Factory building with smoking chimneys on a river

150 years of progress

1873 to 2023: 150 years of progress

Portrait of a man with a sideburns beard

In 1873, Johann Philipp Schifferdecker started producing Portland cement – then a completely new building material – with just 35-employees in Heidelberg, Germany. He probably never imagined that 150 years later, Heidelberg Materials would be one of the world’s largest manufacturers of building materials, with around 51,000 employees in more than 50 countries across the globe.   
  
What is the foundation of our success? We owe it to our pursuit of progress and our focus on what we do best: building materials. This helped us to turn cement from an expensive material of varying quality to an affordable and high-performing product that has shaped our modern world.  

Someone holding a tablet on which a historical clip about Heidelberger Zement is playing

150 years of progress

Corporate history and corporate archive

The corporate archive has published numerous publications on the company's history in over 25 years. These are all available as downloads.

To the Corporate Archives and the publications
Industrial building, built over a river

From foundation over experimentation to production

The initial years

1873–1895

In 1873, Schifferdecker finds himself in the right place at the right time and is able to make his idea a reality. The City of Heidelberg has just completed a campaign to increase useable land by filling in areas along the shore of the Neckar river with earth. But, the earthen material ends up being washed downstream, where it clogs up the canal feeding the Bergheim water mill – eventually leading to the bankruptcy of the mill operator.

For Schifferdecker, the mill is the ideal location for his cement factory. It offers: water power, barge access, and a direct connection to the rail network. And, the raw materials in the vicinity appear to be suitable for the purpose.

He buys the foreclosed mill at auction for 258,000 gold marks (roughly 1.1 million in today’s euros), and converts it to a Portland cement factory. Thus is laid the foundation for today’s Heidelberg Materials.
 

Industrial building, built over a river

Experimentation

1874–1875

On 5 June 1874, Portland-Cement-Werk Heidelberg, Schifferdecker & Söhne is entered as a general partnership into the commercial register. The following year, the company begins cement production with around 35 employees.

The initial years are not easy: The poor quality of the stone resources available make cement production difficult, necessitating intensive experimentation in search of the ideal material mix. Accordingly, the newly founded company closes out its first year of operation with just 3,200 t of cement produced and a loss of 150,000 gold marks.

Just over a year after the founding of the company, the young cement chemist Friedrich Schott from Braunschweig is hired on as technical operations supervisor. A blessing for the company: Schott’s knowledge of cement production helps the company find its footing.
 

Portrait of a bearded man

The production process

1876

The limestone for cement production is provided by farmers, who have the difficult job of chipping away the stone underlying their fields with hammers and crowbars, and transporting the pieces by horse and cart to the factory.

At the mill, the stone is ground, soaked, and pressed into bricks, after which it is left to air dry. These raw bricks are then placed manually into the shaft kiln, where they are calcined. Because the final product of this process is similar in appearance to clinker bricks, it is given the name still used to this day – “clinker”.

At this time, cement is transported in barrels, a full barrel weighing 180 kg. Portland cement is expensive, which is why it is sold in small bags filled from the barrel. The barrels are such a valuable packaging material, that customers receive credits for returned barrels, which are mended in the company’s own cooper’s workshop and reused for shipping.

Production in this year increases to 7,330 t of cement.
 

Workers roll barrels on planks over a ditch
A wall made of bricks

Destruction and reconstruction

The factory burns down.

1895

15 years after the founding of the company, the factory has ramped up annual production volumes to roughly 393,000 barrels (66,800 t) and employs 750 people.

Following Schifferdecker’s death, his inheritors decide on a change of legal form to that of a joint-stock company, and Portland-Cement-Werk Heidelberg AG is born. A new era begins as Friedrich Schott is named to head the AG at age 39, a position he is to hold for the next 30 years.

In 1895, however, the young company is dealt a tragic blow. On the evening of 4 February, a watchman discovers a fire at the factory. At the same time, two more fires are reported in other areas of the yard. The factory buildings – largely made of wood – burn to the ground. Fortunately, the steam engines and ring ovens suffer only slight damage. To this day, no one knows just how fires could have broken out in three completely different areas of the factory grounds.
 

Men standing on debris

Rebuilding

1896

Schott negotiates with the City of Heidelberg for a temporary rebuilding permit. But, the factory has become a source of contention among its neighbours over the past several years: The increase in production has gone hand-in-hand with greater amounts of dust. It’s no rarity to hear visitors to the city complain that “you can’t see the castle for all the smoke!”

And so, a solution evolves: A new location is to be found, as close as possible to the necessary material resources. By the end of the same year, the modern factory designed by Friedrich Schott goes into operation in the neighbouring district of Leimen, 8 km south of Heidelberg. The company headquarters, however, remain in Heidelberg – as they do to this day.

In retrospect, the fire was a decisive moment that allowed Heidelberg Materials to move on to the next step. Expansion would have never been possible in or around the city.

Factory with long chimneys
Workers on a factory floor with antiquated machinery

Extra benefits and expanding business

In-house social welfare institutions

1897

Together with the new factory, a bathing facility and canteen are built, as well as living quarters directly adjacent. These are the seeds that start a small community growing up in and around the factory. Over time, an indoor swimming pool, event hall, kindergarten, and library are all added.

The leitmotif is clearly visible above the entrance of the event hall: “Days Work – Evenings Guests. Tough Week – Happy Gatherings.”

Together with the various clubs associated with the factory, the social welfare institutions grow to encompass a cosmos of their own. Workers and officers of the company are engaged both in their on and off time. The social welfare institutions at the Leimen plant will later go on to serve as a model for other locations of the company.

Children standing in front of townhouses, one of them holding a dog

Years of expansion

1899–1913

At the Leimen cement plant, all process steps and equipment (pre-crushing, drying station, raw mill, ring kilns, cement mill, and packaging) are brought together in a single production hall with a length of 500 m. For its time, it is the largest industrial facility in Germany.

During this period, the company expands continuously through acquisition of additional cement, limestone, and gypsum plants in southern Germany. The company is presented with its first opportunity for expansion when the Portland cement factory in Nürtingen, near Stuttgart, runs into cash flow difficulties. Speculation and overproduction lead to a collapse in cement prices in Germany. As a result of this outside pressure, Portland-Cement-Werke Heidelberg and Mannheimer Portland-Cement-Fabrik AG agree on a merger in 1901. In the years to follow, the company expands to include four additional southern German cement plants and ancillary businesses.

Crowds in front of a bank

Great War and Great Depression

The First World War

1914–1918

When the war starts, construction comes to a near standstill. Declining demand and coal rationing limit production at all plants. Smaller cement plants are forced to completely shut down. At the two main plants in Leimen and Weisenau, volume is at least high enough to support daily operations. At the inoperable plants, the cement grinding equipment is used for production of feed and fertiliser – until many years after the war.

More than 700 of the workers and staff have been called off to fight. The worker shortage caused by the First World War leads to women and younger people being more often employed by the company. At the cement plants, women are generally set to work sorting sacks and pushing carts, while older female employees are also engaged in kiln operation. Subject to approval by the local trade authorities, Sunday work is also possible for women over the age of 16. Female employees, however, are still prohibited from work on machines. Personnel troubles go on to plague the company for a number of years.

Women worker during WWI, with the Leimen plant maintenance workshop in the background.

Worker unrest and cutbacks

1919–1928

Political turmoil sees the end of the monarchy and the rise of social democracy, increasing awareness and self-confidence among the workers. Traditionally, there is an insignificant level of organization among cement industry workers. However, strikes do occur during this time. The main points of contention are, e.g. the right to organise and wages.

Help is granted at the plants to lessen the extreme material distress of the workers. For instance, garden plots are made available to grow potatoes and fuel for heating is sold to employees at cost.

Productivity declines drastically – factors include introduction of the 8-hour workday and the desolate condition of the plants and equipment due to wartime neglect. As hyperinflation sets in, investment is at a bare minimum, limited to improved rationalisation measures and cost-cutting. Not until 1924 – and currency stabilisation – do sales begin to pick up once more. In the second half of the 1920s, immense sums are invested in new technologies. Bigger, faster machines are purchased in answer to runaway wage increases.

Workers at the cement factory in Blaubeuren in front of houses in the “cement village”, 1920.

The Great Depression

1929–1933

As the worldwide economy slows during the Great Depression, sales levels drop dramatically. This leads to periodic shutdowns of operations at individual plants. The volume shipped by the company in year three of the crisis, 1931, falls to 397,000 t – a level last seen in 1903!

After the Nazis seize power, the plants are forced to institute so-called “operating cells”, to watch over political attitudes. The son of Friedrich Schott – Dr. Ehrhart Schott (1879–1968), Board member and plant manager in Leimen – dissents on this development, not wanting to tolerate external meddling at the company. This and other attitudes bring him to the attention of the National Socialist authorities. Schott is taken into so-called “protective custody”. The Nazis justify their measures by saying extreme dissatisfaction with his stance among the workers necessitated his jailing for his own protection. On the orders of the ruling NSDAP, Schott has no other choice but to step down from his offices on 9 May 1933. Otto Karl Hermann Heuer (1877–1960) takes over the lead of the company.

People standing on a square with a tree and a fountain
Oblique aerial view of ruined residential and commercial buildings south of the Stadtpark (seen at upper right) in the Eilbek district of Hamburg, Germany.

World War II: before, during and after

The inter-war period

1934–1938

Shipping in paper sacks has become the standard. The company’s barrel making workshops, like the one in Leimen – which at times employed as many as 100 workers – are shut down.

Extensive investments are made at the plants to improve productivity and increase capacity. In Nazi Germany, the cement industry is raised a pillar of the country’s industrial might. Cement is the key component needed for the bombastic construction projects of the regime, and increasingly also in preparation for the coming war.

The company’s operations and its people are subject to broad control by the National Socialists. Criticism or protests are met with the threat of firing – or even jail. Development of the cement industry is fuelled by government-sponsored building projects.

Loading sacks into railcars

World War II

1939–1945

The cement industry is key to the war effort: After the start of the war, all cement plants continue operating at full capacity to provide the necessary fortifications and equipment. The military draft, however, soon results in a shortage of labour, so that production targets cannot be met. Increasing numbers of women, as well as prisoners of war, and forced labourers from occupied Europe, come to work at the plants.

The plants make it through the war more or less undamaged. Depending on the zone they are in, many are able to resume operations after a short period of shutdown. Nonetheless, worn-out machines and energy shortages stand in the way of a rapid recovery in production. Many of the company’s former employees have fallen in the war, are prisoners, or are prohibited from working as a result of de-Nazification – a lack of qualified personnel is the result. Cement shipping volumes fall to 14% of the total in 1938, the last year before the war.

The military government of the American Occupation Zone dismisses the Board and appoints three trustees – including Dr. Ehrhart Schott, who is later restored as Chairman. For his inexhaustible drive and inventiveness, Dr. Schott becomes a legend within the company.

Three workers standing by a machine

Reconstruction

1946–1959

In the years after WWII, cement is a popular barter item to procure daily necessities such as clothing and shoes. Although bartering is officially banned, plant management looks the other way as people try to overcome their material hardships. The plants also offer coal to their employees at a reduced cost, until the practice is forbidden by the Allied powers.

In the 1950s, German reconstruction gives rise to an impressive economic recovery. Between 1950 and 1965, the construction industry expands by 600%. Cement sales volumes grow fourfold in the same period, leading to technical advancements that revolutionise the application, transport, and storage of cement. Whereas cement was previously transported almost exclusively in sacks by rail, the advent of bulk cement transport has now begun. It is delivered in silo trucks directly to construction sites and concrete factories. The increasing use of concrete as a building material gives rise to a market for special tools and mortars.

Trucks with silos on the back
Blue ocean with reflecting sun

Strengthening expansion, saving energy

First steps abroad

Office building

1960–1972

Beginning in the late 1950s, as a result of the construction boom, the company begins takeovers of German cement producers. In 1963, the company takes its first steps beyond the borders of Germany, acquiring a stake in a French cement plant, which is exchanged five years later for a stake in France’s Ciments Vicat. Up to 1981, HeidelbergCement expands its share of ownership in Vicat to 35%, which is ultimately sold off in 2007 to aid in financing of the Hanson acquisition.

Beginning in 1960, all plants begin investing extensively. Great changes come about in cement production through installation of Lepol and heat-exchanger kilns. This drastically reduces energy consumption, and the introduction of electrostatic filters renders the areas surrounding cement plants dust free. During this era, important new production segments are added, such as the manufacturing of ready-mixed concrete. HeidelbergCement is among the pioneers in this market in Germany.

Up to 1970, cement industry sales continue to grow despite economic fluctuations, peaking in 1972 – the year of the Summer Olympics in Munich.

The oil crisis

Aerial photograph of a plant, empty streets around

1973

This year, the 3,541 employees of Heidelberger Zement celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the company, with sales of 7.6 million t.

In October 1973, the nations of OPEC cut oil production by 5%, which leads to a doubling of the price for crude oil. Germany is hard-hit by the OPEC crisis, as up to 55% of its energy is provided by oil imports. The Bundestag reacts by passing the Energy Security Act, initiating broad-based energy saving programmes and by searching for alternative sources of energy. Driving bans are even enacted on four Sundays in November and December. The speed limit is lowered on major roads and highways, and fuel rationing is implemented. The recession stemming from the crisis causes a collapse in construction investment. Heidelberger Zement shipping volumes decline significantly.

The German cement industry undergoes a process of comprehensive rationalisation. Energy costs have risen from 40% to 50% of manufacturing inputs. Thus energy-saving methods are developed for firing of the kilns, and the switch is made from oil to the more readily available resource, coal.

The jump over the pond

Workers on a rock put up a signboard

1977

The market uncertainty in Germany following the oil crisis prompts the Board to look to the North American cement industry for potential takeover or partnership candidates. It doesn’t take long for Lehigh to become the favoured takeover target. With its shares valued at a bargain price in the open market, the company is practically debt free and owns massive amounts of property in the east of the US.

The acquisition in 1977 surprises the employees – as well as the public – in Germany, as it goes far beyond the normal scope of the company’s M&A activities. Up to now, such transactions had focused largely on southern Germany. The acquisition of Lehigh marks the start of a decade of expansion among European companies in North America.

Thanks to the technical know-how in Heidelberg, costs per tonne of cement at Lehigh are reduced drastically, which sustainably improves its market positioning, in line with the motto of CEO Peter Schumacher: “Not only market leader, but also cost leader.” Within three short years, the management succeeds in cutting energy consumption at Lehigh by 23%, while increasing capacity by 17%.

Energy conservation and diversification

Four men, one of them interviewed and filmed with a camera

1980–1989

The 1980s: In reaction to higher energy costs, the company pushes forward with full automation of various production stages. Quarry productivity is increased through the use of heavy haul trucks with capacities of up to 80 t.

Use of secondary fuels helps offset the much higher fuel costs to some extent. The high temperatures in the clinker kilns and gas purification technology allow, for example, the use of old tyres without the release of toxic gases.

In the area of cement grinding, a high-compression roller mill is tested in large-scale production at the plant in Leimen. This new type of mill cuts energy costs by up to 20%, and in a short time it is being used around the world.

Under CEO Peter Schumacher, the company enters a number of new business lines: cement, concrete, construction materials, lime-gypsum-plaster, building elements, plastic engineering-printing-paper, and transport – all of which leads to a restructuring of the Group. This sort of horizontal diversification is part of the prevailing trend throughout this and other industry sectors. It can be seen as a reaction to the intense volatility of economic activity at the time.

A red ship is sailing on the sea

Acting global

Beginning of internationalisation

1989–1996

Beginning in 1989, Heidelberger Zement takes advantage of political developments around the globe to accelerate the process of internationalisation through acquisitions in several Eastern European countries. For many years, the company remains the largest foreign investor in the building materials sector of this region.

In order to expand activities to other potentially high-growth markets, a 40% stake is acquired in Belgian building materials' manufacturer Cimenteries CBR S.A., which is later increased to 100%. CBR is an ideal partner for Heidelberger Zement’s growth into a multinational building materials group. Both the geographical footprint and the product range of the two companies complement one another well.

1995 sees the next step in the company’s internationalisation with an investment in China Century Cement Ltd. followed the next year by founding of the Akçansa joint venture in Turkey. Today, Akçansa is one of the largest cement producers in its home country.

Ready-mixed concrete lorry being cleaned by man with helmet

Becoming a global player

1999

The poor state of the construction sector in Germany from the mid-1990s forces further growth of the company and the acquisition of Swedish building materials group Scancem in 1999. As the sole provider in Norway, Sweden, and Estonia, Scancem is the undisputed leader in the Scandinavian market. In the UK, it is the number two producer of cement. In addition to cement and grinding plants in several sub-Saharan African countries and an import terminal in Bangladesh, Scancem also maintains production facilities in the US.

This transaction represents another important step in the geographical diversification of Heidelberger Zement, bringing with it both expansion in mature markets and new opportunities in African and Asian growth markets. It makes Heidelberger Zement the third-largest cement manufacturer worldwide.

In 1999, Heidelberger Zement also expands its activities in the European dry mortar market through the acquisition of maxit Holding GmbH.

man stands at a railing and looks at a factory

Cement for tomorrow’s growth

2000–2002

The company continues to expand, acquiring majority stakes in cement plants throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina, Romania, Ukraine, and Russia.

The majority stake in Indonesia’s second-largest cement producer Indocement in 2001 is particularly important. Among the company’s assets are three cement production sites on the islands of Java and Borneo. As a result of booming demand for cement, Indocement continuously expands its plant operations – by 2013, Indocement reaches a total capacity of 18.6 million t. The Citeureup cement plant is the largest in the entire Group, with production capacity of nearly 12 million t.

In 2002, after years of strong growth and development of a substantial global footprint, the company name is internationalised to become “HeidelbergCement”.

Two men standing on a stairway on a plant
Chart of a HeidelbergCement share on a tablet

Growth and Crisis

Leadership and investment in growth markets

2004–2005

While the expansion into Eastern Europe and Asian markets continues, the German construction sector is still battling significant deterioration in sales volumes and prices. The long-standing slump in construction activity is met by capacity adjustments throughout the cement production industry.

In 2005, Merckle Group acquires nearly 80% of HeidelbergCement shares. January 2005 sees a change in the leadership of the company. Dr. Bernd Scheifele, already Chairman of the Supervisory Board of HeidelbergCement since May 2004, succeeds Hans Bauer as CEO of the company.

As Eastern European markets reach higher stages of development, investment in ready-mixed concrete and aggregates is expanded. With entry into Kazakhstan, Georgia, and India in 2005 and 2006, the foundations are laid for further growth in these countries as well. Particularly the foothold in India is to be rapidly enlarged over the coming years. By 2013, HeidelbergCement operates cement and grinding plants in both Central and Southern India.

Man in a suit standing in front of a gallery of employees

Becoming a building materials group

2007

In 2007, HeidelbergCement completes the largest-ever merger in the building materials sector with its acquisition of UK-based Hanson plc. The transaction is part of a strategic reorientation: By acquiring Hanson, a worldwide leader in the production of aggregates, HeidelbergCement secures its own resource base. Concrete is the preferred building material the world over, and is made primarily of aggregates (sand and gravel) and cement.

This most recent and largest takeover is financed largely through borrowing, supplemented by the sale of subsidiaries Vicat and maxit. The company returns its focus once more to its core activities, and transforms from a cement producer to a building materials group. Not only has the company now become the world market leader in aggregates, it also gains attractive market positions in the US, UK, Israel, Malaysia, and Australia. Especially in the UK, where HeidelbergCement was previously active only in cement business, and in the US, HeidelbergCement has since maintained a tight network of production sites in all business lines.

man with helmet and sunglasses

The financial and economic crisis

2008–2010

The global financial crisis leads to a change of the shareholder structure of HeidelbergCement AG. In September 2009, the Group increases share capital by 50% – at the same time 57.2 million shares held by Merckle Group are floated on the stock market. This increases the free float ratio to 75%, though Ludwig Merckle remains the largest single shareholder, retaining 25% of share capital. As a result of the higher free float, HeidelbergCement becomes the first German company from the construction and building materials sector to be included in the DAX-30 benchmark index.

The same year, the company undergoes an organizational restructuring. Operations are now divided into five geographical “Group areas”: Western and Northern Europe, Eastern Europe-Central Asia, North America, Asia-Pacific, and Africa-Mediterranean Basin. The sixth Group area – Group Services – encompasses worldwide trading activities. Within the geographical Group areas, the company’s activities are divided into four business lines: cement, aggregates, building products, concrete-services-other.

Chart of a HeidelbergCement share on a tablet
A rubble vehicle transporting stones

Material to build our future

Sustainable growth in attractive markets

2011–2012

Since the acquisition of Hanson, cement and aggregates form the basis of HeidelbergCement’s dual raw materials and growth strategy. At this time, investment focuses primarily on the expansion of cement capacities in Asian, African, and Eastern European-Central Asian growth markets.

In 2012, an international research competition, the Quarry Life Award, is presented for the first time to promote biodiversity. The first year of the competition is a complete success, with 300 projects submitted from 18 countries. First, second, and third place are taken by projects from the Czech Republic, Ghana, and the UK.

Three persons planting

The Enlarged HeidelbergCement Group

2016

On 1 July 2016, HeidelbergCement AG completed the acquisition of a 45% shareholding in Italcementi S.p.A.

Heidelberg Materials and Italcementi are a perfect fit. With the acquisition, Heidelberg Materials becomes the number 1 producer of aggregates, the number 2 in cement and number 3 in ready-mixed concrete worldwide.

Heidelberg Materials enters new important markets, such as France and Italy in Europe, Egypt and Morocco in North Africa and Thailand in Southeast Asia. In the USA, Canada, India and Kazakhstan, the takeover will further strengthen the existing market presence of HeidelbergCement.

The enlarged Group has activities in around 60 countries with 63,000 employees working at more than 3,000 production sites. Heidelberg Materials operates 156 cement plants with an annual cement capacity of 197 million tonnes, more than 1,700 ready-mixed concrete production sites and over 600 aggregates quarries.

Group of people standing in a circle and holding their hands

One global brand: Heidelberg Materials

2023

Our future is sustainable. Our future is digital. And it goes way beyond cement. We are evolving our portfolio, our products, and our services to lead the transformation of our industry.  Our new, representative, powerful, and global brand Heidelberg Materials gives this transformation a face and an anchor.

We will always be Heidelberg at heart, a trusted world leader in our industry with 150 years of experience. A company that has been and will continue to be much more than cement. A company that performs at its best when we build on our global strengths.

So, we use our combined forces to lead the field in driving down carbon emissions. Pioneering a circular economy in construction. Unlocking new customer benefits through digitalisation. Developing intelligent and sustainable building materials. 
 

Two green ready-mix trucks are parked in front of the entrance to the Heidelberg Materials headquarters

Material to build our future

Since 1873, our building materials have been instrumental in countless innovations around the globe. Innovations that we’ve come to take for granted but which were groundbreaking at the time: From skyscrapers to air- and seaports, from highways to subway systems, bridges, and iconic architecture – Heidelberg Materials’ building materials were the foundation to all these milestones of progress.

Today, the world needs smart, sustainable, and resilient infrastructure, buildings, and public spaces – more than ever. Challenges like climate change and resources scarcity mean that the production and use of building materials must evolve.

At Heidelberg Materials, we are harnessing our forces worldwide to push forward. We’re already leading our industry with the most ambitious CO₂ reduction targets, pioneering innovative technologies like carbon capture, utilisation, and storage. We’re developing new, smart materials to advance sustainability in construction. And we’re driving the digitalisation of our sector, unlocking new, smart features for our customers.

Based on 150 years of progress, innovation, and expertise, we are committed to building a sustainable future for the generations to come.