In the early 20th century, Eleusis was at the forefront of industrial development. The abundant (and inexpensive) land, the opening of the Corinth Canal, the Piraeus-Athens-Peloponnese railway line and the port of Eleusis had transformed the city into an ideal location for the founding of new industries. Initially, the emphasis was on small enterprises that could take advantage of local raw materials (flour mills, soap industries, olive oil mills). In 1902, however, a group of visionary entrepreneurs selected Eleusis as the ideal site for one of the largest and most remarkable heavy industrial units in Greece, “Titan”.
A group of 30-somethings
The team consisted of Andreas Hadjikyriakos, Nikolaos Kanellopoulos, Leontios Oikonomidis, and Alexandros Zachariou. All of them were members of the famous “Zurich Circle”, a group of entrepreneurs and industrialists who had graduated from the Zurich Polytechnikum. Hadjikyriakos graduated as a chemical engineer and became a director of cement companies in Switzerland and Spain. Kanellopoulos studied chemistry and knew the potential of Eleusis as a manager of the Charilaou soap factory since 1895. Oikonomidis was also a chemist and took over Piraeus Color Works after his brother’s untimely death. Zachariou was a civil engineer and founder of a machinery import company in Piraeus that specialised in steam boilers.
The birth of Titan
These four businessmen joined forces and capital in 1902 to set up the “Hadjikyriakos, Zachariou and Co” company. Their headquarters were in Piraeus but they erected their plant in Eleusis in order to benefit from local assets. They built a jetty to serve the sailboats and steamers that transported raw materials (especially pozzolanic ash from Santorini) and cement. The factory was located next to the coastal hills of Eleusis, from which a vast amount of marl was mined and used in the manufacture of cement. Ultra-modern steam engines provided power for the factory and the handling of the raw materials. Eleusis, Mandra and the surrounding areas offered plenty and cheap labour.
Cement was almost unknown in Greece at that time, and all structures were built of stone, timber, and bricks. The founders of “Titan” believed there was ample room for growth and large profits to be made from the introduction of a novel material with so many advantages. Cement can provide an excellent, durable, and pliable building substance, using raw materials (water, sand, gravel) that were readily available in Eleusis. The blending of these materials produces cement concrete, which can be combined with steel bars to create reinforced concrete. This material essentially allowed architects and civil engineers to design buildings and structures without being limited by the inherent weaknesses of traditional materials.
A wave of optimism
The progress of “Titan” was rapid. The plant had been founded with the capacity to produce 20,000 tons of cement a year, but demand quickly surpassed supply and the factory expanded. Within a decade, the company was listed on the Athens Stock Exchange and production doubled to meet the needs of both the domestic market and customers from Thessaloniki, Constantinople, and Egypt.
The owners of “Titan” made systematic efforts to familiarize the public with their pioneering products. Magnificent buildings in downtown Athens (such as the Giannaros Mansion in Syntagma Square and the Afentoulis House on Stadiou Street) advertised the possibilities of reinforced concrete. In the first twenty years of its operation, “Titan” supplied almost every major engineering project done using reinforced concrete in the eastern Mediterranean. The Eleusis factory became a destination for scientific excursions, such as that organized by the Polytechnic Association in early 1906, in order to familiarize its members with a company that “honored Greek industry” by producing a “valuable building material”. The future looked bright and Eleusis had reasons to expect many benefits from such a progressive enterprise.