Founder Alajos Heinrich
In order to get to know the rising of the family Heinrich, we have to start with the life history of the dynasty founder. Aloys Heinrich or Alajos Heinrich was born in Székesfehérvár of German origin, who arrived in Buda in 1790, to occupy a trainee position at the ironware store of József Draskovich. It is interesting that he came here, because our iron trade was rather poor compared to those of Pozsony or Besztercebánya. After spending five years as an apprentice, he wandered for a little while and then came to Pest again. He thought that it was high time he consorted with the ironware business of József Wurm and Antal Schmikl in Pest with his savings.
It was a lucky period to invest, because the trade of Pest began booming then. During the Napoleonic Wars, the importance of the Danube increased as several Austrian mines and iron yards were occupied by the French, thus they had to ensure supplies from somewhere else.
Prosperity made Heinrich a rich man, so he decided to get married; he chose Baron Knotz’s daughter Rozina, who gave him ten children.
In 1814, the firm moved from Váci Street to the Piarist Friary, still in the centre of Pest. The next important year for Heinrich was 1827, when he received a certificate of nobility from Emperor Francis I of Austria – he did the Court military services – with a land in Ómoravica and the use of the title “of Ómoravica”. It was a tradition that wealthy tradesmen invested their money in apartment buildings. Heinrich got József Hild to build a two-storey house on the former Feldunasor – somewhere at Apáczai Csere János Street -, but he had houses in Dorottya Street and on Szervita Square as well.
After working together for 37 years, Wurm retired and Heinrich introduced his sons (Alajos and Ferenc) into the business. He sent Alajos Jr. to Graz, the Mecca of ironmongers, to study.
Heinrich Court, the commercial house
During the Reform Age, trading boomed in Pest, so you did not have to go to Styria for ironware. In the meantime, the store faced new challenges, and it turned out that they had to find a new place instead of the downtown store that became too small anyway. The fact that the City Hall and the Piarist Friary were sentenced to demolition due to the construction of Erzsébet Bridge contributed to their decision. In logistical point of view, not the nearness of the Danube, but that of the railway meant priority, thus they considered the inner districts as possible targets.
This new location became the still visible Heinrich Court in Józsefváros at 32 Üllői Street, Budapest. After pulling down the former barracks, the new building was built by 1893, based on the plans of the fashionable architect duet of the era: József Hubert and Károly Móry. The inscription on the façade of the three-storey eclectic building indicates proudly that this is the Heinrich Court. The figures sitting on the stucco-work are allegorical figures related to commerce. The stores were situated under the inscription “Heinrich A. and Sons”. There were depots in the courtyard behind the gate and flats on the floors of the apartment house, where the employees of the firm lived. The lot itself continues in L shape and falls into the neighbouring Mária Street, where the other Heinrich’s house stands. The brick-walled secessionist storehouse was designed by architect Gyula Sándy, who designed the Post Office Palace too.
Meanwhile, the increasing demand in ironware became a world phenomenon, and newly opened shops fungated. Traditional ironmongers could experience what competition was like, and they had to expand their business range. They put an emphasis on the production of kitchenware, but tried to satisfy demands in agricultural machines as well. The development was interrupted by the outbreak of the World War I. The production that was subordinated to the war economy was only the ghost of the former prospering sector. Metal requisition started in 1915, and the Heinrichs exchanged the most of it naturally. The situation worsened after the war, due to lack of iron, but it returned to normal by the 1920s. There was a rapidly growing demand in novelties like phonographs, typewriters and tractors. The Heinrichs vended building ironware, stoves, cookers, ploughs and other agricultural machines preferably. Although family members had influential positions – especially in the financial world – they tried to stay away from politics. The family gave only one politician to the Hungarian public life, Ferenc Heinrich, who worked in two governments, the Friedrich and the Huszár governments, as a minister of trade.
The family kept their tradition after the war too: a family member, who was appointed to a leading position, had to study the profession by working at the family store. In 1921, the firm transformed into a family limited company. Nevertheless, recovering was not simple, because Hungarian ironmongers were very conservative and did not deal with producing cars and car parts. Ferenc Heinrich died in 1925; Archduke Joseph and Miklós Horthy also took part in the burial ceremony.
The company was run by the family until the end of the World War II. The sufferings of the family started in 1946, when the company leaders (Dr. Gábor Heinrich and József Heinrich) were untruthfully accused of storing public necessities for profiteering. They were relocated, though they could not be charged. The ironware store was finally sold and became the headquarters of the VASÉRT Company for four decades since 1948. Of course, this is already part of the past that merely a neon sign recalls. After privatisations, a lot of minor firms operated here, from a parquetry shop to a funeral director. The Court got into the limelight at the beginning of the year again, when it seemed that its internal depots would be demolished and a large investment would be launched there. Since then, there is huge silence, and the empty and closed buildings wait for their fate.
Translated by Zita Aknai
S. Nagy Anikó: Kereskedővilág – Szemelvények a magyar kereskedelem történetéből. Mundus Kiadó, Budapest, 2007.