Unal, Union Allumettière, S.T.A.B., Swedish Match

First match company in Belgium was created in 1835 in Lessines, near Geraardsbergen, by Balthazar Mertens. From 1850 on many match factories appeared in Belgium, most of them were located near Geraardsbergen in the valley of the river Dender. 1912, nine factories grouped in the belgian Union Allumettière (U.A.).

With the aim to take over the belgian matches industry the swedish entrepreneur Ivar Kreuger from S.T.A.B. (Svenska Tândsticksfabriks Aktie Bolaget) sent  his compatriot Karl Erik Hedborg to Belgium. No doubt K.E. Hedborg succeeded. 1920 all remaining independent factories were grouped in the swedish Fabriques Belges d'Allumettes (F.B.A.).  1925 S.T.A.B. collected  75% of the belgian U.A. shares. 1932 it was permitted to the swedish shareholders to use the name Union Allumettière for the whole group. New match factories springed up like mushrooms, but were taken over one after the other. Internationally, U.A. became shareholder and owner of several other companies in Belgium, Bulgaria, Italy, Bolivia, France , Algeria.

Meanwhile K. E. Hedborg made plans to group all production activities in Belgium at one location. So, in 1939 at Geraardsbergen construction started of the largest european match factory, together with a fiberboard (soft- and hardboard) company (Unalit) to create a market for the wood waste. During the second World war Swedish Consul K.E. Hedborg  could continue the construction of both factories and soon production of matches and boards started. In 1947 within U.A. almost 1.700 employees were active. U.A. exported to the Netherlands, France and colonies, Great-Britain, Congo, Marokko, Haïti, New Zealand, USA, Marokko, Bolivia, Switzerland, Puerto Rico. Unalit became so succesfull that only 10% of their wood consumption (e.g. 1967 : 97.000 tons of wet wood) came from the U.A. wood waste.

International protective trading policies, the erection of factories in customer countries, unstability in several countries, and increasing costs of the production at Geraardsbergen compared to their other factories made S.T.A.B. in 1969 to decentralise the global structure of the activities in Geraardsbergen, in order to get a better insight in benefits and losses. Staffing gradually decreased within the coming years.

In 1974 the name Union Allumettière officially changed to Unal. 1979 S.T.A.B. was renamed into Swedish Match.

Oil crisis, a stedaily increasing consumption of disposable lighters and a regrouping of adminstratition again  caused the dismissal of about 400 employees by 1978.

May 1978 Unalit stopped the production of hardboard. Softboard production continued until 2005.

In the 1980's Unal could continue matches activity thanks to the production of so called advertising matches.

In the coming years Swedish Match several times changed from owner, and finally last matches were produced at Geraardsbergen in 1999, production moved to Hungary.

(Sources : Lucifersbedrijven te Geraardsbergen, Stéphane Godfroid, Dirk Surdicaourt, 1983 ; Tot de laatste lucifers, geschiedenis van de lucifersnijverheid in de Denderstreek, Marcel Stroobant, Danny Robben, 2003 ; Herinneringen aan lucifers, K.E. Hedborg, 1972)

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