Leading means planning. Even if the worst may never happen, one always has to prepared for hard times. The previous episode of this saga ended at the start of the 1960s. Vieille Montagne had regained its dignity and dynamism after the hardships of the Second World War, and was in marching order to face the future.
At the very beginning of the 1970s, the lights on the zinc industry’s control panel were still green but competition was severe in all domains. Technically speaking, methods for rolling zinc were being modernised. The old so-called technology “packets” were gradually being abandoned (*) throughout Europe. The first continuous casting for small thicknesses (700 mm effective thickness) proved satisfactory because they provided an unprecedented level of quality and precision in terms of thickness of sheets and coils. But the market was waiting for larger widths. Industrials needed to propose at least 1,000 effective mm.
So during this decade, the Compagnie Royale Asturienne (CRAM) and Vieille Montagne both decided to invest in the latest generation continuous casting technology (the American Hazelett technologies). These highly automated machines increase production capacity significantly. Another key strength of this technological breakthrough: these infrastructures enabled the sector to make a quantum leap in terms of quality, thanks to the introduction of a new Copper-Titanium alloy (known as Cu-Ti). This alloy (a substitute for the traditional Zinc-Cadmium) improves the formability of rolled zinc while reducing creep – the deformation of zinc due to its own weight which can give roofs a creased appearance after a few dozen years!
This choice of alloy had an unexpected effect. It would gradually change the colour of Paris. Let me explain. With the cadmium alloy, the patina of natural zinc sheets was bluish in colour, a colour that was immortalised by the Impressionists in their paintings (see below painting by Monet). The new Copper-Titanium alloy, with its modest copper content, gives a darker patina. This mouse-grey colour gradually changed the rooftops of the “City of Light”, forming an inimitable monochrome cloak. Those famous 50 shades of grey!
In 1966, Rheinzink – a new competitor for Vieille Montagne recently founded in Germany – built a high capacity rolling mill.
In France, at the start of the 1970s, the promise of rather over-evaluated growth in the construction market encouraged the main players in the zinc market to make massive investments.
The CRAM made the technological choice of reliability by separating the rolling mill – a classic non-reversible duo (2 rolls) – from the finishing section.
Vieille Montagne, in keeping with its engineering culture, wanted the very best. It opted for a reversible quarto (4 superimposed rolls) capable of rolling up to 0.3 mm thickness (chocolate wrapping as the old saying went!). But the development phase took longer than planned. Word had it that, with a heavy heart, Vieille Montagne had to purchase part of its rolled zinc from its hereditary enemy – CRAM – in 1971!
These two modernised rolling mills would be part of Vieille Montagne when it took over CRAM in 1986. They are still working today in 2017 and ensure the entire rolled zinc production of Vieille Montagne, now renamed VMZINC.
In the refining domain, Métallurgie Hoboken-Overpelt, Société Métallurgique de Prayon and Compagnie Royale Asturienne des Mines (CRAM) all inaugurated new zinc electrolysis plants.
Vieille Montagne forged ahead and in 1978 doubled its electrolysis capacity in Balen, increasing it to 200,000 tons thanks to the introduction of large cathodes (°). Again, Vieille Montagne wanted to maintain its technological leadership, which guaranteed its difference and its competitiveness.
(°) From the first cathodes (1.3 m²) we progressed to Jumbo cathodes and then the famous Super Jumbo cathodes, whose surface was almost three times greater (3.2 m²) (See above)
Over a five-year period, Europe was propelled to the cutting edge of technology, with the capacity to produce way more than demand required. Unfortunately, the economy started to change in 1974, with the first petrol crisis. Energy costs soared and were a major drain on the already fragile situation of the highly energy intensive non-ferrous industry! In addition, zinc prices were plummeting due to overcapacity and a drop in demand.
At the start of the 1980s, the Belgian non-ferrous industry was practically on the verge of bankruptcy! It was only a sudden, providential increase in silver prices that enabled Vieille Montagne to survive for a period, as well as the fact that it had been a little less badly affected than others, as its processes facilitated extraction and refining of this precious metal.
This economic downturn had terrible repercussions on the zinc sector. Between 1975 and 1978, for the first time in its history, Vieille Montagne experienced losses (1.3 billion Belgian francs (32 million euros)). This unprecedented crisis sounded the death knell for the Walloon non-ferrous industry. Société Métallurgique de Prayon’s plant (located in my home town!), the furnaces in Flône and the zinc white plant in Valentin-Cocq all stopped work. In France, the rolling mill in Bray was stopped (1978), electrolysis in Viviez was closed in 1985. CRAM went bankrupt and sold most of its assets. A plan to save the French zinc industry was organised in collaboration with the public authorities and the European commission. It was the end of an era.
In 1981, Société Générale de Belgique, a shareholder in the majority of companies in the non-ferrous sector in Belgium and France, launched major restructuring of the sector. Firstly, it took over Union Minière and therefore Vieille Montagne, and then transferred its shares in non-ferrous metal companies to a new Union Minière, of which it holds all the shares.
At the end of 1988, French group SUEZ took over Société Générale de Belgique (and therefore Union Minière and its subsidies), under the nose of Italian condottiere Carlo de Benedetti, following an incredible public takeover bid (**).
This change had a determining impact on the future of Vieille Montagne. In 1989, Union Minière, directed by its shareholder SUEZ, took over MHO (Métallurgie-Hoboken-Overpelt ), Vieille Montagne and its engineering company Mechim to become an integrated industrial group with over 16,500 people. Its market capitalisation rose to 65 billion Belgian francs.
Vieille Montagne no longer existed as an independent legal entity. The employees left the historic head office at Angleur and moved to Woluwé St Lambert, in the suburbs of Brussels, to the new Union Minière (UM) head office.
In 1991, Jean Pierre Rodier, the new UM administrator (formerly with Pennaroya), restructured, rationalised and reduced costs. He stopped zinc electrolysis in Overpelt, postponed the new electrolysis extension in Balen and cut overall staff numbers by over 2,000 employees!
To better adapt to its markets, Union Minière was organised in twelve autonomous profit centres or “business units”, defined according to the products and services proposed. The idea is to highlight sectors where the company is positioned as world leader (production of Germanium, transformation of Cobalt, complex metallurgy) or as European leader (refining of copper and zinc). Concentration of the Belgian zinc sector was at last complete, with the creation of the “Zinc Business Unit” comprising all activities of the former Vieille Montagne plants (Balen, Viviez, Calais) that were taken over, Compagnie Royale Asturienne des Mines (Auby), MHO (Overpelt) and Union Zinc (Clarksville -USA). With overall capacity of 520,000 tons, at the start of the 1990s Union Minière controlled almost 10% of world zinc production.
In 1994, after three years in the red, Union Minière finally returned to surplus and decided to become what is known as a “custom smelter”, i.e. a smelter that is not integrated upstream and supplied by the open zinc concentrates market. To reduce its debt, Union Minière sold its last mines, including the famous Ammeberg mine in Sweden, in 1993. A new page was turned. Vieille Montagne building activity survived and was managed separately as it is counter-cyclical. When zinc prices decrease, it maintains the price of its transformed products at levels that make its commodity zinc colleagues jealous! But when prices rise, the building activity has to “weather the storm” and crush its profit margins, thankfully just for short periods as high cycles are less frequent than low cycles! This higher profitability would later lead to the creation of an independent Building Products Business Unit within Umicore.
I would like to share an anecdote with you: during the 1990s, Union Minière’s communication departments advocated for some time to change the brand of the building activity in order to sell its products under the name “Union Minière Bâtiment”, rather than Vieille Montagne – which became VMZINC in 1994. Luckily, we remained steadfast by giving them feedback from zinc roofers who eloquently recounted their attachment to the historic Vieille Montagne brand. Changing the brand would have been a strategic and symbolic mistake!
Down through the years, the DNA of “Vieille” as it was called, was protected and rekindled like the flame of a wood-fire by those working with rolled zinc!
In 1995, the new Chief Executive of Union Minière, Karel Vinck, launched a very determined investment programme to the tune of 22 billion Belgian francs ( 1 € = 40 BF), while maintaining actions aimed at reducing costs. 3,000 more jobs were cut. Numerous activities deemed as non-strategic were put up for sale.
In terms of the zinc building activity, Asturienne Penamet (the roofing products distribution network inherited from CRAM ) was sold in 1998 to the Point P Group. I took part in those negotiations as Commercial Director of VMZINC in France!
Karel Vinck initiated selective geographic expansion of the company, giving priority to emerging markets with high growth potential (Asia, Eastern Europe, USA). However, in 1998, the group yet again had a brush with disaster. Three factors contributed to this new crisis situation. Prices for most non-ferrous metals were decreasing and the dollar collapsed, massively affecting European competitiveness. Above all, the launch of the new “precious metals business unit” foundry in Hoboken experienced severe difficulties (***). I can clearly remember these difficult years during which all of the Group’s Business Units, including ours, were called upon to support it, in particular by postponing all investments sine die!
I can remember that the amount of investments we made in 1998 was no higher than 150,000 French francs, i.e. 25,000 euros, a pittance… but all for a good cause as happily, at the turn of the 21st century, the group’s activity recovered, thanks in particular to a higher than expected rate of return by the famous foundry in Hoboken!
It was Thomas Leysen, a connoisseur of the Group (****) who was appointed as its Chief Executive in 2000, that launched what could be referred to the transmutation of Union Minière group! His credo: develop the company in the area of technologically advanced materials and in recycling of the metals it produces. The famous motto “closing the loop” was adopted and rolled out in the entire organisation. For the new administrator, it was about exceeding the negative image overshadowing Union Minière, that of a basic metals producer, which is no longer the case.
After selling its mines and its primary metals transformation activity, Union Minière focused on the end use of its products. Good news for the zinc building activity, which was proposing high added-value transformed products and already targeting its end clients. At this period, VMZINC was the internal embodiment of a model to copy!
In 2001, Union Minière became Umicore. Its new name came with a strong baseline, “Materials for a better life”, expressing the objectives targeted. The company was a central (Core) player in the materials domain. The products it was developing were the basis for a multitude of applications to facilitate daily life. The first two letters U and M are Union Minière’s initials, in reference to the group’s historic roots.
In 2003, the company deliberately withdrew from activities it considered too cyclical. Firstly, copper refining (creation of the new independent company, Cumerio). Then, in 2007, zinc refining activities (creation of the Nyrstar company in a joint-venture with Australian group Zinifex).
In the year 2003, all that remained in the Umicore Group were the zinc activities considered to have the highest added-value: oxides & dust and the Zinc Chemicals business unit based in Angleur in Belgium; and the Building Products business unit based in Bagnolet on the outskirts of Paris, where I have been working since 1986.
It was in 2003 that Umicore made a major acquisition (700 Million €), when it purchased the German group PMG (Precious Metal Group), a subsidiary of American group OMG. It was in fact the former “precious metals” unit of German company Degussa, which in 1887 had intervened financially in the creation of the Hoboken plant! This acquisition gave Umicore a new dimension (an additional 3,800 staff) while accelerating its refocus on the advanced materials sector. The group was now considered by financial markets as a company providing solutions (like the Building Products BU!) rather than a provider of materials, and as a company investing and developing in promising markets.
Marc Grynberg, former financial director and Autocatalyst Business Unit director became chief executive of Umicore in November 2008. His analysis of key societal trends and populations’ expectations clearly positioned sustainable development and environmental protection at the heart of the planet’s preoccupations. He launched two ambitious five-year plans (2010-2015 and 2015-2020) based on these observations.
The skills acquired by Umicore in the area of recycling and energy were strengthened. The existing offer of products shipped in modern vehicles (various types of batteries and autocatalysts in particular) enabled Umicore to position itself firmly in a clean mobility stance.
For the Building Products Business Unit, at the beginning of the 21st century, the environmental dimension of rolled zinc was highlighted for the first time. Production of rolled zinc consumes less energy than that of steel or aluminium. Above all, it is recyclable and has a 96% effective recycling rate in Europe.
So “old rolled zinc”, as it called on work sites, remains valuable when it is removed after eighty or one hundred years of loyal services on roofs – between 50 and 70% of London Metal Exchange (LME) prices! Not one gram ends up in rubble. Roofers know how to sort and store old gutters and roofing panels and sell them when zinc prices rise a little! This is useful and practical as master roofers convert the value of resale into bonuses for their best roofers.
Umicore is continuing its policy of withdrawing from its activities that are deemed less profitable, including the last two zinc business units, which are still industrially closely linked to the basic material they manufacture. The Zinc Chemicals Business Unit was sold in 2016. It has since been renamed Everzinc by its new shareholder.
The same will apply to the Building Products Business Unit, which is currently being sold and will leave the Umicore group before the end of 2017.
Our division is now the sole guardian of the memory of Vieille Montagne, whose initials it has kept in its VMZINC brand.It is interesting to observe that rolled zinc, which in 1811 made up the first application of this new material, remains the last activity to bear this prestigious name 206 years on. And this is no small source of pride for the staff who this year are celebrating the 180th anniversary of Vieille Montagne!
In the last post of this Saga, the tenth and last episode, it is with great enthusiasm that I will tackle the delicate exercise of projecting VMZINC into the future and imagining what our company will be proposing in 2050!
(*) The last batch production rolling mill was that of the Asturiana das Minas company in Porto, Portugal, built in 1945 and dismantled when it was taken over by Vieille Montagne in 1990. This acquisition made it possible for Vieille Montagne to directly supply its rolled zinc from the Viviez plant, to enter the construction sector in Portugal and become directly involved in the installation of its products via its Portuguese subsidiary’s installation company.
(**) When, on Monday 18 January 1988, Italian financier Carlo De Benedetti announced that he was preparing a public takeover bid for the Société générale de Belgique (SGB), there was talk of an elephant in a china shop, a modern man among dinosaurs!
The Générale de Belgique, also known as the “Old Lady”, with its century and a half of history, was like a financial octopus spreading tentacles to the four corners of the kingdom of Belgium, in the majority of the national economy’s segments.
Among the shareholders, with varying levels of participation, were Générale de Banque (today merged with Fortis), energy company Tractebel (taken over by Suez), Union Minière (which became Umicore), CBR (a cement manufacturer now owned by a German company), shipowner CMB, FN and Arbed (steel industry).
Carlo De Benedetti missed the target. Although not by much. Suez played the white knight. As a result, the Belgian economy suffered greatly and almost turned on its head.
(***) The original techniques used for this new foundry made its development phase very laborious. The objective was to increase added value of processes and profitability by freeing it from supply of high content raw materials. The plant now processes materials with highly diverse origins (sub-products from the group’s other plants, scrap from consumer electronic products (computers and subsequently mobile phones)). This would prove to be a very wise choice that would bring unprecedented success over the coming two decades.
This period was marked by the withdrawal of Société Générale from the non-ferrous sector (from 50.2% to 25.2% in 1997)
(****) He directed Sogem from 1988 to 1994, the Cobalt business unit from 1994 to 1998, the strategy department from 1998 to 1999 and very briefly the Copper and precious metals business group until 2000.
In my previous episode, I recounted how, at the end of the Second World War, Vieille Montagne found itself in a difficult situation and its annual production of zinc had decreased to less than 60,000 tons in 1946! Over the next four decades, the company was constantly seeking to improve the yield of production processes and modernise.
Vieille Montagne was negatively affected by the Second World War at many levels. The death in 1938 of one of its pillars – Gaston Saint Paul de Sinçay, its very devoted and much respected executive director for 48 years – had strongly shaken the company. In February 1944, the cowardly assassination of Alexandre Galopin, president of the Executive Board who had staunchly presided over the fate of the company during what was certainly the most tragic and painful period of its history, left Vieille Montagne destabilised.
Despite or perhaps because of this, at the end of the war, the company did everything to rebuild its plants. A significant stock of ore had been deliberately accumulated by its agency in Sweden during the conflict (from its mine in Ammeberg, which had been spared by the war – editor’s note). This stock made it possible to accelerate the restarting of basic manufacturing. With these new foundations, Vieille Montagne incessantly practiced a policy of intensive modernisation and development based on an overall plan that had been the subject of in-depth study and was adapted to suit the technical and economic evolution of the zinc industry and the metals associated with it.
From 1946 to 1961, the company ambitiously aimed to increase its production from 58,000 to over 200,000 tons. To reach this objective, the company developed a dynamic policy in the area of ore supplies (which had become highly competitive due to the significant increase in worldwide demand for zinc). It also negotiated the best conditions of access to the electric energy necessary to supply the electrolysis units in its plants, which were working at full capacity.
In this regard, it should be noted that the nationalisation of electric energy in France in 1946 deprived Vieille Montagne and its Viviez plant of the hydroelectric sources it had methodically created in the Aveyron region of France, and of financial participations acquired in this field. The negotiations that ensued with Electricité de France (EDF) were deemed “constructive” and did not have overly negative consequences on the company’s profitability.
This now external constraint was perhaps indirectly a positive driver for the constant search to improve yield of production processes from the mine right through to the end application. More than other companies, Vieille Montagne was focusing on optimisation of extraction conditions, especially zinc content and associated metals of treated ores, as well as transformation of the ore.
The engineers were constantly perfecting electrolytic zinc metallurgy, especially by improving methods for placing raw materials in solutions, purifying zinc solutions, their electrolytic reduction and melting zinc cathodes. This led to greater purity of the zinc obtained, and at the end of the 1950s, an optimal rate of 99.995% was reached for almost all of production.
Another key factor in this innovative approach: Vieille Montagne recovered metals known as “secondary metals” associated with zinc in a more comprehensive and effective manner than its competitors; these metals include Silver, Indium, Germanium, Thallium, Tin and Silicon. The 1961 Vieille Montagne catalogue in the appendix demonstrates the variety of these products, all the more highlighted as they were sold as “superpure” products!
This massive modernisation plan was accompanied by deliberate measures rolled out in almost all areas of activity. What was at stake? Reduce the physical effort of workers and improve the hygiene conditions of their industrial tasks. Indeed, on the eve of the thirty-year boom period of the three post-ward decades, Vieille Montagne remained loyal to its pioneering values and its conviction: employees and workers who feel good in their roles and their working environment produce more and better! It’s as simple as that!
As a reminder, between 1936 and 1960, the volume of worldwide zinc production rose from 1.5 million tons to 3.1 million tons (of which 25% in the USA, 23% in Europe, 22% in the USSR and its satellite countries, and 15% in the Commonwealth).
At the start of the 1960s, Vieille Montagne employed approximately 6,500 people at 17 sites (excluding commercial agencies) in 5 countries, and another 1,200 people at the German subsidiary in Altenberg.
In 1962, for its 125th birthday, Vieille Montagne had overcome and transcended the multiple constraints generated by the Second World War. It had retained its position as the number one individual producer worldwide thanks to the quality of its products (high purity zinc) and the variety of its offer.
With the advent of the new European Economic Community (EEC) created following the signature of the Treaty of Rome in 1957, and that of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Vieille Montagne looked to the future with confidence.
And now I would like to admit something. The personal connection I feel with Vieille Montagne did not come about per chance. I inherited it from my father, Willy Baltus, who worked there all his life!
As a young Economic Science graduate from the University of Liège, he joined the company working at the head office in Angleur (near Liège) in 1947, in the highly strategic supplies department. Being methodical and good with figures, he contributed to the objective of optimising resources and the energy developed during this period of strong expansion. At the start of the 1960s, my father used this know-how in what would become a major new component for companies: management.
At the time, Vieille Montagne was at the major turning point of computerisation. My father was among the teams who installed and operated, from 1964 on, the first IBM computers….. These were installed in air-conditioned rooms to avoid over-heating and their gigantic dimensions bring a smile to our faces nowadays.
This mechanisation gave him the opportunity to develop what today would be called integrated software for the management of all Vieille Montagne supplies. He himself pompously named it MQCV – Movements, Quantities, Contents, Values. It continued to be used well after he retired in 1982 and even after Vieille Montagne was integrated into the Union Minière group in 1989. The IT manager recently told me that it was difficult to modify the MQCV kernel (because it was extended gradually and complexified) and that it wasn’t replaced until 2001 or 2002, when the group decided to enter the SAP universe!
When I visited the Vieille Montagne archives last year (stored at the State Archives in the Cointe region near Liège), I was moved once again to come across his listings and his famous tables with annotated figures, which he collected every month from all the Vieille Montagne sites worldwide! (°)
Watch this space for the next and second-last episode of our SAGA.
On the agenda: Vieille Montagne in the 1980s and 1990s, followed by the conditions in which the company was integrated into the Union Minière group, which later became Umicore. I will talk a little about the reasons behind the redevelopment of rolled zinc in building applications.
(°) When I began working with the company my father’s table had a surprising effect. I first made contact with Vieille Montagne back in 1981. As a young Engineer-Architect graduate from the University of Liège, my father had put me in contact with people in France and I had applied for an internship at the Parisian head office of Vieille Montagne in the 9th arrondissement of Paris.
I must admit I had accepted the offer more for the idea of living in Paris than for the industrial experience, even though it was an opportunity to learn about a building material.
Before the First World War, Vieille Montagne had 7 mining and metallurgical sites in Belgium, 11 in France, 8 in North Africa, 3 in Germany, 2 in Sweden, 4 in England, 4 in Italy and 2 in Spain, as well as commercial consignees all over the Planet, from Mexico to Havana, Tokyo to New York, via Alexandria, Moscow and St. Petersburg!
Several years later, the two largest producer countries, Belgium and Germany, were severely affected by the war, as was France, where the productive potential of the Viviez-Penchot plant in the Aveyron region had been restricted, as activity there had been pushed to its limits to supply the national defence forces with extra-pure zinc (alloys including brass for munitions) and sulphuric and nitric acid (explosives)
The world zinc market was in a state of upheaval, both in terms of ore and primary zinc, marketed mainly in Europe and North America. Indeed, during the war, it was in the United States that zinc underwent its most striking evolution, where production tripled in modern new mechanised plants, some of which were already using the new electrolytic process.
At Vieille Montagne, the redevelopment crisis of 1919 to 1921 was very severe as it was marked not only by a decrease in production (*) but also a decrease in prices, profits and employment. At the same time, competition in the North and Pas de Calais regions of France (Compagnie Royale Asturienne des Mines, Pennaroya) was rapidly reviving as each company was rightly focusing on significant development of demand, as demonstrated in America. In any case, company directors in the sector could now make a strong and clearly proven argument: their activity had obviously become crucial for manufacturing arms and explosives!
(*) from 68,000 tons in 1913, French production had decreased to below 19,000 tons by 1920!
So World War I had shown the directors of Vieille Montagne that it would perhaps be wiser to strengthen their activity in the south of France rather than nearby the large ports on the North Sea, which, due to their strategic importance, had become strong factors of power in the case of conflicts and therefore key targets during bombardments!
This relocation would be accompanied by a technological transformation that was to be decisive for the future of the company.
Since 1918, the Vieille Montagne managers had been considering which new orientation to give to this site, but they waited 3 years, and in a healthier context, things gradually became clearer!
At the plant in the Aveyron region, the old process known as the “dry” process had been constantly improved between 1871 and 1917. But although the production volumes and profitability had increased considerably, the engineers were sure and certain on the eve of the war that the potential gains would be very restricted in the future and, despite the efforts made, working conditions could not remain as they were.
So in 1992, Vieille Montagne decided to take a risk on massive investment in industrial electrolysis. For the first time in Europe, this process based on electric energy was being used (*) in the transformation of zinc ore in an ultra modern plant, and the Viviez site was chosen for this!
(*) This process was copied in 1929 by the Norwegian subsidiary (Der Norske Zinkkompani) of Vieille Montagne’s main competitor, the Compagnie Royale Asturienne des Mines. It was envisaged in the Pyrenees in 1925 by Pennaroya, but the idea was rapidly abandoned.
In order to meet its energy needs, Vieille Montagne had to build dams on the river Lot and hydro-electric plants to supply electricity for its electrolysis.
But the adoption of the new process engendered some difficulties. Management at the plant worked in successive adaptation phases between December 1921 (tests on what was called “small electrolysis”) and the beginning of 1928, when the thermal process was completely abandoned.
Finally, the purity of zinc obtained and the improvement of yield and working conditions were so impressive it was decided to use the French experience to install the innovative process in 1935 at the Vieille Montagne plant in Baelen, in the Campine region of Belgium.
(More information on this can be found in the book entitled “L’adoption du procédé électrolytique par l’usine Vieille Montagne de Viviez (1922-1931)”(The adoption of the electrolysis process by the Vieille Montagne plant in Viviez (1922-1931)”) by A. Boscus, published by Editions Siècles – Cahiers du Centre d’Histoire “espaces et cultures” in 2005)
At the end of the First World War and after the 1929 crisis – two events that significantly destabilised industry and transport – worldwide consumption of zinc enjoyed a phase of strong and lasting growth, due to new uses of the material. One such new use was the fantastic success of galvanisation, making it possible to effectively protect steel in industrial conditions. Galvanisation experienced constant growth in the United States (infrastructures, plants, shopping malls….).
(Editor’s note: the process was reproduced in the same manner recently with the fantastic growth of economies in Asia including China, where growth in zinc consumption soared from the 1990s. We will come back to this.)
The zinc market also benefitted from growth in the use of cars, because zinc is used to manufacture tyres and also in the many moulded parts made using zamak1 (carburettor, window and headlight surrounds, door handles, windscreen wipers, protection grids and radiator caps, etc.).
In 1939, drawing inspiration from the experience of the First World War, Vieille Montagne and Union Minière (a company created in 1906 to exploit copper mines in the Congo and Haut Katanga), decided to maintain its activity in France if Belgium was occupied. As a precautionary measure, stocks of metal were stored in Antwerp, Bruges, Ostend and Le Havre, so that they could be rapidly evacuated in the case of an invasion.
The roll-out of the German troops was beyond all expectations. In just a few days, Belgium was occupied and France capitulated. The occupier immediately set about reopening the plants and wanted to appoint German engineers to manage them. Although Belgian industry refused to work for Germany, there was an imminent threat of famine and deportation of workers. Therefore the only possible option was to start work again under German control, striving to refuse production of war material.
So the Belgian non-ferrous industrial plants continued to produce, but they applied the following principles:
Vieille Montagne applied these rules notably at its plants in Baelen and Viviez.
By way of anecdote, in all the European countries they dominated and with a view to supplying their plants, the Germans recovered metal by any means possible, especially non-ferrous metals. This is why they seized and disassembled church bells. In less than three years, Belgium lost two thirds of its church bells, leaving this heritage greatly depleted and church belfries all over the country silent…
Before finishing this 7th episode of the Vieille Montagne Saga, I have to tell you an anecdote that moved me and that very few people know of.
It happened on the VMZINC stand at the BATIMAT trade show in 2013. Amidst architects and roofers, I was presenting our products and speaking with clients when I was shown an older man who wanted to speak to me. He introduced himself and straight away said to me in a very respectful manner: “dear sir, I owe my life to your company. I have great respect for Vieille Montagne!”. I thought he was a former roofer who loved our material and had perhaps been helped by one of our technicians.
But he continued: “if you have a few minutes, I’d like to tell you my story”. And so he began to tell me of the 1940 exodus, his mother who fled Belgium and found herself, pregnant with him, walking the roads of France in the middle of July to escape the Germans. She went from town to town, and happened to end up in Aubin in the Decazeville basin, where she was taken in by the Director of the Vieille Montagne plant and his wife. She gave birth to this little Jewish boy who was to spend most of the war hidden, with a few other children, with this discreet family who had accepted to run all the risks.
He held out his business card and left just as he had arrived, leaving me feeling pensive and proud to work for this company.
In the next episode, I will tell you about Vieille Montagne at the end of the Second World War and the unshakeable optimism of its managers, who were fully determined to pursue the redevelopment of their company.
(1) Zamak > définition / description
Thanks to economic growth and pertinent industrial choices, the use of zinc underwent rapid growth during the 19th century. Until the 1880s, business was boosted by the almost exclusive use of zinc for roofs and rainwater systems on buildings (see episode 2 & 3, including Haussmannian revolution and great expositions).
But new uses emerged which drove the growth of the company. Among these, zinc white (*), which was first produced on a small scale in England in the 1830s, and subsequently was industrially produced in France from 1845 by Vieille Montagne. In the space of just a few years, this highly pure zinc oxide successfully replaced white lead in paints for artists. The Impressionists liked its capacity to remain luminous over time.
However, the real accelerator for zinc was galvanisation (°), a technique to protect steel using a thin layer of zinc. After a slow start at the end of the 19th century, galvanisation expanded as steel was increasingly used in industry, infrastructures and transport. The famous corrugated metal owes its irresistible success to galvanisation. The latter became the main outlet for zinc prior to the Second World War.
The linear increase in zinc consumption (see PHOTO A: 1830-1914 production curve) obliged Vieille Montagne to search for new mines to supply its Belgian plants with ore. This led to a frenzy of acquisitions that significantly extended the company’s network of sites in Europe (see table of VM sites VM with acquisition dates)
I will have an opportunity to revisit this subject in episode 7, in which I will tell you about my visit to the old Nenthead mine in the UK, which was purchased in 1896.
Other German trading groups collaborated with Belgian companies producing zinc, including Vieille Montagne. They provided them with facilities to procure raw materials, sometimes bought shares in their capital and organised sales of their products. Belgian leadership of the zinc industry was clearly under threat.
In 1913, the European zinc syndicate controlled overall production of 570,000 tons, of which 350,000 tons (60%) were produced by German producers (including their Belgian subsidiaries), 190,000 tons by Franco-Belgian producers and 30,000 tons by an English group. At the time, worldwide production was already at one million tons, with 314,000 tons produced in America! (see table above).
(*) some of whose assets were acquired by Umicore Group in 2003! A little nod to history!
In 1914, the German mines and plants of Vieille Montagne were placed under the authority of a specific German commissioner. Those located in the occupied territories continued production as long as they had the necessary ore. But they refused to manufacture products that were likely to be used for manufacturing weaponry until the occupier confiscated these plants. They only delivered their production to Germany after they were requisitioned.
In 1916, after management refused to produce concentrated acid, the Germans immediately took control of the plant in Baelen, Belgium. Another example: in 1917, the German authorities wanted to purchase the mine in Bensberg, Germany, but management at Vieille Montagne courageously refused to enter into negotiations while Belgium was still at war!
During four years of war, the Germans requisitioned 42,000 tons of zinc, 4,000 tons of lead and 18 tons of silver from Vieille Montagne. However, outside of the occupied zones, the plants belonging to Vieille Montagne, the Compagnie Royale Asturienne des mines and the Union Minière, directed from Paris or London, did all they could to support the war effort of the Allies.
Apart from extra-pure zinc and copper, Union Minière and Vieille Montage supplied many strategic products to the French and English armies, such as iron antimoniate to manufacture shrapnel, acid to produce explosives or zinc oxide to produce tyres for vehicles.
When Germany’s defeat became inevitable, the occupier systematically emptied and demolished certain plants in France and Belgium, such as the plant in Auby, France, belonging to Asturienne des Mines and those in Balen, Belgium and Haumont, France, belonging to Vieille Montagne.
Despite these destructions and thanks to military requirements, this war gave an extraordinary boost to the non-ferrous sector in Europe.
In our next episodes, we will see how zinc consumption continued to increase in the first half of the 20th century and how, thanks to innovation, Vieille Montagne continued to significantly influence this industry.
(*) definition of zinc white
Characterised by the chemical formula ZnO, zinc oxide is water-insoluble. This amphoteric oxide is soluble in basic or acid solutions. It takes the appearance of a whitish powder called zinc white. Zinc oxide is used in many applications, particularly for the manufacture of paints, glass and ceramic. It can also be used as an ingredient in certain sun creams and certain food products.
(°) definition of galvanisation
Galvanisation consists of covering a piece of metal with a thin layer of zinc in order to protect it from corrosion. The treatment is referred to as anti-corrosive. The name comes from the inventor Luigi Galvani (1737-1798), an Italian physician who discovered galvanism.
To contribute to the “socialist utopia”, de Brouckère advocated what he called the “association between the worker and the entrepreneur”. On top of their fixed salary, workers at Vieille Montagne were paid bonuses according to their productivity! This modern principle of bonuses for work was applied in the company throughout the 19th century.
De Brouckère also created a savings society for the company’s workers and set up canteens at each plant. His successor, Louis-Alexandre St Paul de Sinçay, continued in the same vein. He developed various provident institutions for the workers: an Emergency Fund, which assisted workers who were ill or injured, and a Pension Fund (fully financed by Vieille Montagne), via which beneficiaries were paid a survivors ‘pension.
Other ground-breaking social progress for the period: workers participated in the management of these various funds via elected representatives.
In 1880, management at Vieille Montagne believed that by showing they cared about their workers, the company would “substitute salutary belief in solidarity (ndlr: between categories of staff – between workers and bosses) the fatal prejudice of antagonism between capital and work.”
A revealing indicator of this successful association between workers and their employer: the company hardly ever experienced strikes. This is illustrated by the fact that Vieille Montagne workers did not participate in the famous general strikes of 1902 and 1913.
Vieille Montagne was not the only company to take this route, which has been described as industrial paternalism. Menier (chocolate manufacturer), Michelin (tyres), Leroy (wallpapers), Godin* (heating stoves), Schneider and Wendel (steel industry) in France, and Solvay (chemicals) in Belgium all practiced it in a similar manner.
(*) Jean-Baptiste André Godin went even further by developing the concept of production cooperatives and by building the famous family residential community called the Familistère de Guise (see above)
What was the dominant idea for these enlightened Christian or liberal businessmen? The idea of taking care of “their” workers so that they would be happy, and even proud, of their company, productive at work and loyal to their employer. Employers often carried out their action based on the model of a job for life, using a generous approach fuelled by the belief that the working classes needed to be trained, supervised, guided and moralised to have the possibility of perhaps one day accessing the coveted status of the middle, higher classes or ruling classes.
Although this form of social control of workers was sometimes denounced (babies were born in the maternity hospital built by the company and people were buried in the cemetery funded, as was the church, by the company), it is nevertheless true that it was the source of much progress in relations between business owners and workers. These new practices and the balance they generated in social relations within these companies served as examples to other employers. They also benefitted the social struggles that took place at the end of the 19th century in the majority of Europe and North America.
However, these “closed” models did not resist the Great Wars or the acceleration of the globalisation process. Above all, it was technical progress, the increase in individual comfort – and more generally an increase in workers’ standard of living during the post-war boom years – that ended this “industrial paternalism” approach.
On the agenda for the next episode of this saga: Vielle Montagne in the turmoil of competitiveness and that of the First World War.
After the fall of Napoleon in 1815, the Congress of Vienna redefined the borders of Europe, especially those between Prussia and the Netherlands.
For the vicinity of Kelmis (50 km to the east of Liège), the site of a large zinc and lead mine, the two countries did not manage to reach an agreement. After multiple discussions, a special contract called “the borders contract” was signed in 1816. It was decided that the commune of Moresnet would be divided into three parts. The village of Moresnet went to the Netherlands and the territory corresponding to present-day Neu-Moresnet went to Prussia. The remaining part, around Kelmis and its zinc mine, was attributed neutral status.
This is the very territory, with its rich zinc mine and its exceptional status (governed by French law but managed by a Prussian and a Dutch commissioner!), that made history with the name Moresnet-Neutre (Neutral Moresnet).
In 1830, the Belgian revolution granted independence to the southern part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The independent state of Belgium annexed the village of Moresnet and benefitted from the transfer of territorial administration rights for Moresnet-Neutre.
In 1816, the territory had a population of just 256 people. But the thriving activity of the mine, together with the industrial and economic development of the late 19th century, resulted in a rapid increase of the population. Although in 1830 there were already over 500 inhabitants living in the territory, in 1858 this statistic had multiplied by more than five!
With its intensive operation of the mine, the “Société des Mines et des Fonderies de la Vieille Montagne” (founded in 1837) (link épisode 1) had a certain influence over this neutral territory. Some of its directors were appointed mayors. The communal centre was housed in the company’s premises.
In hindsight, one could say that Moresnet-Neutre was like a social incubator, as it enabled “La Vieille Montagne” to make surprising progress in terms of social practices. In 1857, the company funded the building of a school, and made one of its supervisors available to the mayor as village policeman! Local inhabitants received free medical care and preferential rates on loans to build their own houses.
The archives I read led me to believe that this positive attitude was due to the fact that the directors of La Vieille Montagne wanted to keep the best staff and labourers nearby the plant for work, as well as allowing their families to prosper and develop for the common good.
For the inhabitants, other advantages were accumulating in this neutral territory. They were authorised to distil alcoholic beverages tax free for their own personal use. Until 1847, they had no military service. Goods and foodstuffs imported from neighbouring countries were duty-free. Taxes were considerably lower than the European average, while the standard of living and salaries were significantly higher than in nearby countries.
No history of Moresnet-Neutre would be complete without a major chapter on the legendary Doctor Wilhelm Molly.
In 1863, this general practitioner born in Wetzlar, Germany, first moved to Neu-Moresnet to open a medical practice. He soon made a name for himself among the local population, as he treated his patients at very affordable prices. When he managed to get the better of a threatening cholera epidemic, he became more popular than ever and was appointed company doctor with “La Vieille Montagne”. He then moved to the neutral territory.
A humanist and excellent practitioner, Dr. Wilhelm Molly had ideas for the independence of the territory he lived in. He founded a postal service and, with his friends, illegally issued postage stamps! In 1906, he contacted Gustave Roy, a professor in France and Chairperson of the Parisian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Their objective: to create AMIKEJO (= place of great friendship), which would be the first ever esperantist free state, in Moresnet-Neutre! In 1908, they organised a propaganda meeting in the Carabineers’ hall. The entire population attended to hear the speech in favour of the establishment of a new State. On this occasion, “La Vieille Montagne” brass band even played the “Amikejo” march, composed as the future national anthem!
The neutral territory also acquired a flag, with three horizontal stripes in black, white and blue – which were probably inspired by the coat of arms of “La Vieille- Montagne”. After this meeting, several international newspapers reported on the credibility of the creation of an esperantist state in Moresnet-Neutre! The fourth esperantist congress in Dresden even decided to give preference to Moresnet-Neutre over the Hague (Netherlands) for the world Esperanto centre!
But the neutral territory’s raison d´être had already disappeared in 1895, with the end of operations in the zinc mine. Consequently, Prussia attempted on several occasions to cancel the territory’s “temporary” status. As negotiations with the Belgians were getting nowhere, the Prussians decided to use force, particularly with acts of sabotage! And so in 1900, the electricity supply and telephone lines were cut. In August 1914, the start of the First World War and the arrival of German troops in the territory marked the end of Moresnet-Neutre’s neutrality.
In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles definitively cancelled the territory’s independence.
Of the 60 stake posts marking the border of the neutral territory, approximately fifty remain in their initial position to this day, as though the neutral territory still existed!
The Vallée de la Gueule Museum is entirely dedicated to this incredible human and industrial adventure.
In 2015, the municipality of Kelmis-La Calamine decided to purchase the former “Vieille Montagne” director’s house – a geometric art nouveau style building dating back to 1910, which still has its original zinc roof – with the intention of moving the museum there.
At VMZINC we are proud to be participating in this symbolic project, which allows us to go back to our roots with dignity.
In the space of two decades, La Vieille Montagne zinc enjoyed unprecedented growth. It was the ideal material to meet the needs of Baron Eugène Haussmann, who would use it to cover the roofs of Paris and to enable rainwater recovery at roof level, an innovation that was life-changing for Parisians!
Let’s go back to 2 December 1851. The Duke de Morny was plotting to stage and succeed the coup d’état that brought an end to the 2nd Republic (which only lasted four years).
His half-brother, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, who was president at the time, became Emperor of France. This coup was extensively financed by Fanny Le Hon–Mosselman, the beautiful wife of the Belgian ambassador, and sister of the director of the “Société des Mines et Fonderies de la Vieille Montagne”, founded in 1837. From the outset of Napoleon III’s reign, La Vieille Montagne benefitted from his support!
The Emperor, influenced by the health trends of the period, and also eager to consolidate his power with a fully-fledged capital city, wanted to transform Paris.
In the middle of the 19th century, part of the city still looked like a mediaeval town, with its narrow streets and steep-pitched roofs of flat tiles. Fires occurred frequently, with the promiscuity and dilapidation of the buildings were conducive to high levels of squalor.
In 1853, Napoleon III appointed Baron Eugène Haussmann Prefect of the Seine. The latter had already forged a fine reputation for himself as a man of authority and efficiency in the provinces. Napoleon III set him the objective of cleaning up the city and intensifying the restructuring programmes of his predecessors Rambuteau and Berger.
In Paris, Haussmann and his teams did not fuss over details. For the next seven years, they changed the city from top to bottom – literally so in terms of our zinc – by imposing large-scale buildings whose roofs featuring the famous “Mansard” frames, which were more cost-effective than the old steep-pitched tiled roofs, made zinc a huge success. (See the “Mansard” roof).
What was the reason for this? The Mansard roof features a lower slope of gambrel roof (steep-pitched lower part) and a pitched terrace whose low slope can only be covered by a large-sized metal material.
Lead is too heavy and copper is too expensive. Zinc is the perfect solution.
The material also became widespread in another application: rainwater recovery. This was apparently thanks to an idea of the Belgian ambassador’s wife.
Apparently the latter gave the idea to the Prefect of Paris, via the Duke de Morny, of installing gutters at the bottom of the slopes to avoid degradation of facade renderings that were regularly drenched by the rainwater flowing off the eave coursing tiles and blown onto the building by the wind.
In 1862, an official decree imposed the use of “recovery systems for street-facing facades”, in order to prevent passers-by being drenched by the falling rainwater!
This was a clever and effective move to promote “La Vieille Montagne” and significantly increase sales of zinc, which were now doubling by the decade.
Apart from these technical aspects, the huge success of La Vieille Montagne zinc was a result of a combination of several other factors: political factors (embellishment of PARIS in keeping with the new Emperor’s ambitions, the decision to better control uprisings via the creation of large wide boulevards…), health factors ( eradication of disease and of the risk of epidemics…), urban factors (enhancement of monuments, building development with the construction of blocks of rental properties…), economic factors (development of markets and places of trade, infrastructures, stations and industrial buildings;..), technological factors (industrial revolution, steam engines and electricity…) and social factors (demographic growth, comfort of inhabitants….)
In less than 17 years, Haussmann made his mark on the capital. Paris was roofed with La Vieille Montagne zinc. The new zinc-roofer profession took off. The motifs of stone ornaments were reproduced in metal (picture of the dormer window). Specialised workshops were created and competed with their skills to clad public buildings. (Look at the picture of the Grand Palais!)
When Napoleon III left power in 1870, zinc no longer needed any help to be specified. In the last quarter of the century, the industrial revolution transformed society. Metal and glass architecture took over and zinc became a modern material.
During the 1889 Universal Exposition, at the time the Eiffel Tower was built, La Vieille Montagne was already producing over 90,000 tons of rolled zinc, 40% of which was used for domestic purposes that have since disappeared (garden boxes, basins, jugs, pitchers, watering cans, credences, tables and counter tops…)
During the second half of the 19th century, less well known and less visible than the roofs of Paris, engineers and operators worked to develop the quality and quantity of zinc. Installation techniques, some of which are still used today, were defined in close collaboration with the new zinc-roofers’ profession. In the wake of the Duke de Morny’s diplomatic tours, the sales teams at La Vieille Montagne created trading posts in the United States, in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, as early as 1850.
In the 1880s, La Vieille Montagne started selling its zinc in Saint Petersburg in Russia, and in Buenos Aires in Argentina.
In the next episode, we will have a look at the sourcing of zinc ore during this period of strong growth and we will be talking again about the fabulous history of the Altenberg mine and the neutral territory of Moresnet.
In 1794, François-Dominique Mosselman opened a banking house in Paris, whose business grew rapidly. He then lived between Brussels and Paris. Between 1813 and 1824, he purchased the first sites for the extraction, production and transformation of zinc, including the mine and the plants in Moresnet, the sites in Hergenrath, Saint-Léonard and Angleur (in the French administrative region of Ourthe) and the coal mines in Foxhall and Darford (in England)
Vieille Montagne zinc was tested for the first time in 1815, on a modest roof in Paris.
It was the same year that Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo and left office.
Although there was no causal link, this is when zinc started to take off. It was used to cover the curved forms of the “imperial” roofs in the rue de Rivoli in Paris in the early 1820s.
The roll cap technique developed. Fixing and junction systems were designed for decades to come.
François-Dominique Mosselman had to defend his Vieille Montagne property deeds, especially concerning the site of the very rich Altenberg mine, coveted by the Prussians and the Dutch. As the latter could not come to an agreement, in 1816 they created a neutral territory of several square metres around the mine, the administration of which they left to the site director. I will tell you this incredible story that was to last more than a century!
Then in 1830, Belgium won its independence. It appointed an ambassador to France. A prince called Charles Le Hon.
As luck would have it, he married Françoise “Fanny” Mosselman, the daughter of François-Dominique, our banker-trader.
Honoré de Balzac gave Fanny Mosselman the nickname of “Blue-eyed Iris, the ambassadress with the golden hair”. As charming as she was intelligent and intriguing, she was hostess to the cream of French financial, political and artistic society of the period in their mansion house on the Chaussée d’Antin in Paris (purchased from the banker Récamier in 1805 by her father), which became the Belgian embassy.
In 1832, Alfred Mosselman, Fanny’s brother, took over the family business. He created a sort of holding called “Mosselman brothers and sisters”, in which the Bank of Belgium invested some 800,000 francs in 1838!
One day in 1833, the Duke de Morny, a brilliant, influential aristocrat who was the illegitimate son of Queen Hortense and General de Flahaut (Talleyrand’s grandson), was invited to an evening at the Belgian embassy. He immediately fell in love with the beautiful ambassadress, who became his mistress for over twenty-five years!
As an astute businessman, de Morny invested in the rapidly growing sugar industry. To please Fanny, he became an active shareholder of the “Société des Mines et Fonderies de la Vieille Montagne”, which was created in 1837. De Morny was to become the greatest ambassador of the zinc industry. Fanny would finance his irrepressible political rise.
And in 1851, it was this same Duke de Morny who was behind the coup d’état that placed his half brother Napoleon III on the crown. He became the Emperor’s closest advisor.
And so the story of La Vieille Montagne became intertwined with History.
It all started at the end of 1805, in the French region of Ourthe, which corresponds more or less to the present-day territory of Wallonia (one of Belgium’s 3 regions).
The Grand Chief of the period was of course Napoleon I.
The pioneer of the zinc industry was called Jean-Jacques Daniel Dony, a native of Liège and an abbot by trade. Between two sermons, he had the idea of refining zinc. In fact, apart from being an abbot, he was also an excellent chemist.
To put his ground breaking theories into practise, he wanted to operate a mine very near the Prussian border, which was rich in zinc and lead ore. So he applied to Napoleon for a mining concession, which he obtained by imperial decree in March 1806, on condition that he could “reduce zinc from calamine, from which it is extracted, to a metallic state in an industrial furnace”.
The mine is called Altenberg, which in French translates to Vieille Montagne (Old Mountain in English). Between 1808 and 1810, he tested his ingenious process in his plant in Liège.
And it worked. He produced his first zinc lingots and had them made into panels in a rolling mill in Givet, and immediately filed a patent application. In 1809, he wrote to Napoleon to tell him he had succeeded!
Jean-Jacques Daniel Dony, who was very pleased with his technical and industrial feat, did not envisage a lasting use for his zinc panels. A craftsman made him a country bath, which the abbot swiftly gave as a gift to Napoleon, to demonstrate the malleability of zinc.
Anecdotally, the double-bottomed recipient was connected to a wood stove, making it possible for hot water to circulate between the two walls. Two courageous infantrymen carried it during the Russia campaign so the Emperor could have a hot bath every evening!
Having returned from this long voyage to its native Wallonia, the bath was bought several decades later by the Vieille Montagne company (*)
Let’s go back to 1811. With support from the abbot, a roofer took inspiration from the assembly techniques used for lead roofs to install the first ever rolled zinc roof anywhere in the world, on the Church of St Bartholomew in Liège, and one year later on St. Paul’s Cathedral. We still have the invoice the roofer sent to the Church Council, in which he lists the arguments in favour of this new material.
Although zinc found its vocation, Jean-Jacques Daniel Dony was none the better for it. Heavily indebted, in 1813 he had to transfer his plant and his patent to François-Dominique Mosselman, a wealthy Brussels trader.
The abbot-chemist died a pauper six years later.
Mr. Mosselman, a prominent businessman, already owned numerous businesses in Paris. The history of Vieille Montagne moved to the city of light, where it would take on a whole other dimension…… (to be continued)
(*) This famous bath was owned by the company until 1989, when it was transferred to the Museum of Metallurgy in Liège (currently undergoing restructuring)
VMZINC is established in India and Turkey
VMZINC is established in China
Acquisition of the Benneman
VMZINC is established in Czech Republic
Acquisition of the Bratislava plant
VMZINC is established in UK and Ireland
VMZINC is established inAustralia and New Zealand
Strub (CH) RWS & accessories
Union Minière devient Umicore
Union Minière becomes Umicore
Partnership in South Korea
VMZINC is established in Canadaand United States
Resale of CRAM’s distribution activitiesto POINT P Group
Implantation en Italie
VMZINC is established in Greece and Poland
VMZINC is established in Denmark, Hungary and Switzerland
The Vieille Montagne brand becomesinternational and is renamed VMZINC®
Creation of the PRO-ZINC training service
VMZINC is established in Spain
Vieille Montagne France joinsthe Union Minière group
Acquisition of CRAM and the Auby plant
First continuous castingin Viviez
First electrolysis on the Viviez sitein south-western France
Acquisition of the Nenthead mine
Trading posts in St Petersburg andBuenos Aires
Transformation of Paris by Baron Haussmann
Opening of the Viviez plant
Universal Exhibitions in Paris
Trading post in New York
Foundation of the Société des Mines et
Fonderies de Zinc de la Vieille Montagne, Angleur
Acquisition of the Bray-et-Lû plant