in the U.S., with a violin as his only possession. There he earned a living as a musician and a waiter in bars. In 1867 he moved back home with a great deal of self-confidence.

In Vienna, Karl studied at the technical university and became a draftsman and engineer. He began at a steel mill in Teplitz, where he eventually became director in 1877, continuously expanding the business, building factories and taking over rival mines and mills, and then a few years later he became principal shareholder, and was one of the leading industrialists in 19th century Europe.

Karl Wittgenstein was chief patron of the construction of the Vienna Secession Building.

Karl married Leopoldine Kallmus in 1873. They had the following children:


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