One hundred sixteen year history (1810-1926) of the Wagon Factory established in 1810 by our Great-Great-Great-Grandfather Heinrich Unger (1786-1855) in the Russian-Mennonite village of Einlage


Von Loran Unger (Email), alle seine Berichte.



             Our forbears originated in what is present-day Holland, Belgium and Northwest Germany. During the Reformation in the early 1500's they converted to the Mennonite religion. They  were then subject to torture and death (being burned at the stake would not be my favorite way to die).  Then the king of Prussia, newly converted to Lutheranism, offered them sanctuary and invited them to immigrate by offering religious freedom and exemption from military service to the pacifistic Mennonites. They migrated in droves and mostly settled in the Nogat and Vistula River valleys and the port city of Danzig (present-day Polish city of Gdansk). Gdansk was made famous by Lech Walesa in his uprising against Communism in the 1980's. All went well until the mid-1700's when Frederick the Great was crowned. He was a belligerent king, fighting lots of wars and the Prussian people resented the Mennonites' military exemptions while their sons were conscripted and died serving Frederick. So Freddie says if you want to continue being draft exempt, pay up. About this time, Empress Catherine the Great came to power in neighboring Russia. She had beat the pants off the Ottoman Turks in the areas around the Black Sea. As she was of Prussian descent herself, she knew about the industriousness and work ethics of the Mennonites. She now had a vast territory to populate and farm so she invited the Mennonites to migrate by offering them monetary incentives, religious freedom and a 100-year exemption from serving in the military. 


Among the first to migrate from Prussia to New (or South) Russia (present-day Ukraine) was our 4th Great-Grandfather Peter Unger (1753-1818) along with our 3rd Great-Grandfather Heinrich Unger (1786-1855), who was three years old at the time. They arrived in October 1789 and settled on Chortitza Island in the Dnieper River, some 50 miles from where it empties into the Black Sea.  Later Peter was a renowned mill builder who figured prominently in the Chortitza Colony in the early 1800's.


3rd Great-Grandfather Heinrich Unger (1786-1855)

Heinrich grew up on Chortitza Island but by 1810 he had moved to the village of Einlage (Kichkas in Russian) on the west bank of the Dnieper River just to the north of Chortitza Island.  In 1810 Heinrich established a wagon factory in Einlage. He married our 3rd Great-Grandmother Margaretha Klassen and our Great-Great-Grandfather Peter Unger was born in 1812. Unfortunately Margaretha died and Heinrich married his second wife Margaretha Sawatzky with whom he had 13 children. Heinrich's wagon factory was a huge success. He was the only wagon maker in Russia who designed and manufactured first-class iron reinforced wagons. When Heinrich died in 1855, ownership and leadership of the factory was turned over to his son Abraham (1825-1880). (See Attachment 1.Einlage and Attachment 2.FabrikHeinrichUnger) 

Note: Abraham was the third oldest son of Heinrich and his second wife. I don't know why Heinrich's oldest son with his first wife, Peter, our Great-Great-Grandfather, wasn't selected to succeed him. Peter was a very capable and successful man in his own right, as he was elected to the very demanding position of District Secretary (Gebietschreiber) of the newly established  Bergthal Colony some 100 miles to the east between 1836 and 1850. I theorize that Peter may not have hit it off with his stepmother, but that's just a guess.


Abraham Heinrich Unger (1825-1880) Heinrich's son, our Great-Great-Grandfather Peter's younger half-brother

Sometime before 1860 the village of Einlage was moved to higher ground away from the Dnieper River because it suffered from flooding nearly every year in the spring thaws. In 1860, Abraham bought the adjoining lot, doubling the size of the factory's footprint. This resulted in a lot 50 X 100 meters, or just a bit larger than an American football field.  He was one of the founders of the Mennonite Brethren Church in Einlage and was its first minister. He designed the "Spring Wagon", which is a wagon with springs under the box and seats, making for a very comfortable ride. He is known as the father of the "Spring Wagon" industry in Russia. This contributed considerably to the success of the enterprise.  However, his double duties as a minister and factory owner adversely affected his health, so in 1874 he resigned as minister.  Additionally, he had heavily subsidized his church and lent (or gave) many of the church members huge sums of money which they neglected to repay. Prior to his death in 1880, he appointed his eldest  son, Abraham Abraham Unger, 1850-1919, as his heir to own and manage the factory. At the time of Abraham senior's death he and the factory were heavily in debt and near bankruptcy(See Fabrik Abram Unger. (englisch, deutsch) Übersetzung von Loran Unger.)


Abraham Abraham Unger (1850-1919) Heinrich's grandson David Abraham Unger (1864-1933) Heinrich's grandson

Abraham, Junior was successful in saving the firm from bankruptcy. Two creditors, the ironmonger Johann Martens of Rosenthal and a colony merchant, Peter Rempel, both asked Abraham to continue doing business by both the deferral of debtand offered to advance even more loans. After deliberation, the brothers, Abraham, David and Gerhard agreed to accept the offer of the creditors and continued to do business. They purchased a horse capstan, band saw, planer and other material required for their continued operation. More workers were hired. Their good, durable wagons made ​​the business popular. Russians came from distant villages to purchase them.
In 1890, the first spring wagon with a new, improved design made of "medium wood" was built. They were expensively upholstered and bought by the more prosperous farmers. They were called "Ungawoagen" in Low German to reflect their Unger brand name. Twenty-five of these new model wagons were manufactured ​​in the spring of the year.
Also in 1890 a petroleum naphtha engine was installed which replaced the horse capstan as a source of power. They worked this engine from six in the morning until six in the evening. In 1901, the production of  hardened-steel, highly polished plow moldboards under the supervision of David began. As a first experiment, three pieces were made and bought by farmer Diedrich Tiessen. The advantage of this type of moldboard was that there was no sticking and clinging of dirt to the polished moldboards which allowed the plow to be pulled with two-horsepower less effort. The testing of this new shiny moldboard was completed by the next year and 300 moldboards of various sizes were delivered. The special process for hardening and polishing the steel was a family secret and was never revealed to anyone. Two rival factories, Kroger and Koop, tried to imitate it, but their plow moldboards were of inferior quality, and lacked any durability. The annual increase in production gave thefactory an enormous upswing. During the course of these years, Abraham not only repaid the debt, but had a nice capital reserve. The factory installed new and larger ovens to accommodate the increase in sales and productivity.  In 1914, the factorymarketed 110,000 moldboards which were distributed for sale far and wide to Ukraine, Bessarabia, Crimea, The Caucasus, Saratov, Russia, Omsk & Tomsk in Western Siberia as well as to Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan. In a letter at the time, the author stated no forward thinking farmer of the time could imagine owning a plow without an Unger moldboard.
The load on the petroleum naphtha motor by the workbenches, lathes, planers and the hardening and polishing of the moldboards was so great that in 1906 Abraham was compelled to install a 50 hp Deutz engine. The annual manufacture of the Model Spring Wagon, a top-of-the-line wagon with modern upholstery and furnishings, multiplied.  Raw material sources were the former creditor Johann Martens of Rosenthal for iron. Wood was obtained from the Dueck brothers of Rosenthal, steel and upholstery material were obtained from the city of Kharkov.
New buildings were constructed across the road. Special experts were employed in carpentry, blacksmith and the paint plant. Two accountants aided the office help. Gerhard Unger led the paint plant and upholstery department. David Unger oversaw the
tempering (hardening) and polishing of the plow moldboards. This process was a company secret. (Another brother, Peter Unger, was long occupied in Alexandrovsk at the Lepp & Wallman factory as a foreman).
            In 1912, after the return of son Leonhard from the Mechanical Engineering Institute in Mannheim (Germany), the manufacture of two-stroke engines began. The three departments, spring-wagon manufacture, the production of hardened moldboard (plows) and the manufacture of two-stroke motors with 100 workers gave one the impression that the once small workshop was now a large factory. The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 interrupted the flourishing of the factory and expansion of its progression to a great works, such as the design of an automobile.
            The Russian revolution overthrowing Tsar Nicholas II occurred in 1917. The factory was nationalized by the Communists in April 1919 and they simply renamed  it Factory #11. The Communists renamed everything from the Tsarist era, including city names, factories, etc. to erase anything and everything which reminded them of the tsars. In October 1919, in the chaotic post-revolutionary times, Abraham and his architect  son, also named Abraham, were forced to leave Einlage because a gang of cutthroat bandits led by a demented gangster named Nestor Makhno was torturing and killing wealthy Mennonites. They took shelter in Ekatinerinoslav at the home of Abraham's friend Johann Toews. Unfortunately, they were found, tortured and executed by the Makhno gang.

Note: According to an internet article, there were 827 Mennonites killed in 1919 by Markhovista gangs in the four Mennonite colonies in South Russia.

Note: A horse capstan is a device powered by two or more horses, which turns  a shaft to provide power to devices such as lathes, planers and saws which require rotating torque power. The capstans powering threshing machines required at least eight horses.

Leonhard Abraham Unger (1884-1941), Heinrich's great-grandson

After Leonhard returned from Germany as a master mechanical engineer in 1912, he was responsible for beginning the manufacture of two-stroke engines as well as the proposed manufacture of automobiles which was disrupted by the outbreak of World War I. After the untimely torture and murder of his father and brother in October 1919, Leonhard was principally responsible for the factory, albeit under Communist ownership and authority. In 1921, Leonhard and two others, Gerhard Rempel and Abraham Peter Unger (Leonhard's cousin) designed and manufactured what is considered to be the first Soviet farm tractor which they named the Zaparozhets. It had a 12 horsepower "Triumph" engine from the Sigoreliny Brothers plant in Bolshoi-Tokmak (Grand-Tokmak). On July 22, 1922, according to records of the Official Commission, they drove a Zaporozhets tractor from the former Koop Factory in Einlage to a field two kilometers away. The tractor plowed 220 square sazhen (Almost eight acres) in four hours 17 minutes. The commission was so pleased with the performance they directed Leonhard to construct a finished prototype of the tractor. The former Koop factory had been renamed Factory #14 after its nationalization. It was managed by Leonhard's cousin Peter Abraham Unger and was likely used for making the prototype tractors because it was somewhat larger and better equipped than the Unger factory. Plus, the factories were now the property of the "State", so decisions of this nature may well have been made by a bureaucrat, leaving them little choice in the matter. On March 10 1923, the first prototype tractor was ready and after a test it was sent as a "gift" to Vladimir I. Lenin in Moscow. On 23 September 1923, a prototype of the tractor was delivered to the "Krasny Progress" (Red Progress) factory in Bolshoi-Tokmak (Grand Tokmak). Krasny Progress was also identified as Factory #8. In the autumn of 1923, the Zaporozhets tractor won a competition with the American tractor "Holt" and used less fuel. In the Spring of 1925 a Zaporozhets, equipped with a 16 horsepower engine, plowed one dessiatine of land (dessiatine=2.702 acres) faster than an American "Fordson" and used less fuel. The tractor was manufactured "In Series" between 1923 and 1926 at the "Krasny Progress" factory. Some sources say 500 tractors were built and others report 800 during its run.  Another source stated that there were 200 tractors produced in 1923-1924. Still another source states that 159 Zaporozhets tractors were built in 1924/1925 and 282 in 1925/1926. This source says all work on the tractor ceased in 1927. (See the information in the next article for the evolution of the Zaparozhets tractor and its manufacture in Bolshoi-Tokmak.)

            There is no information available whether Leonhard Unger, Abraham Peter Unger or Gerhard Rempel were involved in the manufacture of the Zaparozhets tractor in the Bolshoi-Tokmak plant. They most likely were not, as the Communists were notorious for the misuse of talent. At some point Leonhard worked as a Professor at the Agricultural Machinery College. In 1933 he was a department head at the Dneprostroj Dam utilities facility. On December 20, 1933 he was arrested. He was convicted on February 28, 1934 and sentenced to five years in prison in Siberia. On 28 February 1937 he was sentenced by the "Dalnij Vostok" NKVD to be shot. "Dalnij Vostok" means "Far East" in Russian, indicating that the trial was held in Siberia. The NKVD was the secret police of the time and was one of the forerunners of the KGB. Apparently the death sentence was never carried out, as he died in internal exile in Siberia in 1941. In 1989 he was "rehabilitated" by the authorities.

Note: In 1932-1933, Stalin instituted "Holodor". The term means "Kill by Starvation" hoping to forestall an uprising by ethnic Ukrainians. An estimated seven to ten million people died of starvation during this period. Unfortunately, Leonhard was caught up in this reign of terror, although he did survive die in Siberia in 1941.      


More info on the Bolshoi-Tokmak Plant 

Two industrial plants in Bolshoi-Tokmak prior to the mass nationalization in 1919, "Lerner" and "Fuchs" (non-Mennonite) were combined to form the giant "Krasny Progress" enterprise which had been renamed Factory #8 after its nationalization in 1919. They manufactured various agricultural implements, such as seeders, harvesters, mowers, and of course, the Zaparozhets tractor. The tractor was designed to handle small plots and was made of cheap materials so it was easy and inexpensive to manufacture and operate. It was designed to work with a two-bottom plow. (See Attachment 10.zaparozhetswheeledtractor which shows the original tractor designed by Leonhard and the production model with minor modifications.)
            As part of their first "Five-Year Plan" in 1928 the Soviets enforced collectivization so the days of the small, independent farmer were numbered, thus there was no Russian market for a tractor such as the Zaporozhets after 1928.

                    Unger Industrial performance under Communist Rule
            History professor Nataliya Venger of the Dnipropetrovsk University in Zaporizhia, Ukraine (formerly the Tsarist city of Alexandrovsk) did a study of the former Mennonite industries which had been nationalized by the Communists in 1919. She noted that in 1921 the production in the former Unger factory in Einlage was  66% of its production in pre-nationalization years. Other factories had 20% or less of pre-revolution production. There was a question as to why they worked so diligently since they no longer were the owners and really had no driving incentive to succeed. She concluded that Leonhard assumed the Communist era would be only temporary and things would shortly revert to normal. So he made every effort to maintain the production and value of his former factory Leonhard was right, it was temporary, although it took some 70 years to happen.
(See Professor Nataliya Venger’s "Unger Factory". Russian Article, translated by Glenn Miller. (englisch, russisch) von Loran Unger.)


Events pertaining to the factory after the 1920's

In 1926 the Stalinist government evacuated Einlage, because they were going to construct the Dneprogres Dam on the Dnieper River and the present location of Einlage II would be under water.  There is no information as to what happened to the Unger factory after evacuation in 1926.  It is probable that the factory's wagon and plow departments as well as other functions were moved to Zaporizhia (formerly named Alexandrovsk) and combined with the former Lepp & Walman factory, which had been renamed Komunar by the communistsThe Komunar factory survived and still produces automobiles with the brand name of Saparoshez (Zaparozhets), the same name Leonhard called his tractor back in the 1920's. The map of the village designated as Einlage III in 1941 does not show any Factory #11, it was most likely  just abandoned and its functions were assumed elsewhere. David A. Unger, one of the sons of Abraham A. Unger bought a small house in the village of Chortitza and enjoyed his hobby of beekeeping, dying in 1933.   


What's in a name?

The use of a person's father's name as the middle name of a son makes for some awkward construction, such Abraham Abraham Unger, but it was necessary to clear up some confusion because of the large numbers of Abrahams in our history. This tradition dates back at least as far as the 1400's to the Dutch. Also the Russians invariably use patronyms. Abraham would undoubtedly always be addressed as Abraham Abrahamovich by his Russian customers.

Zuletzt geändert am 6 Dezember, 2017