From baker to millionaire

The life story of a man with vision and a remarkable sense of entrepreneurship.

Viennese baking in France

August Zeng started his professional life as an artillery officer. It was a fine and promising career path for a young man, but he soon lost interest in it. At 30 years old, he moved from Vienna to Paris, with the idea to bring Viennese style baked goods to Paris. He had no experience in the field of baking, but nevertheless he opened a small bakery called “Boulangerie Viennoise”, hired a Viennese baker-assistant and started his business. Eventually the bakery succeeded. One of the reasons for that was the Viennese steam oven that Zang brought with him from Austria and was not known in France before. With steam baking method, Zang prepared many delicious Viennese pastries among which they were also the today very famous "croissants". Many people believe that croissants originate from France, but in fact they evolved from the Austrian "kipfel"

French journalism in Vienna

As the bakery began to flourish, Zang's interest turned to new areas. He became friends with Emile de Girardin, the Parisian journalist who founded the journal La Presse and learned everything he could about modern journalism from him. In 1848, when censorship was lifted in Austria, Zang returned to Vienna and founded "Die Presse", a daily newspaper for the educated middle class. He introduced many of the same popularizing journalistic techniques that were already in practice in France and became the father of modern commercial journalism in Austria. His newspaper contained shorter, easily understood articles with paragraphs and it was available for a notably low price supported by advertising.

By July 3, 1848, Die Presse had 12.000 subscribers (which was enormously for the time) and within a few years it became one of the Europe's leading newspapers. In 1864, a dispute led two key journalists to leave Die Press and found "The New Free Presse" (Neue Freie Presse). The original "Die Presse" was soon known as "The Old Press" and in 1867 Zang sold it to a consortium of big financiers for millions of dollars. His entrepreneurial spirit needed a new challenge.

A wealthy banker and mine owner

In the following years, August Zang founded a bank named the Vereinsbank and became its director. It was only a few years, and once again, Zang knew when it was time to get out. In 1872, a year before the famous financial crisis that triggered a depression in Europe and North America, he retired. He had safely invested his millions and now, on the evening of his life, he became a landowner and tradesman. He bought a mine in Styria, the site of which is still known today as "Zangtal" ("Zang Valley"). When he died in 1888, he was most known as a wealthy press magnate, banker and mine owner. His obituary in "Die Presse" said only that he had spent some years in Paris, omitting all mention of his role in baking.

The mine inspired tomb

Zang`s widow wanted something special for her husband`s tomb. She hired the Tyrolean artist Heinrich Natter to make it. The task was to combine the real world with the fantastic and symbolic. The final result was a magnificent ornate tomb at the Central Cemetery in Vienna that still attracts visitors and tourist from all over the world.

The tomb is mine inspired. The base is a pyramidal rock, crowned by an eagle, under which there is a looped palm branch and two portrait medallions of August Zang and his father. The entrance of the tomb is guarded by two old dwarf figures holding lanterns. On the steps sits a young man holding triumphantly broken chains in one hand (for the victorious revolution of 1848) and in the other hand a tablet with the inscription:"Die Presse", Motto: Equal right for all. Founded by August Zang.

Fascinating life stories

The life story of August Zang is certainly very fascinating. With vision and a remarkable sense of entrepreneurship, he achieved an incredible business success in many different fields, but most importantly, his actions made in impact in history.

Do you know any other less know person, buried in your local cemetery, whose achievements in life should be better known? Contact us and share their story with us.



Text and photo sources: