Last modified: 2012-08-01 by ivan sache
Keywords: aciéries de paris et d'outreau | hammers: 2 (red) | letters: apo (blue) |
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House flag of APO - Image by Ivan Sache, 23 September 2010
The Outreau steelworks are one of the symbols of the rise and fall of
heavy industry in the north of France.
An Imperial Decree, signed on 17 August 1857 by Napoléon III, allowed "the building of ironworks including four smelting furnaces, two cupola furnaces, 60 coke ovens and the machinery required for the factory's fonctioning" in the hamlet of Manihen, part of the municipality of Outreau, located a few km south of the port town of Boulogne-sur-Mer. The ironworks used iron ore extracted from the mine set up in 1854 on the neighbouring plateau of &EAcute;quihen. The first owner of the ironworks, Société des Forges et Fonderies de Montataire, was not very successful, so that production really started only in 1902, with the creation of the Aciéries de Paris et Outreau (APO) company. The company's name (Paris and Outreau ironworks) reflects the location of its social seat in Paris, while its industrial production was maintained in Outreau.
APO specialized in the production of cast iron pieces "of any size and weight"; the factory contributed to the war effort in 1914-1918, casting shells and armor pieces. During the interbellum, the ironworks were modernized with the introduction of Siemens-Martin open-heart furnaces (1920) and electric furnaces (1923). Other heavy industries developed in Outreau, whose population increased from 1,000 in 1867 to 6,700 in 1927; the factory workers, living in specific boroughs, organized unions to defend their rights. In 1938, a long strike in the APO caused the firing of several workers, whose families were helped by the municipality, led by Mayor Ernest Desclève (1888-1950), himself a former union's leader. At the time, APO operated four smelting furnaces and employed 800 workers.
The Outreau ironworks was closed in 1940 following the German
invasion. Hit by allied bombings at the end of the war, the factory
and the smelting furnaces were progressively revamped and rebuilt, in
spite of a project of complete suppression, according to the Monnet
Plan aimed at reorganizing iron and steel production in France.
In 1950, manufacturing of cast iron was dropped and the ironworks specialized in the production of ferromanganese, a main component of steel, which had started in 1906 in Outreau, following a technology transfer from the Saint-Louis factory, Marseilles. Up to 10% of the world's ferromanganese was produced by the APO furnaces.
In 1960, the ferromanganese demand increased but there was no space left in Outreau to build a new factory. APO opened a brand new factory in the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer, with three furnaces launched in 1961, 1964 and 1972, respectively. Another planned furnace was never built since the APO hit by the oil and steel crisis in the mid 1970s; the company got into compulsory liquidation on 18 December 1978 and its assets were taken over by the Comilog mining company. The next day, 1,050 Outreau workers were fired, in spite of the organization of a "dead day" in Boulogne on 7 December; this increased the local unemployment rate from 14% to 19% (national average, 6%).
Maintaining only the Boulogne factory under the corporate name of Société de Ferromanganèse de Paris-Outreau, the Comilog was absorbed in 1997 by Eramet, the world's leader in manganese alloy production,owner of eight factories worldwide. Following "technical problems" with the new furnace launched in February 2001, Eramet closed the Boulogne factory in November 2003, firing 350 workers; it is quite clear that the original "Outreau process", constantly improved during the APO years but kept quite secrete, was progressively lost during the Comilog and Eramet periods.
Ivan Sache, 23 September 2010
APO had once its own fleet; the company house flag, as shown in the Yearbook of the Central Committee of France Shipowners (1922), is white with a blue border, two red hammers crossed per saltire (a traditional symbol of heavy industry) and the blue letters "A" (top), "P" (left), and "O" (right) around the hammers.
Dominique Cureau, 23 September 2010