Outbreak of the war
End of the war

Chicory, peat & Textilit: surrogates before the war

Surrogates have a long history. Among the most well-known are the various types of ersatz coffee. In the course of industrialisation the number and variety of surrogates increased. When the First World War started, they took on a new importance for both private consumers and the war economy.

Among the most well-known surrogates is ersatz coffee. Since the eighteenth century coffee had become increasingly popular. In the middle class mentality it was a sign of sobriety and reason. It helped poor people to stay awake and concentrated during the long hours of work. Real coffee was expensive, however, and it was therefore a popular black market item. Ersatz varieties were also common. They were made of chicory roots, beechnuts, grape pips and other items. The powder variety offered scope for even more imaginative additives and substitutes. Large production facilities were established in the early nineteenth century to make ersatz coffee. Heinrich Franck in Ludwigsburg had a factory making chicory coffee. In 1879 the company opened a second factory in Linz and soon won a major share of the Austrian market.

Some regions of the Habsburg monarchy had large moors with extensive peat deposits. Dried peat was a traditional fuel in households and was also used in iron, glass and salt works. From the mid-nineteenth century machines were built for the mass extraction of peat, and its properties were also studied with a view to using it for other purposes. In Austria Karl Zschörner specialised in the manufacture and utilisation of peat products for animal beds, garden peat, blankets, carpets, bandages and paper. He had a peat extraction facility and factory in Admont, Styria and was awarded patents in several countries between 1897 and 1899 for his discoveries. During this time he attended exhibitions in Vienna and published a detailed catalogue. In it he presented his products and also included extensive newspaper cuttings and recommendations from landowners who hoped that their hitherto unused moors could be exploited financially.

With the growth of industrialisation and trade there was a greater demand for packaging material for the shipping of raw materials and finished products. Barrels were used for this purpose along with bags made of linen or hemp. Jute from India became increasingly important in this regard. In 1870 the Erste österreichische Jute-Spinnerei und -Weberei [First Austrian Jute Spinning and Weaving Mill] opened in the Simmering district of Vienna. As the domestic cultivation of fibre plants decreased, the dependence on imported jute grew. In 1913 the company thus began to make Textilit, a patented fabric made of textile fibres and paper. When jute supplies dried up after the outbreak of war, blended fabrics became increasingly important.

Translation: Nick Somers


Hanf-, Jute- und Textilit-Industrie A.G. in Wien (Hrsg.): 60 Jahre österreichischer Jute-Industrie, Wien 1929

Torf-Industrie Karl A. Zschörner & Comp.: Torf-Mannschaftsdecken, Torf-Pferdedecken, Torfteppiche etc. etc. Torfpapier, Torf-Packpapier, Torf-Pappendeckel, Torfstreu, Torfmull, Wien 1899

Weitensfelder, Hubert: Technikgeschichte. Eine Annäherung, Wien 2013

Contents related to this chapter


  • Aspect

    On the eve of war

    The last decade of the nineteenth century and the first of the twentieth were a time of modernisation, mechanisation and speed. In 1910, Vienna, capital of the Habsburg empire, had 2.1 million inhabitants and had grown to become an international metropolis. New technologies changed working life and leisure. Railways increased mobility, as did the bicycle, motor vehicle and aeroplane. How did this development manifest itself and what other trends emerged in the last years before the outbreak of the First World War?

Persons, Objects & Events

  • Object

    Shortages and poverty

    When the population reacted to shortages of bread and flour in January 1915with panic buying, the Kriegs-Getreide-Vekehrsanstalt [Wartime Grain Trade Department] introduced ration cards. Individual quotas were determined and handed out on presentation of bread and flour ration cards. But even the allocated rations became more and more difficult to supply, and the cards became worthless.