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From Freedom Fighter to Industrialist: Nemegyei Bódog (Felix)
From Freedom Fighter to Industrialist: Nemegyei Bódog (Felix)

Photo submitted to the Appalachian Blacksmiths Asssociation bulletin by Lew McDaniel

Hungary (including Transylvania), was still under Austrian sovereignty when he was born in Nagyszeben, Transylvania. So when Count Nemegyei Bódog joined the military, it was the Austrian corps of military engineers of which he became an officer.  When the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 broke out (and eventually developed into a Freedom Fight), he rose rapidly through the ranks of the revolutionary forces. 

Nemegyei took an active part in a number of battles, including that of Pákozd, and Kossuth himself appointed him to organize the troops of the Dunántúl region. In a short time, he had recruited a regiment of 2,400 men, three companies of cavalry and ten cannon.  In January of 1849, he was ordered to march to relieve the beleaguered fortress of Eszék in the South.  For some reason, Nemegyei proceeded instead to Zombor, which he gave up without a fight.  The invading Serbs butchered masses of people.  Consequently, he was brought before a military tribunal, but was acquitted.   

The Hungarian forces were making headway, so Austria called on her ally Russia for help.  After the Russian invasion of June 1849, Nemegyei was assigned to serve under General Dembinszky in Upper Hungary where, together with General Dessewffy Arisztid, he directed the Hungarian troops.  Then he was named to the general staff of the Middle-Tisza Army, a body of 26,000 men, and distinguished himself at the Battle of Tura. His promotion to lieutenant-colonel was ratified by Kossuth himself, although by then he was already in exile.  Following the decisive defeat at Temesvár on August 9th, 1849, which ended the Freedom Fight, Nemegyei fled to Turkey.  As a former officer in the Austrian army, he would certainly have faced court martial for having taken part in the uprising. 

In 1851, Nemegyei arrived in New Orleans.  He and several other Hungarian expatriates, including Kossuth’s former secretary, were present when Kossuth gave his speech there on March 30th, 1851. They feared an attack on Kossuth’s life, and stood ready to defend him if the need arose.

The Mexicans wanted to expedite the shipment of goods by building a railroad connecting the Atlantic and the Pacific.  Nemegyei, with his engineering training, was hired by the Tehuantepec Railroad Company of New Orleans to survey and map the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the narrowest part of Mexico above the Yucatan peninsula.  How long he stayed in that country is not clear, but by 1869, he was listed as the United States Consul in Tabasco, Mexico.  He exported mahogany from there for some 20 years.

In the early 1870’s, we find him working as a salesman for Hardman Furnace of Victoria, West Virginia.  Lacking operating capital, the owner, George Hardman sold his business in 1877, including its reserves of iron ore, limestone and coal, to Count Felix de Nemegyei, as he became known here.  He made repairs to the furnace, and changed the name of the business, as well as the name of the town of Franklin,  to Irondale. He hired another Hungarian freedom fighter, Strausz Sándor (Alexander), as superintendent of the iron works.  Iron ore production increased from 10 to 30 tons a day, and Nemegyei built a rail spur to tie in with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad’s main line. There are records indicating that coal was also mined in the area between 1884 and 1892, and was either used for his furnace or sold.  

As in his native Transylvania which abounds in mineral springs, natural mineral water was found near his iron works, too, and a local doctor declared it to be therapeutic. With true székely ingenuity, Nemegyei set up a bottling plant, using  local glass sand to manufacture the gallon-sized bottles, which were then marketed as Man-A-Cea water and sold as far away as New York.

In their heyday, Nemegyei’s enterprises employed 300 people. However, strikes and competition from larger blast furnaces eventually forced him to shut down the iron works. He continued to live on the income from the coal mine and sale of the mineral water.

Nemegyei had married a doctor’s daughter, Miss Elizabeth Young of Winchester, and they had a daughter named Adele and a son named Béla.  Adele inherited the iron works after her father’s death in Charlestown, West Virginia, in 1904, and she rented them out, but the company was not successful.  She also sold some acreage and the mineral water enterprise.  The son is said to have become “dissipated.”  What a sad ending to a promising industrial dynasty!

Count Felix (Bódog) de Nemegyei is buried in the Historic Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

The photos and some of the information in this article were kindly provided by the Appalachian Blacksmiths Association and are used by permission.


Erika Papp Faber is Editor of Magyar News Online.


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