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German Arms Industry under the Kaiser

Prussia was a Kriegsstaat - a war-state. There were in Germany forces making for war or for warlike feeling which were stronger and more significant than any peace demonstrations. These included vested interests, such as the gigantic Krupp and Thyssen factories, the shipbuilding yards of Kiel, the colossal military industries concerned with the production of war material. Prussia is military by historic tradition, and from the very foundation of the monarchy. Prussia was a "Volk in Waffen" - a nation in arms.

Government-owned arsenals and factories could not supply the munitions, arms and war material that modern warfare demands. It is necessary to utilize private-owned factories, consequently steps should be taken to organize, during peace times and within the country, all manufacturing plants which, in times of war, can be converted into manufacturing plants for munitions and war material. Besides the government-owned arsenals, Germany had the large factories of Krupp, Rheinische Metallwaaren (Ehrhardt) and Thyssen. In addition, there is a large number of other factories of lesser importance.

Germany's rush forward as an industrial and mercantile country may, for practical purposes, be dated from the successful issue of the war with France in 187l. That event, concurrently with the establishment of the Empire, gave to the nation new life, both politically and commercially. For the first time the Germans, as a nation, became conscious of collective power and of the great possibilities which this power placed within their reach. A new youth - that unspeakable gift which the gods so rarely bestow upon mortals - was given to them, and with all youth's energy and ardor and audacity they plunged at once into a bold competition with neighbors of whom they had hitherto stood in a certain awe, and who, in truth, for their part, had barely taken their young rival seriously. The losses in the war, by wounds and disease, had severely drained the manhood of the country; but nature speedily made good the hurt.

It is estimated that in 1843 the population engaged in agriculture, forestry, gardening, and fishing formed 61 per cent. of all persons earning a livelihood. When the first great occupation census was taken in 1882 it was found that the proportion had fallen to 48-4 per cent., and at the next occupation census of 1895 a further decline was found to have taken place to 37.5 percent. The percentage of the entire population actually dependent on agriculture, &c. (dependents being here included), declined between 1882 and 1895 from 42.5 to 35.7 percent.

Perhaps the most striking progress was made by the mineral and metal industries. The principal coalfields are those of the Ruhr, in Westphalia; the Saar, lying below Trier, between the Rhine and the French frontier; Upper and Lower Silesia, and Saxony (Zwickau) ; while lignite is mined on the Oder, on the Sasle, and in Lusatia. The great movement of this industry began with the general industrial expansion which followed the French War. In 1862 the entire coal output of the German States and Luxemburg was 15,570,000 metric tons*; in 1872 it was 88,806,000 tons. The output of 1906, owing to the flourishing condition of industry, reached the abnormal amount of 186,489,000 tons of coal and 56,235,000 tons of lignite, with 20,260,000 tons of coke, nearly all the latter being produced in Prussia.

The development of the iron trade was even more remarkable. The production of iron ore in all Germany with Luxemburg in 1862 was only 2,215,000 metric tons. By 1872 it had increased to 5,896,000 tons. Then the iron industry for a time declined, owing to the foreign competition in pig-iron, facilitated by the low duties, whose entire repeal was enacted in 1875; the production in 1876 was only 4,712,000 tons. After 1880 there was a revival, and steady and almost unbroken progress continued in the deacdes thereafter, and by 1910 the output of iron ore was four times that of thirty years ago, though the imports had in the meantime increased until they were double the exports.

The production of the blast-furnaces of Prussia in 1852 was 160,000 tons; in 1875 it was 1,895,000 tons, though there was a temporary fall from 1,570,000 tons in 1878; and the production in all Germany increased from 685,000 tons in 1862 to 2,025,000 tons in 1875. The duties were then repealed and the large imports of English pig-iron handicapped the struggling yonng industry. Between the years 1869 and 1879 the number of iron works had decreased by nearly one half. In the latter year the number of workpeople employed in the smelting industry was only 60 per cent. that of 1878. Since 1880 the progress made has been continuous, and in fifteen years the production had doubled.

Admiral Stosch, then Naval Minister, showed clear prescience when he said, "Without a German shipbuilding industry a German navy is inconceivable." At one time the accepted maxim was that nowhere else save in England could good ships be built, and that England could not build bad ones. The yards of the Tyne and Clyde ruled the shipbuilding industry, and when German ships of large tonnage were first commissioned in home yards, it was with fear and trembling, as much on the ground of unproved capacity as of doubtful financial resource. The North German Lloyd, which was established in Bremen in 1857, bought in England and Scotland the steamships with which it began regular sailings to the United States. One of the oldest North Sea yards, the Vulcan, of Stettin, which was developed from a smaller undertaking in 1857, kept itself alive for a long time by locomotive building. When in 1887 it received a contract for its first large ocean liner, the commission was regarded as a daring experiment, and several banks had to undertake a financial guarantee for the execution of the work, which, nevertheless, proved entirely satisfactory, and gave the Vulcan its start on a career of great prosperity.

The powerful steel factories and manufactories of arms of Krupp at Essen, of Thyssen at Mulheim, of Ehrhardt at Dusseldorf, attained an excess of over-production. During the Great War, by late 1916 the Krupp plant had increased the number of its workmen from 87,000 to 242,000. The Ehrhardt factory increased from 40,000 to 100,000, and the Thyssen factory from 30,000 to 80,000.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:54:54 ZULU