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ELBERFELD, a manufacturing town of Germany, in the Prussian Rhine province, on the Wupper, and immediately west of and contiguous to Barmen (q.v.). Pop. (1816) 21,710; (1840) 31,514; (1885) 109,218; (1905) 167,382. Elberfeld-Barmen, although administratively separate, practically form a single whole. It winds, a continuous strip of houses and factories, for 9 m. along the deep valley, on both banks of the Wupper, which is crossed by numerous bridges, the engirdling hills crowned with woods. Local intercommunication is provided by an electric tramway line and a novel hanging railway—on the Langen mono-rail system—suspended over the bed of the river, with frequent stations. In the centre of the town are a number of irregular and narrow streets, and the river, polluted by the refuse of dye-works and factories, constitutes a constant eyesore. Yet within recent years great alterations have been effected; in the newer quarters are several handsome streets and public buildings; in the centre many insanitary dwellings have been swept away, and their place occupied by imposing blocks of shops and business premises, and a magnificent new town-hall, erected in a dominant position. Among the most recent improvements must be mentioned the Brausenwerther Platz, flanked by the theatre, the public baths, and the railway station and administrative offices. There are eleven Evangelical and five Roman Catholic churches (noticeable among the latter the Suitbertuskirche), a synagogue, and chapels of various other sects. Among other public buildings may be enumerated the civic hall, the law courts and the old town-hall.

The town is particularly rich in educational, industrial, philanthropic and religious institutions. The schools include the Gymnasium (founded in 1592 by the Protestant community as a Latin school), the Realgymnasium (founded in 1830, for “modern” subjects and Latin), the Oberrealschule and Realschule (founded 1893, the latter wholly “modern”), two girls’ high schools, a girls’ middle-class school, a large number of popular schools, a mechanics’ and polytechnic school, a school of mechanics, an industrial drawing school, a commercial school, and a school for the deaf and dumb. There are also a theatre, an institute of music, a library, a museum, a zoological garden, and numerous scientific societies. The town is the seat of the Berg Bible Society. The majority of the inhabitants are Protestant, with a strong tendency towards Pietism; but the Roman Catholics number upwards of 40,000, forming about one-fourth of the total population. The industries of Elberfeld are on a scale of great magnitude. It is the chief centre in Germany of the cotton, wool, silk and velvet manufactures, and of upholstery, drapery and haberdashery of all descriptions, of printed calicoes, of Turkey-red and other dyes, and of fine chemicals. Leather and rubber goods, gold, silver and aluminium wares, machinery, wall-paper, and stained glass are also among other of its staple products. Commerce is lively and the exports to foreign countries are very considerable. The railway system is well devised to meet the requirements of its rapidly increasing trade. Two main lines of railway traverse the valley; that on the south is the main line from Aix-la-Chapelle, Cologne and Düsseldorf to central Germany and Berlin, that on the north feeds the important towns of the Ruhr valley.

The surroundings of Elberfeld are attractive, and public grounds and walks have been recently opened on the hills around with results eminently beneficial to the health of the population.

In the 12th century the site of Elberfeld was occupied by the castle of the lords of Elverfeld, feudatories of the archbishops of Cologne. The fief passed later into the possession of the counts of Berg. The industrial development of the place started with a colony of bleachers, attracted by the clear waters of the Wupper, who in 1532 were granted the exclusive privilege of bleaching yarn. It was not, however, until 1610 that Elberfeld was raised to the status of a town, and in 1640 was surrounded with walls. In 1760 the manufacture of silk was introduced, and dyeing with Turkey-red in 1780; but it was not till the end of the century that its industries developed into importance under the influence of Napoleon’s continental system, which barred out British competition. In 1815 Elberfeld was assigned by the congress of Vienna, with the grand-duchy of Berg, to Prussia, and its prosperity rapidly developed under the Prussian Zollverein.

See Coutelle, Elberfeld, topographisch-statistische Darstellung (Elberfeld, 1853); Schell, Geschichte der Stadt Elberfeld (1900); A. Shadwell, Industrial Efficiency (London, 1906); and Jorde, Führer durch Elberfeld und seine Umgebung (1902).