The Habsburg monarchy had vast areas of forest, but there were few tree species like black pine suitable for industrial extraction of resin and its products rosin and turpentine oil. When imported products were no longer available, fossil resins from coal tar offered a solution.
Resins for various production purposes often came from kopal, dammar and elemi trees growing in non-European regions. Resin and resin products from central Europe were less common because of the climatic conditions. In the year before the war began, Austria-Hungary important 336,605 hundredweights of resin and rosin, mainly from the USA, Germany, France and Great Britain while exporting just 10,556 hundredweight. The figures for turpentine oil were similar: 87,003 vs. 1,734 hundredweight – equivalent to around 3,000 railway cars of rosin and 1,000 cars of turpentine oil.
Resins and rosin were used for making soaps and paints, lacquers and varnishes, for sizing paper and for pitching beer barrels. The army required additional amounts for making ammunition. In 1916 the last sources of resin from neutral states disappeared. To regulate supply the government founded Harzzentrale G.m.b.H. in June of that year to obtain crude resin and its products.
Under these circumstances, one production region in Lower Austria took on considerable importance. The extensive black pine stands in the districts of Baden, Wiener Neustadt and Neunkirchen to the south of Vienna had been managed for generations by foresters. In 1905 the village of Piesting formed a farming cooperative for the marketing of resin products. In 1911 there was a fire and in the next two years a new and modern refinery was built. The quantities obtained were not sufficient to cover the demand, however. To obtain extra supplies, resin was obtained from suitable trees in occupied territories like Lublin in Poland, and areas in Serbia and Bosnia. The allied German Empire also managed forests in Poland and Bavaria and smaller areas such as the Potsdam Forest near Berlin. Resin products nevertheless remained in short supply and chemists in companies like A. Zankl Söhne, Fabrikanten chemischer Farben, Lacke und Firnisse, in Graz looked to find substitute mixtures.
One substitute for rosin was benzofuran resin, a by-product in the processing of coal tar, developed by German chemists in the Julius Rütgers group in the 1890s. Benzofuran was an inferior substitute for the versatile linseed oil, which was also scarce on account of the reduced cultivation of flax, although it was an essential paint ingredient for aeroplanes, locomotives and artillery.
Translation: Nick Somers
Der Außenhandel der öst.-ung. Monarchie im Jahre 1913, in: Österreichische Chemiker-Zeitung, Neue Folge 17 (1914), 75–79
Austerweil, Géza/Roth, Julius: Gewinnung und Verarbeitung von Harz und Harzprodukten, München/Berlin 1917
Stadler, Gerhard: Das industrielle Erbe Niederösterreichs. Geschichte – Technik – Architektur, Wien/Köln/Weimar 2006
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