The German Ministry of War awards the mining and foundry
concern Hörder Bergwerks- und Hüttenverein (HBH) a
major ammunition contract for a new rifle for the German
Army. Lacking the capacity to execute the order itself,
HBH turns to the Thuringian entrepreneur Heinrich Ehrhardt, offering him the contract in
return for a commission. Undaunted by his lack of a
workforce trained in ammunition production, to say
nothing of the required production capacity or financial
resources, Ehrhardt takes up the challenge and accepts
the order, founding Rheinische Metallwaaren- und
Maschinenfabrik Actiengesellschaft on April 13th 1889
with the help of a bank syndicate.
On May 7th 1889, the new company is registered at the
Local Court in Düsseldorf. The same year sees the
start-up of production in rented space in Düsseldorf's
Talstraße. Barely a year later, the young enterprise is
already employing 1,400 people, and turning out 800,000
bullets daily; by the end of 1891, a total of 120 million
rounds will have been produced.
At the same time as completing the company's first
government order, Heinrich Ehrhardt is already erecting
his own factory buildings in Düsseldorf-Derendorf, to
which production is gradually transferred.
On January 28th, the Imperial Patent Office awards
Heinrich Ehrhardt a patent (No. 67921) for a
"Process for Punching and the Simultaneous Shaping
of Iron and Steel Ingots in a Heated Condition".
Numerous attempts by the resourceful engineer
beginning at Zella (in Thuringia) back in 1889 to
find a way of producing seamless tubes are now crowned by
success. In addition, he develops a pressing and drawing
technique, for which he is awarded Patent No. 73005 on
April 21st 1892. The tubes and hollow bodies manufactured
using Ehrhardt's pressing and drawing technique find
eager customers in industry, the military, railway and
shipping companies as well as gas and water utilities.
In the Derendorf plant, a tube mill and iron foundry are
set up in order to start artillery tube production. The
new production facilities also permit the manufacture of
non-military items such as steel wheels or cylinders.
Because the expanded production programme has
substantially increased the need for steel, Heinrich
Ehrhardt acquires (with Paul Heye, his later son-in-law),
a small drop forge in Rath near Düsseldorf, which is
transformed into the Metallwerk Ehrhardt & Heye stock
For the first time, Rheinmetall stock is officially
listed on the Berlin stock exchange.
The company Rather Metallwerk is integrated into
Rheinische Metallwaaren- und Maschinenfabrik as the
"Rath Division". Ehrhardt's company henceforth
has the capacity to manufacture its own high-grade steels
and semi-finished products, making it largely independent
of outside suppliers.
Ehrhardt develops the first fieldworthy recoiling cannon,
one of the outstanding engineering achievements of the
age. Now nearly 60, he is awarded high honours by the
king of Norway, the emperor of Austria, and finally, the
German Kaiser, Wilhelm II. For the company, Ehrhardt's
invention means major commercial success.
On the Lüneburg Heath in northern Germany, not far from
the village of Unterlüß, Rheinische Metallwaaren- und
Maschinenfabrik leases a large area of land for testing
its weapons and ammunition. The first building to go up
in 1905 is a 16-square meter shop for manufacturing
shells and cartridge cases. In the years that follow, the
firing range is considerably extended with additions to
the site. Today, the Rheinmetall testing terrain in
Unterlüß comprises a total area of approximately 50
square kilometres, 80 percent of which is used for
By acquiring Munitions- und Waffenfabrik AG of Sömmerda
in Thuringia, previously known as Dreyse'sche
Gewehrfabrik, a manufacturer of handguns, cartridges and
igniters, Rheinische Metallwaaren- und Maschinenfabrik
extends its production programme and secures its hold on
In the years that follow, production is systematically
expanded. Rheinmetall's recoiling cannon brings the
company its first business successes abroad. The British
Army orders 18 batteries including ammunition and
cassons. Additional orders are received from Norway,
Austria and the United States of America.
After an intense competitive evaluation Rheinmetall
receives an order from the US government for 50
rapid-fire guns with long barrel recoil, together with
the accompanying ammunition. Even though this order was
not very large it was highly significant as the US rarely
ordered foreign weaponry.
The first loading, assembly and packing operation for
artillery rounds is built at Unterlüß.
With a view to extending the Düsseldorf production
facilities, Rheinmetall acquires the neighbouring
"Germania" factory, which is integrated into
the company as Works II.
The "System Ehrhardt" mountain howitzer is
fielded in German Southwest Africa. The Unterlüß range
is extended so as to be able to test fire Rheinmetall's
new naval guns.
At the outbreak of the First World War in August,
Rheinmetall is one of Germany's largest manufacturers of
military equipment. In January 1914, the Rheinmetall
factories employ a workforce of almost 8,000. A year
later, Rheinmetall has a total of 14,000, and by 1918 the
workforce has mushroomed to almost 48,000 blue- and
white-collar employees, including some 9,000 women.
With the cease-fire in November, arms production in
Germany comes to an abrupt halt, and the company, whose
production space in Düsseldorf has increased nearly
fourfold during the war years, is forced to lay off much
of its staff.
Signed in June, the Treaty of Versailles prohibits the
German Reich from manufacturing large calibre weapons,
initially depriving Rheinmetall of a substantial share of
its livelihood. With the majority of its share capital in
state hands by 1925, Rheinmetall responds to the new
situation by moving increasingly into non-military
production. In the years that follow, steelmaking at the
Rath mill is substantially augmented with a view to
assuring the production of civil-sector products.
During the first half of the 1920s, farming equipment and heavy steam
carriages and locomotives are being built in the
Rhineland, while light-engineering products (typewriters
and calculating machines), grinding machines and
automotive components are manufactured at Sömmerda in
Thuringia. By 1929, the latter plant has developed into
the biggest manufacturer of cardan shafts in Germany.
The Allies permit Rheinmetall to recommence production of
medium calibre weapon systems on a small scale.
Belgian and French troops occupy the Rheinland, including
Rheinmetall's Derendorf plant. With orders short,
civil-sector production in Düsseldorf is soon making a
loss and apart from the company's profitable line
of steam ploughs is gradually phased out.
The German Reich acquires a controlling stake in
Rheinmetall through Vereinigte Industrieanlagen AG.
Well into old age, Heinrich Ehrhardt continues to apply his creativity energy to
the development of military technology. Not until 1921,
at the age of 81, does he step down from the Supervisory
Board to go into retirement in his Thuringian homeland,
where, on November 20th 1928, he dies at the age of 88.
In April, Rheinmetall acquires August Borsig GmbH, a
company facing liquidation but still one of the most
important manufacturers of locomotives in the German
Reich at the time. Rheinmetall thus gains possession of a
large plant in the Tegel district of Berlin.
Rheinmetall and Borsig merge to form Rheinmetall-Borsig
Since the mid 1930s, Rheinmetall-Borsig AG as was
true of many other industrial enterprises at the time
has been developing and manufacturing weapons and
ammunition on behalf of the Reich War Ministry. These
range from machineguns, automatic cannon and antitank
guns to "Minenwerfer" mortars, field howitzers,
antiaircraft artillery and railway guns.
The subsidiary Alkett is founded in Berlin for the
production of tanks and other weapons.
Rheinmetall-Borsig AG moves its headquarters from
Düsseldorf to Berlin.
Outbreak of the Second World War. In the very first year
of the war, all German arms factories are brought under
the direct control of Wehrmacht agencies.
Rheinmetall-Borsig AG is absorbed by the state-owned
conglomerate Reichswerke AG Hermann Göring. Since the
outbreak of war, Rheinmetall-Borsig's Executive and
Supervisory Boards have been appointed by the directors
of what has since become Germany's largest industrial
concern, leading to the complete control of
Rheinmetall-Borsig by the German state. The previous
Executive Board, which still managed the company as a
private-sector enterprise, is replaced.
As the war progresses, the Nazi regime demands ever
greater efforts on the part of industry to step up arms
production. The requirements of the German Army, Navy and
Luftwaffe for technical innovations force the development
departments of Rheinmetall-Borsig to push ahead at full
speed, too. By July 1944, the company has developed some
twenty weapon systems that have been fielded by the
Rheinmetall factories are hit hard by Allied air raids
and production is severely disrupted. As a consequence of
a heavy air attack, numerous production departments of
the Düsseldorf factories are relocated to territories in
central Germany and to the eastern provinces of the
Reich, e.g. Guben, Apolda und Breslau. The Berlin and
Sömmerda factories likewise absorb relocated production
facilities. In November 1944, British air attacks inflict
severe damage on the Derendorf and Rath factories.
Following the end of the Second World War, most of the
Rheinmetall-Borsig factories are destroyed. The sites in
western Germany Düsseldorf, Berlin and Unterlüß
come under the control of the western Allies and
trusteeship. Some of the factories are totally dismantled
by the victorious powers; assets in the areas occupied by
the Red Army are lost. Up until 1950, there is a complete
ban on production.
In order to make it easier to obtain production permits
for its plants in West Germany, two independent companies
are formed: Rheinmetall AG in Düsseldorf and Borsig AG
in Berlin. Rheinmetall-Borsig AG becomes a pure holding
The new operating companies receive permission to
manufacture civil sector products. In Berlin, Borsig AG
becomes one of Germany's largest manufacturers of steam
boilers and refrigeration systems. In Düsseldorf,
typewriters, shock absorbers, elevators, tannery machines
as well as transport and loading equipment (e.g. cranes)
On June 23rd, Röchling'sche Eisen- und Stahlwerke GmbH
takes over a majority interest in Rheinmetall-Borsig AG
from the Federal Republic of Germany, the legal successor
of the German Reich. At the beginning of August, its
subsidiary Borsig AG is sold to the Salzgitter group.
In November of the same year, the General Meeting in
Berlin votes to rename the company Rheinmetall Berlin AG.
Its Rhineland-based subsidiary, Rheinmetall AG, is
transformed into Rheinmetall GmbH in 1957. In parallel
with the creation of the Bundeswehr, Rheinmetall reverts
to the production of military equipment, manufacturing
machineguns, automatic cannon and ammunition for the
country's new armed forces.
Apart from light weapons, Rheinmetall GmbH now begins
manufacturing heavier ordnance as well, i.e. gun tubes
and gun carriages. Rheinmetall begins producing the main
armament for tanks and artillery systems. A tank-killer
gun, a standard tank turret and a self-propelled howitzer
are all developed in Düsseldorf.
Rheinmetall acquires a majority stake in NICO Pyrotechnik Hanns-Jürgen
Diederichs KG of Trittau.
In Unterlüß, Rheinmetall GmbH erects a state-of-the-art
temperature testing facility for climatic testing of
weapons and military equipment; it is extensively used
for testing civil sector products as well.
Main production of the FH 70 field howitzer commences.
The first Leopard 2 main battle tank is delivered to the
Bundeswehr. It is fitted with a 120 mm smoothbore gun
developed by Rheinmetall GmbH, widely hailed as a major
technical breakthrough in Nato tank armament.
Diehl Munitionssysteme GmbH & Co. KG and Rheinmetall
jointly found Gesellschaft für Intelligente Wirksysteme
mbH (GIWS). The company specialises in intelligent
ammunition and other lethal mechanisms for a wide variety
of operational scenarios.
Rheinmetall celebrates its 100th anniversary.
Rheinmetall GmbH acquires a 60-percent-share of MaK
System GmbH of Kiel, a unit of Fried. Krupp GmbH. MaK
System GmbH not only makes high-quality tactical systems,
but also special vehicles for use in environmental
protection. In 1992 Rheinmetall GmbH takes over the
remaining 40 percent of the company, absorbing it as
a wholly own subsidiary. The same year, MaK supplies the
Bundeswehr with the first Wiesel armoured weapons
After more than a century, Rheinmetall GmbH abandons its
longstanding site in Düsseldorf-Derendorf, concentrating
its defence technology production capacities at
Unterlüß, its "Competence Centre" in northern
Germany. Its R&D, sales and headquarters units move
into new quarters in Ratingen, just north of Düsseldorf.
By taking up a stake in WNC-Nitrochemie GmbH of Aschau am
Inn, a producer of powder, propellants and combustible
cartridge components, Rheinmetall underscores its
commitment to munitions production.
Rheinmetall GmbH changes its name to Rheinmetall
Rheinmetall Industrie GmbH acquires a 60-percent-stake in
from the Nuremberg-based Diehl group, augmenting
Rheinmetall's expertise in medium calibre automatic
Transformation of Rheinmetall Industrie GmbH into a stock
In December, acting in cooperation with Badenwerk AG (as
a dormant partner), Rheinmetall acquires a
51-percent-stake in STN Atlas Elektronik GmbH from the
bankrupt Bremer Vulkan concern, the remaining
49 percent being taken over by the third partner of
the consortium, British Aerospace. Industrial management
of STN Atlas Elektronik is assigned to Rheinmetall. A
company with global stature in the domain of defence
electronics and civil maritime electronics, STN Atlas
Elektronik reinforces Rheinmetall's competence in weapons
and ammunition as well as in systems and equipment.
Rheinmetall acquires a 33-percent-interest in the Dutch
company Eurometaal N.V. of Zaandam.
Rheinmetall Industrie AG prepares for future changes in
the defence technology sector by reorganising is
corporate structure. To improve its ability to cooperate
on the national and international level, it spins off its
operational units, converting them into legally
autonomous corporations. The Weapons & Ammunition
division of Rheinmetall Industrie AG is transferred to
the newly founded corporation Rheinmetall W&M GmbH,
jointly based in Unterlüß and Ratingen.
MaK System GmbH delivers the first serially produced
Keiler armoured mine clearing vehicle to the Bundeswehr.
A prototype of the armoured vehicle is already operating
successfully in Bosnia.
Rheinmetall takes over the 25-percent-share in STN Atlas
group held by Energie Baden-Württemberg (formerly
Badenwerk AG), giving the company a controlling interest
in STN Atlas GmbH. Effective January 1st, STN Atlas
Elektronik spins off its civil electronics activities,
transferring them to the newly founded STN Atlas Marine
Electronics GmbH of Hamburg.
Also in January, WNC Nitrochemie of Aschau am Inn (a
subsidiary of Rheinmetall Industrie AG) and the Wimmis,
Switzerland-based powder & propellant unit of SM
Schweizerische Munitionsunternehmung of Thun,
Switzerland, merge their operations in a joint venture, Nitrochemie Wimmis AG.
Jointly developed by Rheinmetall and MaK, the first unit
of a new tube artillery system, the PzH 2000
self-propelled howitzer, is transferred to the
Bundeswehr. MaK's Rhino mine clearing system goes into
operation in Croatia.
Rheinmetall Industrie AG takes over the defence
technology component of BUCK System GmbH of Neuenburg,
which is subsequently incorporated as BUCK Neue Technologien GmbH.
Preparing itself for the alliances and consolidations
which would characterise the forthcoming restructuring of
the European defence industry, Rheinmetall moves to unite
its defence technology capabilities under the banner of
the newly founded Rheinmetall DeTec AG.
In September, Rheinmetall DeTec AG acquires a majority
stake in Oerlikon Contraves AG of Zurich, a world-renowned
supplier of combined gun and guided missile systems for
In order to bolster its position in the medium calibre
sector and establish an even wider presence in the
European market, Rheinmetall DeTec AG increases its stake
in the Dutch corporation Eurometaal Holding N.V. to 66
At the end of 1999, Rheinmetall DeTec acquires the
defence technology assets of IWKA Aktiengesellschaft of
Karlsruhe. These include KUKA Wehrtechnik GmbH of
Augsburg and Henschel Wehrtechnik GmbH of Kassel, both
leading suppliers of wheeled armoured vehicles.
The hitherto independently operating companies Henschel
Wehrtechnik, KUKA Wehrtechnik and MaK System Gesellschaft
mbH are merged to form Rheinmetall Landsysteme GmbH.
To create synergies in the field of active and passive
countermeasures systems for ground, air and naval
applications, Nico Pyrotechnik Hanns-Jürgen Diederichs
GmbH & Co. KG and RUAG Schweiz AG acquire
31 percent of BUCK Neue Technologien GmbH; in 2002,
Rheinmetall DeTec becomes sole owner of BUCK Neue
Narrowing its focus to core defence activities,
Rheinmetall sells the Eurometaal Holding N.V. subsidiary
Intergas B.V., a furnace and boiler manufacturer.
Eurometaal N.V. (Netherlands) is closed.
Rheinmetall's subsidiaries and affiliates are organised
according to their competency into four strategic
business units, each being responsible for its own
markets and results:
- Land Systems
- Air Defence Systems
- Weapon and Ammunition
- Defence Electronics
In a parallel move, the
company's operations in the large and medium calibre
domain are merged in the Weapon and Ammunition division.
As a result, the jointly managed companies Mauser-Werke Oberndorf
and Oerlikon Contraves Pyrotec AG are transferred to this division.
The German parliament approves a project to develop a new
infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) for the Bundeswehr,
viewed as a project critical for sustaining the future
viability of the German defence industry. The ensuing
development contract is worth some 200 million. In
order to execute it, Rheinmetall Landsysteme and
Krauss-Maffei Wegmann found the joint venture PSM GmbH,
in which each company holds a 50-percent-stake.
Rheinmetall acquires the remaining shares of Oerlikon
Contraves AG, becoming sole owner of the air defence
In line with the Group's policy of focusing on ground
forces technology, STN Atlas Elektronik is divided into
two parts. Its Land, Air Systems and Simulation
departments remain part of Rheinmetall DeTec, operating
as Rheinmetall Defence Electronics
GmbH. The Naval
Systems unit and the production departments are
transferred to BAE Systems, former co-owner of the
Rheinmetall Landsysteme delivers the first of its new
mine-resistant Marder 1 A5 infantry fighting vehicles to
the KFOR troops in Kosovo.
By selling the civil sector-oriented Heidel group (a
manufacturer of machines and machine tools), Rheinmetall
DeTec successfully completes its strategy of shedding
Operating worldwide and employing a global workforce of
7,400, the subsidiaries and affiliates of Rheinmetall
DeTec AG generate annual sales of approximately 1.6
billion, making it one of the largest and most important
defence technology companies in Europe.