1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Zwickau
ZWICKAU, a town of Germany, in the kingdom of Saxony, situated in a pleasant valley at the foot of the Erzgebirge, on the left bank of the Zwickauer Mulde, 41 m. S. of Leipzig and 20 m. S.W. of Chemnitz on the main line of railway Dresden-Hof and at the junction of several other lines. Pop. (1834) 6701; (1880) 35,005; (1890) 44,198; (1905) 68,502. Among the nine churches, the fine Gothic church of St Mary (1451-1536 and restored 1885-91), with a spire 285 ft. high and a bell weighing 5½ tons, is remarkable. The church contains an altar with wood-carving and eight pictures by Michael Wohlgemuth and a remarkable Pietà in carved and painted wood, probably by Veit Stoss. The late Gothic church of St Catharine (restored 1893-94) has an altarpiece ascribed to Lucas Cranach the Elder, and is memorable for the pastorate (1520-22) of Thomas Münzer. Of the secular buildings the most noteworthy are the town-hall of 1581, with the municipal archives, including documents dating back to the 13th century and an autograph MS. of the works of Hans Sachs, and the late Gothic Gewandhaus (cloth merchants' hall), built 1522-24 and now in part converted into a theatre. The manufactures of Zwickau include spinning and weaving, machinery, motor-cars, chemicals, porcelain, paper, glass, dyestuffs, wire goods, tinware, stockings, and curtains. There are also steam saw-mills, diamond and glass polishing works, iron-foundries, and breweries. Though no longer relatively so important as when it lay on the chief trade route from Saxony to Bohemia and the Danube, Zwickau carries on considerable commerce in grain, linen, and coal. The mainstay of the industrial prosperity of the town is the adjacent coalfield, which in 1908 employed 13,000 hands, and yields 2½ million tons of coal annually. The mines are mentioned as early as 1348; but they have only been actively worked since 1823, during which time the population has increased more than tenfold.
Zwickau is of Slavonic origin, and is mentioned in 1118 as a trading place. The name is fancifully derived from the Latin cygnea, from a tradition that placed a "swan lake" here which had the property of renewing the youth of those who bathed in it. Zwickau was an imperial possession, but was pledged to Henry the Illustrious, margrave of Meissen (d. 1288). The German king Charles VI. conferred it as a fief in 1348 on the margraves of Meissen, and it thus passed to their successors the electors of Saxony. The discovery of silver in the Schneeberg in 1470 brought it much wealth. The Anabaptist movement of 1525 began at Zwickau under the inspiration of the "Zwickau prophets" Robert Schumann (1810-1856), the musical composer, was born here in a house which still stands in the market-place.