Way Ahead of Her Time: Company Manager Fanny Koenig

What would Koenig & Bauer look like today if company founder Friedrich Koenig had married another woman? Would the company still exist at all if Fanny Koenig had not demonstrated true pioneering spirit in one of the most difficult times? These purely hypothetical questions tempt us to think about a story that never existed. Why is it still worth asking them? Because they show how important the person Fanny Koenig and her actions were for the company and still are today.

Sustainability & Society
Read time: approx. 6 minutes

Childhood & Youth

Not very much is known about Fanny Koenig's early years. Born Fanny Jacobs in Saalfeld, Thuringia, in 1808, she, her three siblings and her mother Johanna were soon to fear a life of poverty. With the early death of their father, the young family had lost their livelihood and moved back to Suhl, their mother's hometown, fearing poverty. As chance would have it, Johanna was a childhood friend of Friedrich Koenig, who would soon learn of the family's predicament and thereupon support them financially. During a visit in 1825, he met the children of his childhood friend, including the 17-year-old Fanny. The feelings of sympathy on both sides led to their marriage in the same year, which produced two sons, Wilhelm and Friedrich, and a daughter, Louise. Even this family happiness was not granted much time together: Friedrich Koenig died after just eight years of marriage. 

Young Widow Full Of Drive

Let's travel to the year 1833: Friedrich Koenig has just died. He leaves behind not only his wife and three children, but also a company that - like many others - is struggling with the economic slump that is rampant throughout Europe. How do you think Fanny Koenig will feel in this situation? Besides the mourning for her deceased husband, worries about her own future and that of her children determine her everyday life as a constant companion. She does not really have time to come to terms with her loss and accept her new role as a single mother. The order books of the once ambitious company are empty, only a handful of the proud number of employees are left. Fanny Koenig sees her husband's life's work, her livelihood, going under. All this in the early 19th century – a time when women's rights were not yet given too much importance. A time when the proportion of women working for wages outside their own households is vanishingly small. A time when state-organised social security was still unthinkable. A time when Fanny Koenig can observe everything but do nothing. Or can she?

Although her commitment and her actionism do not exactly enthuse her late husband's business partner, Andreas Bauer, at first, the entrepreneur eventually lets Fanny Koenig work as a correspondent in the factory. As so often in Koenig & Bauer's corporate history, courage and confidence were once again to pay off. With an entrepreneurial sense for important business relationships, as well as for the right tone, Fanny Koenig procures orders for three printing presses for the company with just two cover letters. Two of them are ordered by the Leipzig printer Breitkopf und Härtel, the other is delivered to St. Petersburg a year later.

One of the World's First Female Business Managers

It is said that special circumstances require special measures. The situation in which Fanny Koenig finds herself at the beginning of 1833 can certainly be objectively described as "special". With her extremely committed intervention in the male-dominated business field of printing press manufacture, she not only helps to revive production and sales at Koenig & Bauer but also takes a decisive step towards emancipation - long before this gains political and social recognition.

In the following years, the general situation on the market eased again. The discontent that gave rise to the so-called "machine strikers" at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution visibly subsides around 1835. Workers and the population were gradually able to leave behind the initial concern of being replaced by machines and unskilled labour. Therefore, Koenig & Bauer's order books gradually fill up. Once again, it is thanks to Fanny Koenig's tireless persistence that Andreas Bauer follows the emerging trend and rehires at least part of the workforce.

Nevertheless, her gaze does not end at the factory gates. Many of the crisis-stricken employees live in the immediate vicinity in Oberzell. The majority are still unemployed and sometimes suffer from hunger due to a lack of social security. For Fanny Koenig – perhaps also due to her personal childhood experiences – this is an untenable situation. She initiates a soup kitchen in the convent church, where anyone in need can stop and eat at lunchtime. It is an act of charity and a sign of the – for her time extraordinary – sense of social responsibility. Moreover, that was to be just the beginning, because when her two sons Wilhelm and Friedrich joined the company, Fanny Koenig was able to devote more time to the company's social concerns.

Social Commitment

Having weathered the crisis years of the early 1830s, Koenig & Bauer was able to build on its success in the decades that followed, Fanny Koenig's thoughts and efforts are now directed even more intensively towards the living conditions of her employees. She is aware of the employees' worries and can hardly bear the injustice that a day of illness or an accident at work poses an enormous financial threat to them. On 1 January 1855, together with Andreas Bauer, she founds the factory health insurance fund, the forerunner of today's company health insurance fund. Almost 30 years before Otto von Bismarck's social legislation, Koenig & Bauer thus immediately offers its employees cover against health risks, financed in equal parts by the workforce and the company. In addition to financial support in the event of illness, the company health insurance fund also guarantees employees doctor's visits and surgical treatment as well as free medication.

Fanny Koenig's efforts are later followed by a factory savings bank and a fund for invalids, widows and orphans. With sales of printing presses picking up and earning opportunities on the rise, the population of Zell am Main is growing rapidly. As much as Fanny Koenig is happy about the success of her company and the increase in the workforce, she is also concerned about the situation of the children. Poorer working parents in particular are not able to look after their offspring. To counteract this, in 1865 she founded an institution together with the local priest to look after the children of the factory workers. She will co-finance the so-called "Kinderbewahranstalt" with an annual contribution.

Legacy & Role Model

Fanny Koenig created a social legacy that will outlive her life. After her death on 1 April 1882, the "Fanny Koenigsche Holzstiftung" was established from her estate to provide poor people in Zell am Main with wood and coal. The former "Kinderbewahranstalt" celebrated its 150th birthday in 2016 as a modern day care centre for children. To this day, the Koenig & Bauer company health insurance fund offers comprehensive insurance cover for active and former employees of the company.

With her dedicated commitment and social achievements, Fanny Koenig has left a lasting mark on Koenig & Bauer's corporate culture and proved early on that economic vision knows no gender and that women can certainly find their place in business. So today she is still – or perhaps even more than ever – a role model for all Koenig & Bauer employees.

The fact that industries in general and the printing press industry in particular are largely male-dominated cannot be eliminated overnight. However, Koenig & Bauer actively promotes women in the company and specifically targets female applicants, for example in job advertisements, at career fairs and through annual participation in Girls' Day. Equal opportunities are firmly anchored in Koenig & Bauer's DNA.