FROM IRON WORKS TO STEEL PRODUCERS
The beginnings of Von Roll go back to 1804. At that time, Franz Peter Ludwig Leo Freiherr von Roll from Emmenholz founded an earthenware and clay products factory in Solothurn Matzendorf and Aedermannsdorf. A short time later, he entered into the iron smelting sector and provided capital to the Thaler ore mining and smelting plants. Ten years later, the hopes of a rapid rise suddenly suffered a serious setback, because the French partners withdrew from the project. Funds were lacking for the continuation of the company. Finally, together with the intermediary Josef Lack, Ludwig Von Roll succeeded in saving the company. The Swiss banker Emanuel La Roche provided new funds, which helped to ease the debt burden.
In 1818, pig iron was already refined to steel and forged at the site of Gerlafingen, but the French economic crisis of 1826-27 set Von Roll back again. However, in the following 40 years, the company benefited from the high demand for iron during the industrialization. In 1836, the first plate mill became operational in Gerlafingen. The war of 1870-71 drove Von Roll into a new crisis, which led to the dismissal of many employees. In the subsequent economic recovery, the company grew in size. In the 80s of the century before last, the plant of Gerlafingen imported pre-rolled raw blocks and billets by sea, the so-called semi-finished products, from France, Germany and Luxembourg. Over time, those foreign plants began to import the finished products instead of the raw material into Switzerland. But "despite the unfavourable circumstances", as it is mentioned in the annals, the rolling mill in Gerlafingen managed to defend its position. In 1916, the first steel plant was created and steel production increased steadily in the following years. During the First World War, the mill had difficulties to import the semi-finished material from abroad. During the Second World War, Von Roll secured for a good part the supply of Switzerland with iron and steel.
In the actual heyday of the steel plant, in the 60s of the last century, about 3.000 people were earning their living at this site. The focus on specific markets and technological advances has then led to the adaptation of the workforce to around 500 employees and 35 trainees. The production volume increased during the same period. Under the reorganization in 1996, Von Roll AG sold their former steel products department to Von Moos AG that today is called Swiss Steel AG. In 2003, Schmolz and Bickenbach took over the Swiss steel group. Finally, with the takeover by the Italian Beltrame Group in 2006, the integration into a successful international group of companies in the profile steel market took place. Today, Stahl Gerlafingen produces high quality steel products for the construction industry and for further industrial sectors in Switzerland and in Europe.