Prominent Industrialists in Interwar Romania

2013-08-10 00:36:00

Christine Leşcu

After 1918, Romania began to develop its industry mainly due to a handful of business people.

After 1918, when all Romanian territories united to form Greater Romania, the country started to make impressive progress both in terms of culture and economy. Previously regarded as an agrarian country with most of its people living in the countryside, Romania began to develop its industry mainly due to a handful of business people.


Born in 1895, into a family of poor peasants, Dumitru Mociornita had the necessary skills to succeed in life by studying and by taking some bold decisions. He went to Bucharest from a small village in Prahova County, to attend high school. Due to his intelligence, while taking his Baccalaureate exams, he caught the attention of the then prime minister, Ionel Bratianu. Afterwards, he went to university to study trade and industry in Bucharest and then in Paris, on a scholarship. He returned to Romania, started his own business and little by little he managed to set up the leather and footwear industry in Romania. Historian Dan Falcan tells us more about it:


Dan Falcan: “He first learned as much as he could and then he tried to put everything into practice. He married the daughter of an industrialist, which gave him a good start in business. In 1923 he bought a plot of land close to Bucharest, which today is a neighborhood inside the city. He set up a footwear factory there, which became the main supplier for the inhabitants of Bucharest. Furthermore, during WW II the entire army was wearing safety boots made at the Mociornita factory. He also got involved in politics, being several times a senator and a deputy with the National Liberal Party. He even owned a football team, famous at the time. Its name was ‘Carmen’ and it won the domestic championship once, but the communists eventually closed the football club down in 1946-1947. Unlike other industrialists of that time, such as Auschnitt and Malaxa, who managed to flee communist Romania, Mociornita refused to leave the country, although he was well aware of what he risked by staying.”


Dumitru Mociornita died in 1953 after his wealth was seized by the communists and his son, Ion, was  thrown into prison. He was buried at the Bellu cemetery in Bucharest.


Nicolae Malaxa was another big industrialist of that period. His ability to pursue his interest irrespective of the political forces in power sparked controversy at the time. He was in good terms with all political regimes and is said to have sponsored all political parties, the communist party included, in order to be allowed to see to his business. He studied engineering abroad so his business was also related to industry. Historian Dan Falcan tells us more about him:


Dan Falcan: “In 1921 Malaxa bought a plot of land outside Bucharest, where he founded the Malaxa plants, renamed by the communists ‘August 23rd’.  After the 1989 Revolution their name was changed again, into ‘Faur’. Malaxa built the plant from scratch, by taking out some loans. That involved a great risk, because unless the business was successful, he couldn’t have paid the loans back. The Malaxa plant manufactured iron and steel products as well as railway engines. The first Romanian railway engines were manufactured there. At first, Malaxa brought over some German specialists to work at the factory given that this industry was at its beginnings in Romania. He even brought several hundred workers from Germany to work in Romania. They built the first railway engines and taught Romanian workers how to do it. The first Malaxa railway engine was built in 1928 and the factory became the best in Eastern Europe.”


Not only Bucharest boasted Malaxa factories but many other towns in Romania, such Resita, where a Romanian automobile was built in the 1940s. Nevertheless, the communists ruined Malaxa’s business as well as those of all other entrepreneurs and industrialists by confiscating their properties.


Dan Falcan: “What’s interesting is that Malaxa was, for a certain period, an advisor to the new communist authorities, who had confiscated his factory.  All industrialists lost their properties that way. After the 1989 Revolution their successors claimed the properties seized by the communists. One of Dumitru Mociornita’s granddaughters, Marie-Rose Mociornita, was one of them. In his turn, Malaxa had a daughter, Irina, who married George Emil Palade, the well known Romanian scientist, who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine, in 1974. Their children came to Romania and were paid reparations.”


Unfortunately, once into the state’s property, the efficiency and competitiveness of the plants and factories set up by the first modern entrepreneurs dropped dramatically, as they failed to function at the high standards set by their founders.


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