From the earliest accounts, Žilina appears as an important commercial centre. Its importance is further increased by the building of a road to Košice. Žilina became one of the places where tolls were collected. By the 14th century, the first craftsmen began to establish themselves in the town. In the 15th century they began to form guilds. In 1488, regulations of the guild of furriers appear. Žilina crafts focused mainly on cloth and leather products and Žilina was among the most important cloth production centres in the eastern part of Central Europe.
The first cloth producers were already mentioned in the 15th century. The regulations of their guild date from 1569. By the 17th century, about 50,000 metres of cloth were produced annually in more than 120 workshops. Due to various privileges granted to the town, trade and production of cloth in the 17th century increased signifigantly, although the 18th century saw a notable decline. Other craftsmen however, such as millers and malt producers, saw growth during the 18th century. At the time, two mills operated in Žilina and 147 people had the right to brew beer. Partial stagnation of production occurred in the second half of the mid - 18th century, but in the 19th century, development of the railroad led to the expansion of industry. In particular, growth was fueled by the Košice - Bohumín line, which opened in 1871 (the first train arrived in Žilina on December, 12th of 1870). In 1883, a link between Bratislava and Žilina was established with completion of the Považská railway. These railroads in particular were a crucial factor in the development of the business environment in the town. Also around this time financial institutions began to emerge, further enhancing the environment for business.
Among the companies established around this time, are American Steam Mill, a small company founded in 1883, and Helios Žilina, an electric plant which contributed to the electrification of the town.
The first factories in Žilina
The first truly large industrial enterprise was the Hungarian factory for the production of wool cloth, military textiles and carpets (1891), in its time one of the most modern factories in Hungary. The factory continued the rich tradition of cloth production in the town. Plenty of sheep’s wool in the area, along with other advantages, led to the founding of the factory. Much credit for its establishment can be given to the then Minister of the Hungarian Government, Gábor Baross, a native of Trenčín county. Baross worked to industrialize Slovakia, then known as Upper Hungary. It was Baross who persuaded an entrepreneur from Brno, Karol Lōw, to establish his factory in Žilina. Plenty of raw materials, excellent rail connections, and a cheap labor force were arguments which might have convinced him. Another influential factor may have been the fact that the town set the price of land for the factory below the market value. The builders broke ground on the 28th of May 1890, and already in 1891 the factory began producing the first metres of cloth. Annual production grew to more than six hundred thousand metres of cloth with more than 800 workers employed at the factory. Initially supplying only the domestic market, the factory later focused on export to the Balkans and Western Europe as well.
Another large industrial enterprise was Hungária, a factory for artificial fertilizers, which began operating in 1892. From 1902 on, the plant became known for the production of sulfuric acid. It was founded by the Hungarian General Corporation for the production of sulfuric acid, fertilizers and chemical products located in Budapest. The factory was located on the outskirts of town. Construction began in June 1892. In July 1893 it produced the first superphosphate and soon launched production of sulfuric acid by contact. In 1906, the plant was expanded with new buildings. After the first World War the factory was taken over by Žilina’s corporation for fertilizers and chemical products.
The last large factory constructed in the period prior to World War I was a plant for the production of cellulose (from the beginning of the 20th century). Early in its history, this factory employed 400 workers and helped to make Žilina the third most important economic centre in Slovakia, surpassed only by Bratislava and Košice. The company included Slovak and Czech investors and the factory produced both bleached and unbleached cellulose in proportions of 75 and 25 percent respectively. By 1927, the factory had expanded to employ 600 workers with the vast majority of its production exported to Japan, America, Spain, Italy and England. The factory had to constantly modernize production, in an effort to remain competitive in the ever - evolving cellulose industry.
The match factory, the first Žilina brickfield, production of liquers...
Also among the factories of the Austro - Hungarian era, was a plant for the production of tar, and a match factory owned by the firm Wittenberg. The match factory employed more than 100 workers and produced 13 million boxes of matches annually. Its official name was Žilina’s Factory for Matches Wittenberg and Son. It was established near the railway station Nová Žilina (New Žilina). It employed 90 factory workers and 10 other employees and focused on production of Swedish matches, including sticks and boxes. The factory produced mainly for export. Even before moving to match production, it worked with wood. The factory was also known for a rich social programme for employees. Its chimney was clearly visible from afar, and would have been noticed by any visitor to Žilina.
Thanks to investment in industry, the importance of Žilina increased. Gradually, other smaller companies were added. Worth mentioning are the first Žilina brickfield, as well as timber companies and sawmills, distilleries, and Kadlec, a smoked meat factory named for its owner. These businesses, along with many banks, retail merchants, and craftsmen, came together to create the town’s economic power.
Žilina also had a great tradition of processing live fish from the North Sea by the firm Langfelder and company, which also had branches in Vienna and a store in Budapest. This tradition continues until today. The Frambor district of Žilina was known for machine carpentry. As well, Petrovský’s factory for dyeing and dry cleaning was renowned. The rail industry was also represented with the Narrow - gauge factory headquared in Žilina. Stárek’s factory for the production of fire extinguishers was also located in the town. Various other workshops and warehouses also had a substantial presence in the town. Finally, we must mention the distillery operated by M. Ripper and Sons. Founded in 1873, it was the oldest of its kind in Slovakia. Although a relatively small - scale facility, this was quite a popular business in Žilina. Producing a diverse range of products, the factory included a shop on its premises.
Source: M. Mrva