{2-541.} Manufacturing

As might be suspected on the basis of the economic data presented earlier, there were no major or innovative developments in Transylvanian manufacturing between 1711 and 1770. Craft guilds remained the mainstay of the country's industry, complemented by the activity of peasant craftsmen. Of the small number of new initiatives in this sector, very few led to the creation of what might be called factories.

Guild crafts were sufficiently to developed to satisfy domestic needs and even produce some goods for export. Much of the long-established handicraft industry was concentrated in the larger towns of the Királyföld, and only one or two other Transylvanian towns were similarly endowed. At Szeben, there were 26 guilds in 1719, 34 in 1725, and 40 in 1780, when they encompassed close to one thousand craftsmen. Ten guilds are known to have existed in Kolozsvár at the beginning of the period; the town had 600 guild members in 1750, and 688 in 1770. Some craft guilds formed national organizations to promote their interests. The association of furriers' guilds struggled for decades — with mixed results — against the Armenian furriers who had settled in Transylvania. The latter had not been granted guild privileges, but at least they regulated their activities as if they had a guild; most of the craftsmen in smaller towns did not belong to guilds or establish such organizations. Home handicrafts remained a source of competition: large quantities of fine linen, tablecloths, and napkins were woven in Háromszék and other places, and the weavers of Szeben and Brassó gave up any attempt to secure the exclusive right to work in this sector. Woodworking was a major source of income for common folk in the Érc Mountains.

Amidst this vast array of guild and home craftsmen, there emerged a few producers that reached the scale of a small factory. Some of these enterprises were founded by landowners, while others materialized in towns.

{2-542.} Paper mills exemplify this type of enterprise, and they filled a genuine need. There was a growing demand for paper, both for book publishing, which was controlled by the government and the Churches, and for the paper-work connected with local administration and the management of the more highly developed private estates. Between 1733 and 1739, Transylvania had to import a considerable amount of paper, and clearly there was sufficient domestic demand to keep several paper mills in operation. However, most of the paper mills were no more than small workshops employing a master printer, two or three journeymen, and a few casual workers; most of the masters and journeymen were German immigrants. The typical workshop, producing 200–300 'bindings' of paper a year, could not be qualified as a small factory, let alone a large one; at best, it was equipped with a 'Holländer'-type rag-shredding machine.

Glassworks, operated mainly by landowners, were of similarly small scale. Of the eleven glassworks known to have existed in this period, four were located in the Fogarasföld, and five in the Székelyföld and the contiguous counties. Only the Porumbák glassworks may have reached the scale of a small factory, in the 1760s, when it was in the joint ownership of Chancellor Gábor Bethlen and Miklós Bethlen, and produced an annual income in excess of 4000 forints.

In the mid-1700s, the Zsibó estate had an exceptionally large number of craftsmen, including tailors, lace makers, button makers, weavers, rope makers, and harness-bit makers. It is possible that production in some of these crafts reached the scale of a landowner's factory.

Another type of workshop, distinct from those of guild craftsmen, concentrated on serving the needs of the military. A saltpetre producer operated at Szeben between 1741 and 1771, supplying the local gunpowder mill. In the early years, it made an annual profit of around 462 Hungarian forints, then its output declined to 1300 kilograms, {2-543.} and its net income to 72 forints a year — levels that indicate a smallish workshop, and certainly not a factory. The saltpetre producer who supplied the gunpowder mill at Gyulafehérvár probably operated on a similar scale. The only clue to the size of the two gunpowder mills is the output of their saltpetre suppliers. Beginning in 1756, the mercury mined in the Érc Mountains was processed at a works in Kisfalud (Alsó-Fehér County); its annual output of four tons suggests that the works may have approached the scale of a small factory. The blanket-producing workshop at Szeben jail was undoubtedly of manufacturing scale; around 1770, it employed thirty inmates and had an annual output of 1,800 blankets.

It is a historical oddity that although Transylvania was considered an economically backward region of the Habsburg empire, the first signs of serious industrialization appeared in the sector of heavy industry, involving the smelting of precious metals and iron. A gold and silver smelter, owned by the Treasury and managed by an expert from Körmöcbánya, was established in 1748 at Zalatna. The sizeable iron smelter at Toplica, noted earlier, began operation 1754, and it was followed, in 1763, by an up-to-date smelter for precious metals at Csertés.

Thus, between 1711 and 1770, the modest beginnings of industrialization in Transylvania consisted of a distinctive mix of prison works, small manufacturing operations by landowners, and modernized smelters. There was, in addition, a proto-manufacturing operation that, despite its scale and division of labour, cannot be categorized as a factory. Created by the Anabaptists of Alvinc, it fell victim to the last waves of the Counter-Reformation.

Between 1621 and 1623, some 1,200 Anabaptists were settled by Gabriel Bethlen at Alvinc. Their community was bound by religion and a strict sharing of worldly goods, including land, tools, and revenue. All major aspects of their life were subject to communal regulation. The collectivity assigned homes to its members, and it provided food and clothing, regulating the quantities of food {2-544.} and drink as well as the material and style of clothing. From an early age, children were educated collectively. Continuous health care was provided by several doctors whose renown spread high and wide in Transylvania. Handicrafts were the colony's principal productive activity. Their most famous product was Habán pottery, but the community also included tailors, saddlers, harness-makers, knife-makers, hatters, tanners, furriers, and blacksmiths, and it operated several mills. A comparatively small number worked in agriculture, and won renown for the quality of their vegetables and flowers. The craftsmen worked within a highly-developed division of labour. Potters had two assistants who supplied them with raw materials. Workers specialized in the mixing of clay, the creation of patterns, the making of molds, and in casting, pressing, and turning. Some specialized in making glazed tiles and stoves, others in making pots. This productive activity did not involve capital and wage-labour, and thus could not be regarded as manufacturing in the modern sense; it rested on the voluntary participation of members of a religious community. The community was already in a process of disintegration in when, in the 1760s, Bishop Antal Bajtay delivered the final blow by imposing religious conversion. The twenty-four families that converted to Catholicism remained in Alvinc, while the others scattered around Transylvania or left the country. Thus, due to the forceful imposition of the Counter-Reformation, this experiment in multi-craft production and division of labour did not survive to see the onset of the industrial age.