Benjamin Wegner

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Jacob Benjamin Wegner
His wife Henriette Seyler (1805–75), daughter of Berenberg Bank co-owner L.E. Seyler and Anna Henriette Gossler, drawn by her sister Molly in 1822

Jacob Benjamin Wegner (21 February 1795 – 22 May 1864) was a German-born Norwegian industrialist and landowner.[1] He was a co-owner and the Director General of Blaafarveværket, at the time Norway's leading industrial enterprise, from 1822 to 1849, and is noted both as a pioneering industrialist as well as a social reformer who introduced a range of benefits for his workers. He was also the owner of Frogner Manor, the largest co-owner of the Hafslund estate, a co-owner of the Hassel Ironworks and a co-owner of the timber firm Juel, Wegner & Co. He was the consul general to Norway of Hamburg, Lübeck and Bremen, at the time sovereign city states, and of the Kingdom of Portugal. He was married to Henriette Seyler (1805–75), a member of the Berenberg-Gossler-Seyler banking dynasty of Hamburg and daughter of the head and co-owner of Berenberg Bank Ludwig Erdwin Seyler.

Early life[edit]

Jacob Benjamin Wegner was born in Königsberg in East Prussia. Relatively little is known about his background. His father may have been a ship's captain, and his mother remarried to a ship-owner named Gutzeit, whose given name may also have been Benjamin. He received a solid commercial education and joined a leading Königsberg firm as an apprentice.

Around 1820, he moved to Berlin where he established an independent business as an agent in the British timber trade and grain trade, i.e. in large-scale export of timber and grain from the Baltic region, bought from German and Polish estate owners, to England. He was an agent and close associate of the London firm Isaac Solly and Sons and of the Berlin firm Gebrüder Benecke and its head Wilhelm Christian Benecke, and spent much time in London. On behalf of his close friend and business associate Edward Solly, he also negotiated the deal to sell 677 paintings—mainly Italian Trecento and Quattrocento paintings and Early Netherlandish paintings—from Solly's collection to the Prussian state in 1821, which formed a key part of the new Gemäldegalerie.

Industrialist in Norway[edit]

Blaafarveværket[edit]

Cobalt blue, made from cobalt, a precious metal that was more expensive than silver

In 1821, Modums Blaafarveværk in Norway, the world's leading producer of cobalt blue, was announced for sale. The former royal company had been pledged by the king as security for a loan during the Napoleonic Wars and taken over by the bankruptcy estate of a Swedish businessman when the state could not redeem the pledge. Edward Solly wanted to buy the company and send Wegner as his representative to complete the transaction, but as he had financial problems, the plans had to be canceled. However, in 1822, Wegner was sent by his business associate Wilhelm Christian Benecke with authorization to buy the company on his behalf, and subsequently bought the company at a public auction on behalf of an investment group of which Benecke was the prime investor.

Wegner was appointed the new Director-General of Modums Blaafarveværk and became a co-owner, and he relocated to Norway, where he initially lived on the Fossum Manor near Modums Blaafarveværk. From 1826, Benecke and Wegner were the sole owners of Modums Blaafarveværk. Under their ownership, the company became the largest in Norway, employing as much as 2,000 people, and was the dominant cobalt blue producer worldwide, producing as much as 80% of the world's cobalt pigment for use in the porcelain, glass and paper industries around the world. The main export market was England and the company's largest customer by far was the London firm Smith, Goodhall & Reeves.

In its heyday, Blaafarveværket generated an annual income of around 10,000 Norwegian speciedaler for Wegner, partially as dividend and partially as tantième (in comparison, a well salaried, experienced miner at Blaafarveværket earned around 70 speciedaler annually, the chief engineer earned 250 and Wegner's immediate subordinate, the director of the mines, earned around 1,100).[2]

As a consequence of the economic crisis following the revolutions of 1848 and also of the invention of the synthetic ultramarine colour, Modums Blaafarveværk went bankrupt in 1849.[3][4]

Other enterprises and activities[edit]

Together with Benecke, Wegner owned the Hassel Ironworks from 1835 to 1854, each with half of the shares. He was also a co-owner, eventually the largest co-owner, of the major estate Hafslund with large forests in eastern Norway and the country's largest sawmill, from 1835 to 1864. His co-owners included Benecke and Herman Wedel Jarlsberg, and subsequently Thorvald Meyer and Westye Egeberg. In 1856, he co-founded the timber firm Juel, Wegner & Co. with Iver Albert Juel.

In 1836, he bought Frogner Manor, where he lived with his family until 1849. The family then sold Frogner Manor and moved to Christiania (now the inner city). Wegner however retained a part of the Frogner property, Frognerseteren with a part of the Nordmarka forests, until his death. Frogner Manor is today best known as the site of Frogner Park.

Wegner was also the Consul-General to Norway of the northern German city-states of Hamburg, Lübeck and Bremen, as well as the Kingdom of Portugal. He died at his country home, Dronninghavn, at Ladegaardsøen (Bygdøy), in 1864.

Family[edit]

On 15 May 1824, Benjamin Wegner married Henriette Seyler (1805–1875) in St. Nicholas' Church, Hamburg. She was a member of the Berenberg-Gossler-Seyler banking dynasty of Hamburg, one of the city's most prominent Hanseatic families, and was the daughter of the banker Ludwig Erdwin Seyler (1758–1836) and Anna Henriette Gossler (1771–1836). Her father was a co-owner of Joh. Berenberg, Gossler & Co. (Berenberg Bank), President of the Commerz-Deputation, and a member of the Hamburg Parliament, and she was a granddaughter of the Swiss-born merchant turned theatre director Abel Seyler and Sophie Elisabeth Andreae from Hanover on her father's side and of the Hamburg bankers Johann Hinrich Gossler and Elisabeth Berenberg on her mother's side.[5] Through her paternal grandfather, she was also descended from the Burckhardt, Merian, Faesch, Socin and Meyer zum Pfeil patrician families of Basel, and through her mother from families such as Amsinck and Welser. Henriette Seyler was a niece of Hamburg senator and banker Johann Heinrich Gossler II and a first cousin of Hamburg First Mayor Hermann Gossler (1802–1877).

Benjamin Wegner's grandson Harald Nørregaard, painted by Edvard Munch (1899)

Benjamin and Henriette Wegner had four sons and two daughters, all of whom were born in Norway, where they have many notable descendants.

  • Johann Ludwig Wegner (1830–1893) was a judge (byfogd), and married Blanca Bretteville, a daughter of Prime Minister Christian Zetlitz Bretteville.
  • Heinrich Benjamin Wegner (1833–1911) was a timber merchant and married Henriette Vibe, a daughter of classical philologist Ludvig Vibe.
  • Egmont Frithjof Wegner (b. 1835) died as a child.
  • Elisabeth Sophie Dorothea Henriette Wegner (1838-1906) married colonel and aide-de-camp to king Charles, Hans Jacob Nørregaard.
  • Anna Henriette Wegner (1841–1918) married theologian Bernhard Cathrinus Pauss, the owner of Nissen's Girls' School.
  • George Mygind Wegner (1847–1881) was a Supreme Court advocate and unmarried. He was named for the former British consul in Christiania and family friend George Mygind (died 1844).

Benjamin Wegner was the grandfather of the lawyer and Chief of Police Jacob Benjamin Wegner (1868–1949), of the humanitarian and women's rights leader Olga Wegner (the wife of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Karenus Kristofer Thinn), of the internationally noted war correspondent Benjamin Wegner Nørregaard, of the noted lawyer, President of the Norwegian Bar Association and founder of the law firm Hjort Harald Nørregaard, of the wine merchant and consul in Tarragona Ludvig Paul Rudolf Nørregaard, of the surgeon and President of the Norwegian Red Cross Nikolai Nissen Paus, of the lawyer and Director at the Norwegian Employers' Confederation George Wegner Paus and of the engineer and hydropower executive Augustin Thoresen Paus.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Wegner, Rolf B. (1967) Familien Wegner (Oslo)
  2. ^ Steinsvik 2000 p. 55
  3. ^ Wig, Kjell Arnljot (1995). Eventyret om Blaafarveværket (in Norwegian). Drammen. 
  4. ^ Blaafarveværket (Cobalt Mine Works)
  5. ^ Cf. "Albert Hänel", Neue Deutsche Biographie

Literature[edit]

  • Steinsvik, Tone Sinding (2000) The Norwegian Cobalt Mines and the Cobalt Works (Stiftelsen Modums Blaafarvevaerk) ISBN 978-82-90734-22-5
  • Lars Roede: "Industriherren Benjamin Wegner på Frogner," in Lars Roede, Frogner hovedgård: Bondegård, herskapsgård, byens gård (pp. 148–161), Pax forlag, 2012
  • Kjeld Magnussen: Gaarden Store Frogner, Oslo, 1967
  • Rolf B. Wegner (the Younger): Wegner-slektens virksomhet ved Glomma, 2011
  • Ingerid Hagen: Blåfargen fra Modum: En verdenshistorie, Spartacus, Vol. 2