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Hantke, Bernard Ludwik

(1826–1900), industrialist. Born in Warsaw to a family that had moved from the Poznań district in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, Bernard Hantke was raised in a Polonized home that had discarded Jewish traditions; he was educated in institutions attended by very few Jews. His grandfather had been a grain merchant in the Poznań district, and Hantke’s father, Adolph, owned a haberdashery store in Warsaw and was a moderately successful fabric merchant. Hantke’s sister’s conversion to Christianity led some biographers to assume that he too had converted, yet there is no documentary evidence to support this contention. Unlike most of the other Jewish entrepreneurs in contemporary Poland, Hantke made his initial fortune in farming and only later reinvested the money in industry—a path far more common for the non-Jewish industrialists of Congress Poland districts. He began his career as a farmer on an estate in Drybus, but soon returned to Warsaw to be a partner in a plant that manufactured agricultural machines and implements. In 1867 he founded a factory to produce chains, nails, and agricultural implements, and in 1879 he acquired the only factory in Warsaw that made rolled steel.

In 1882, Hantke turned his business into a stock company that included his two brothers, Henryk and Teodor, on its board of directors, as well as a number of Jewish overseas investors. B. Hantke Metal Industries then expanded its operations to include all forms of metallurgy—a change influenced by the rapid expansion of the Polish railroad system between 1865 and 1885. The growth of the railway industry dramatically raised the demand for very specific iron products, including tracks, fleets of trains, and carriages.

Bernard Hantke’s dynamic personality, as well as his willingness to take financial risks, helped him enlarge his enterprises. His company expanded its operations beyond Warsaw into the Russian market, opening subsidiaries in Russia and Ukraine, including his two largest bases in Ekaterinoslav and Saratov. His economic activities also extended to the industrial basin in the Zagłębia-Dąbrowa region of Congress Poland. In 1897, he established an iron manufacturing plant in Częstochowa that became one of Poland’s biggest factories, with access to 130 mines in the Kielce region. Shortly after Hantke’s death in 1900, the company bearing his name boasted the following assets: eight mines, an enormous steel factory, and four additional metal factories.

Suggested Reading

Bina Garncarska-Kadary, Ḥelkam shel ha-yehudim be-hitpatḥut ha-ta‘asiyah shel Varshah ba-shanim 1816/20–1914 (Tel Aviv, 1985); Andrzej Jezierski, “Hantke Bernard Ludwik,” in Polski słownik biograficzny, vol. 9, pp. 283–284 (Wrocław, Warsaw, and Kraków, 1960–1961).



Translated from Hebrew by David Fachler