How has industrialization helped society

Industrialization in Germany

Dynamic England, sleepy Germany

Around 1800 there was not a single railway line in Germany - a hundred years later it was 50,000 kilometers. Factory chimneys are smoking in the cities, there is wild speculation on the stock exchanges, and lightbulbs are burning instead of candles at home.

At the beginning of the 19th century, Germany's economy was in a deep slumber. Most people work year in and year out in the field or in the barn. The craft suffers from rigid guild barriers. Some families try to earn a living from laborious homework with spinning or weaving.

The picture is different in England: There the first industrial spinning machine, the "Spinning Jenny", is driving textile production to ever new records, steam engines help with coal mining, and with the English colonies overseas there are also new types of industrial products enough customers.

In Germany, a fragmented nation without a common national territory, one cannot even agree on uniform measures, weights and currencies. In addition, many sub-states seal off their markets with tariffs.

In England, industrialization begins as the work of technical inventors and daring investors. A good half a century later, it will also be launched in Germany.

From 1803 Napoleon forced a new order in Germany, and many small states disappeared. In 1807 Prussia freed the peasants from serfdom, and finally in 1834, with the establishment of the German Customs Union, goods can move duty-free from one state to the other. A start has been made.

The locomotive of industrialization: railway construction

The engine of growth in the fragmented German economy will be an industry that has been created to combine the two: the construction of the railways.

From the 1830s, railway lines were built across the country. To manufacture these, you need iron, and to process iron into steel, you need coal: a cycle that is steadily strengthening itself and soon develops its own industrial dynamism.

However: some regions benefit more from this first German economic miracle than others. The Ruhr area is quickly developing into the center of coal mining and has an important local steel producer in the form of the Krupp company.

In Saxony, where more people were employed in industry and crafts than in agriculture in 1850, mechanical engineering in particular benefited: this has been a tradition around Chemnitz since the early industrialization in the 1820s - even if at that time it was still more spinning and made weaving machines for the textile industry.

Finally, in Berlin, the Borsig company celebrated triumphs with its locomotives. Regions like East Prussia, on the other hand, lived almost exclusively from agriculture until late in the 19th century and were only very reluctantly connected to the railway network.

In the mid-1850s, the strengthening economy benefited from another factor: after decades of poverty, the demand for consumer goods was finally growing. The textile industry is booming, and luxury goods such as tobacco and sugar - the latter until recently a luxury product - are selling extremely well. Thanks to rising wages, even the workers get their (small) piece of the pie.

Looking for work: Germany is moving

Even 30 years ago, hardly anyone would have thought this upswing possible. The population is growing rapidly - also because medicine and hygiene are making progress; only there is no work. Economic historians will later calculate a shortage of 800,000 jobs for this period and speak of the so-called pauperism crisis - derived from the Latin word pauper for "poor".

Many people are now leaving their homes and looking for happiness overseas. Now, in the 1850s, industry with its hunger for workers has initially solved this problem - but is immediately creating new ones: because the social upheavals that industrialization brings with it are enormous.

For millennia, most people lived and died in the place where they were born. Now the work is being followed: from East Prussia to the Ruhr area, from Upper Franconia to Saxony, from Mecklenburg to Berlin.

If factories or coal mines are nearby, small market towns can suddenly become respectable cities: Gelsenkirchen in the Ruhr area, for example, grows tenfold from 1871 to 1910.

During this time, Berlin increased from 800,000 to two million inhabitants. This social dynamic is also favored by the general political weather situation:

Since 1871, the year the empire was founded, the German economy has experienced the boom of the founding years - in retrospect, historians have put the beginning of high industrialization here.

One-room apartment with a shared toilet: how workers live

This upswing bodes little good for the common worker. In the cities, housing construction does not keep up with demand: Whole families cramped into a single room, sometimes even renting the last free bed to a so-called sleeper. The toilet in the stairwell is shared with the tenants next door.

In addition, the working conditions in the factories are often unimaginably harsh: in 1872 the average weekly working time was 72 hours. In many sectors, such as the chemical industry that is just emerging, there is virtually no health protection.

Factory owners and politicians are already afraid of the uprising - and are reacting. Chancellor Bismarck, for example, is pursuing a two-pronged strategy. On the one hand, he wants to use the Socialist Act of 1878, a comprehensive ban on social democratic organizations, to weaken the labor movement.

On the other hand, it alleviates the worst hardships with social legislation that is exemplary throughout Europe: there has been health insurance in Germany since 1883, accident insurance since 1884, and disability and pension insurance will soon be added. At the same time, many companies are launching their own corporate social policy.