My family, the steel mill and I

The family Willing has been linked with the steel production site in Duisburg-Nord for five generations – great-great-grandfather witnessed first steel production in 1891.

Jörg Willing is standing on the roof of the thyssenkrupp headquarters in the north of Duisburg and is looking down on the almost ten square kilometer large works premises below him. Where there used to be farmland now stands Europe’s largest steel production site, a fully integrated iron and steelmaking plant where the entire production – from starting materials down to finished flat steel – takes place.

When August Thyssen produced the first steel on December 17, 1891, in Duisburg-Bruckhausen, Jörg Willing’s great-great-grandfather was one of the 100 first workers of the site which looks back on a history of 125 years and nowadays employs 13,000 people. “The history of the company was or is still linked to the history of 15 Willing family members, me included “, says the 55-year old facility manager. On his daily round to one of the 80 office buildings for which he is responsible, he could stop by four other members of the Willing family: his cousin Klaus Willing, his brother André Willing and his two nieces Katharina and Sarah Willing.

Mirror of technological progress and social change

New professions, differences between generations and technological progress: The historic changes within the company have often been a mirror of the family history: “I was born when the Beetle – which was also made of Thyssen steel – was still the typical car in the streets of the young Federal Republic of the sixties of last century“, says Jörg Willing.

His father Werner joined the company in 1954, one year before the wide strip mill of today’s hot rolling mill 1 was inaugurated in the presence of the then Chancellor Konrad Adenauer as a token of the successful reconstruction of the Federal Republic of Germany. “My father was economical and a family man. Back then, we lived with three generations in our little 85 sqm house in Duisburg-Röttgersbach. After several extensions, it now houses far fewer persons on 150 sqm. So to speak, our family house has grown along with the steel mill.” During meals, the family used to discuss about the cross-generation employer “Thyssen”.

Jörg Willing’s two nieces have completed training as office administrators at Steel. They belong to the generation of the so-called “digital natives“ who grew up with the smartphone and can hardly imagine that Jörg Willing and his colleagues shared a telephone and wrote on a typewriter in the eighties of last century.

Like many others, the great-great-grandfather moved from the countryside into the city at the end of the 19th century to work in the thriving industry and in search of a better life. “Irrespective of the economic situation, family members of each generation have been trained here”, explains Jörg Willing. His daughter Lena has completed an apprenticeship as industrial clerk and now studies in Essen. Her father hopes that she will return to thyssenkrupp after her studies and get involved in shaping the future of the company.

Is the history of your family also closely connected with that of the company? Did thyssenkrupp play an important part in your family before your generation? Or do any of your family members presently work at Steel? If so, then share your story with us:! We would be pleased to publish it.