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Imperial Germany; a critical study of fact and character online

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England and her colonies. Cotton and woolen braids,
silk and cotton^ galloons, bindings for tailors, Italian
cloth, etc., etc., all find their way to English shores
at the expense of Manchester and other towns. They
almost nionoi)olize the Chinese market wilh lluir ine-

1 In the last nine ycar.s pianus have practically conquered the ICiik-
llsh home and colonial inartccts.


Imperial iicrmany.

Carpel man-

dium quality of Italian cloth and satin de Chine. This,
not so much because they are cheaper, as because they
are quicker and more dexterous in fitting their supply to
the changing- demands of the markets.

While English carpet manufacturers continue making
the old-fashioned so-called Brussels, Axminstcr, Wilton
pile, styles, and patterns, the German manufacturers,
quickly discerning the modern taste for oriental carpets,
make excellent and cheaj) imitations of the latter, and

The koYAL Pai.ack ok Saxony, Urksdhn.


send them over to England. In woolen, flannel, cotton,
and silk goods the same quickness of adapting the article
to the requirements of the day is noticeable, whereas
English makers are often too conservative to make a
pattern at variance with the character of their stock. It
is very rarely English makers can be induced to make a
special pattern to suit foreign trade: it does not pay

Commerce and Maniifachire. 263

them, they say. The Germans do it readily. The
advantage they reap in this respect is \ery noticeable in
transoceanic trade. Our consular reports teem with in-
stances to prove this.

The British consul at Paramaibo tells us :

The importation of hardware goods is, on the whole, satis-
factory to British trade, but Germany is pressing very close on - ^n instance
the heels of Sheffield by the production of wares which, being adaptability,
cheaper, are also not as serviceable, but are so polished,
painted, and put up as to please the eye, and the difference
in price leads many of the people in this colony to buy these
goods in preference to the more durable English manufactured
goods. Merchants would do well to look to the manner of
placing their goods. A card of German scissors, cheap, and of
the poorest material, nicely placed on a pretty card, and hung
up in a shop-window, will attract attention, while the better
and higher-priced English article, done up in a brown paper
parcel and put away on a shelf as not being an article for e.xlii-
bition in the window, will lie for years unsold.

This accuracy in " measuring the market" brings us
to note the great assistance German commerce derives Govemmentai
from the action of the government and its officials. A i',Je,cc.'^°'"
government which we are taught to believe is only intent
on turning its subjects into soldiers in reality strains
every nerve to assist the foreign trade of the country.

We have been informed that when the Chinese am-
bassador went to Berlin, even Bismarck himself "con-
descended " to try antl influence Iiiin to place a large
contract for steel rails with a German firm.' And the
inventor of steel rails, .Sir Henry Bessemer, although a
born (German, lived in our midst !

Although the Germans until a ciuite recent date
hardly possessed a shij)ping yard that could turn out
a first-class ocean-going jiasscnger steamer, they coni-

1 Since this was first writtfit the Chinese >;"^'<^'''""C"' '';'" "1^" ordered war
vrtsels ill 'Icrniaiiy.

264 Imperial Germany.

pete with England successfully as goods and passenger
carriers. This is perhaps the most striking instance of all
of their talent for " adaptability." They order some of
their ships on the Clyde, and gauge so well what they
require that their newest American liners can hold their
own, if not even outdo the best of England's in speed.'

Thus the capacity or genius of " adaptability," com-

Caiises of Gei- 1 • j ■ 1 i- • ,

man com- bmcd With an cxtraordmary Concentration and earnest-

ness of purpose, which ever shows itself down to the
meanest details of commercial life, is one of the most
striking causes of recent German commercial success.
It is a quality that strikes the more readily when we
bear in mind that some great nations seem to be sin-
gularly destitute of it. The Italians, it is true, have of
late shown great commercial energy, and many branches
of manufacture have sprung up and adapted English,
French, and German methods and models where they
used formerly to rely almost solely on importation or
inferior home-made articles.

But the French are an instance in point of a great pro-

The French ducing country that rarely goes out of its way to seek
models or ideas beyond its frontier. Subversive in pol-
itics, the French are wonderfully conservative in trade.
They are patriotic to the degree of hardly seeming to
wish even to profit by foreign enterprise. Their mission
is to propagate their own specialties of manufacture as it
has long been their privilege to promulgate their pet
theories. Herein the French are in marked contrast to

1 Since this was first written the Germans build their own warships as well as
their passenger steamers. The Furst Bismarck is one of the largest and finest
vessels afloat, and the tonnage of the North German Lloyd's in 1897 the largest
of any shipping company in the world, not even excepting the English Penin-
sular and Oriental Company, which is paid a subsidy of over $1,500,000 a year
for rarrying the English mails.

in trade.

Conivierce and Mamcfadure. 265

the Russians, who possess the capacity of adapting and
assimilating to a remarkable degree. Although yet in
their infancy as producers, another generation or two
will reveal their powers of rivalry.

Not only in the quality of commercial adaptability is
to be found the explanation of Germany's success. The
patronage and support of its government, so strange to
indi\'idualists, we have referred to ; the thorough com- Commercial

... ^ education

mercial education of its merchants, its clerks, and the '"Germany.

careful training and superior education of its workmen,

supply us with additional evidence. Besides a complete

theoretical commercial training, German clerks in their

own country usually speak French and English, and a

great number of those who come abroad have mastered

Italian and Spanish as well. German merchants are to

be found all over the world, taking rank beside our own.

The training of their clerks can be seen in the city of

London, where they oust the native element.' They

are distinguished by sobriety, industry, and intelligence,

and make these qualities imperative in those who would

compete with them. This is the case particularly in

England and the United States, and is becoming more

so in South America, Japan, and in the English colonies

every day.

In these points England is at a disadvantage ; as in
thrift, hard-plodding commercial training, not to men-
tion the knowledge of foreign languages, our commer-
cial are distinctly inferior to theirs. We are '" '''"^'''""'•
thoroughly alive to the excellent qualities of the much-
maligned British workman, but his defects and his disad-
vantages tell more against him and us now than before.

We d(j n(jt condemn trades unions ; in a country be-

I The fcrcat proportion of foreign (mostly German) lirms in the city of
London is well known, ami is in so far explained by their close attention to


Imperial Germany.

in trade.

lieving in the gospel of Manchester they were an iron
necessity of self-defense, but their conservatism and tlie
obstinacy of their pohcy, l)y which they oppose every
innovation, have often done us more harm than their
demands for higli wages. Also the want of thrift, of
self-respect, inseparable from the lower education and
meaner social standing of the British workman, handicap


1 1 ]

V ;-i-;|v^k_

Mainz Cathedral.

us sadly, though this is being improved. These items
go a long way toward nullifying other advantages we
undoubtedly possess. We think it was the late Mr.
Brassey who gave it as his opinion that the British
workman more than earned his higher wages by the
greater value of his labor. That may still hold good of
unskilled manual labor, but in all kinds of labor which
are influenced by education and by the moral character
of the workmen, our workingmen cannot claim any

Commerce and Mamifadiire . 267

superiority, either over Germans, French, or Italians.
From the foregoing it will be readily understood that
the cry for technical education, which we hear on all
sides, will not suffice to counterbalance many of the ad-
vantages over us the Germans undoubtedly possess.
But, even bearing these in mind, we think the notions
that prevail in Germany with regard to their latter-day
commercial achievements are exaggerated ones.


In general, it may thus be said that a certain lack of
originality of taste and production in commerce goes Lack of

1 J ■ 1 1 -1 1 ■ , Ml • , . . . . originality.

hand m hand with then- skill in adapting the ideas of
others, if the one be not actually an outcome of the
other. It is not likely that they will be found to agree
with this statement, but it is one that can be thoroughly
proved, over and over again. Their new patent laws,
which are excellent, provide efficient protection for their
ideas, and yet we seldom come across a patented practi-
cal a. e., commercial as distinct from scientific) inven-
tion in Germany which does not turn out to be of
English or American origin.

The sudden prosperity, or rather habit of money-
spending, which set in after 1870 caused a great increase pScuin.
of production everywhere, but brought forth little taste
and almost no originality. Everybody went back to the
past for modcls-.-to the Middle Ages for metal work, in
which the Cicrmans ever excelled ; and to the periods of
renaissance and rococo for many other biaiulus of pro-
duction. There was certainly some explanation for this
turning to the past. It was a time of national excellence
in art industry. \'ei even in those days the good Ger-
mans were slavish copyists of the Italians, except, per-
haps, in the one solitary instance, when Marc Antonio


Imperial Germany.

Slavish re-

Lack of taste.

of china.

(Raimondi) pirated the engravings of an Albrcclu

But this gleaning from the past did not stop half-way
and adapt itself to modern requirements. It often be-
came ridiculous by slavishly reproducing the old an-
gular, unpractical designs of bygone ages. '

Assisted by their excellent trained designers, the Ger-
mans have made great strides in the manufacture of
furniture. Also the importation of French furniture —
a large business formerly — has almost entirely ceased,
whereas the Germans now export largely to France
and elsewhere. Their success in this, as in several
other trades, has been assisted by the many German
skilled workmen who were in Paris before 1870, and
have since returned to their own country.

Leaving out the fields of science as before mentioned,
we are of the opinion that, besides want of originality,
the German possesses little practical ability or taste as a
producer.' It is very rarely you meet with an article in
Germany that is practically fitted for the end in view.
A glance at the German pottery trade will bear this
out, for even their excellent schools for designers have
not as yet been much use to them in this branch of pro-

Although Germany was the first country in Europe in
which china was made, it has long been distanced in its
production by France and England. Meissen, the old-

1 Architecture must be excepted from tlie above strictures. Here, as else-
where, where the greater trained artistic faculties come into play, the Ger-
mans generally excel.

- It must, however, V)e admitted that this want of practical ability, noticeable
at home, does not appear among Germans abroad. They soon adopt English
and American practical methods, and even excel in them, as also as inventors.
Sir Henry Bessemer, inventor of steel rails, was, as said already, a born Ger-
man, and, above all, Sir William Siemens and Werner Siemens should not be

Commerce and Manufacture. 269

est manufactory in Europe, with all the prestige of royal
origin and royal initiative, has done little else than live
on an old reputation, and that reputation of a second-
rate finikin kind. This factory, except for tlie curiosity
of its old models of rococo figures, surely at, best a
trumpery application of the ceramic art, is simply no-
where. And yet these antiquated styles are the staple
fund of inspiration of the numberless fancy china-makers
all over the country, jDarticularly in Saxony. They are
copied to' death, down to the vilest imitations. The old
pieces of Dresden, as being unique, have an antiquarian
bric-a-brac value in the eyes of collectors ; but if
nowadays an elaborate dinner service for five thousand
dollars, or an expensive presentation ornament is
wanted in the world's market, it is usually ordered of
an English or of a P'rench factory. The French factory
at Sevres even to-day produces works of ceramic art
that ^re far beyond anything Germany has ever pro- superiority.
duced. That the productions of Sevres in the past were
artistically incomparably superior to anything Germany
ever attempted, is too well known to require substanti-
ation. '

The potteries of Silesia and Bavaria find a large home
market for their goods — thanks to protection — although
they are mostly clumsy in pattern and coarse in ma-
terial — in fact, very inferior to the Austrian article of
the same class., l>iit a large amount of the better class
"f pottery used in Ciermany is made in Luxemburg, in
.Sarreguemines, as well as imported from France.

It is interesting to note that in tliis special branch of
manufacture, in which the Germans had the start of all ciieap'ncss and

1 I • 1 • 1 1 1 I 1 , f inlenorltv.

others, and m wlncli tliey liave long been renowned for

1 Situ c this was first written the Royal China factory in Berlin has made
enormous strides, as was seen anil fully recognized at the Columbian Kx-
posltifin at Chirajjn.


270 Imperial Germany.

cheapness, they have not to any appreciable extent yet
succeeded in point of excellence — a fact sufficiently
proved by their inability to supply the best foreign
market with articles for use or for ornament to any
apj^reciable extent. They do a large business in pottery
with America and England and the colonies, but almost
entirely in medium and inferior goods.

We can distinctly trace the benefit the Germans derive
from their excellent trained designers to be confined to
those industries where artistic conventional ornamenta-
tion alone is required. From the moment the article
wanted is one in which the designer is required to adapt
his artistic knowledge to the production of some original,
practical design, he generally fails. In this respect, the
national art industry schools have hitherto helped him
but little. This want of practical ability is, perhaps, one
Lack of prac- of the reasous w'hy the German instinctively turns abroad
for practical models as well as for ideas, and is forced to
import a quantity of articles he is unable to produce.

The want of practical ability in the nation is abun-
dantly proved by the almost medieval character of their
beds, w'ith those dreadful feather counterpanes {^plu-
meanx), and also by their strange disregard of the
laws of health in the lack of ventilation in their houses,
though in this respect great improvements are to be seen.

Although we hear so much about the cutlery of Solin-
gen and their barefaced imitations of English goods, it is
a fact that a large proportion of German carpenters,
locksmiths, cabinet-makers, etc., until quite recently
used English-made tools.


We must now take note of some instances in which
German talent for "adaptation" leads to downright

Commerce arid lilamifactiwe. 271

piracy, and even fraudulent imitation. Not that we in-
tend to reproach the Germans as a nation with the dis- German piracy,
honesty of sections of their traders, or think them less
scrupulous than others. The fact is, our laws were
hitherto too lax, and the Germans too quick to avail
themselves of their laxity. We should do the same if
the conditions allowed of our doing so with success. '
We know too w-ell that a certain percentage of humanity
of every land and clime is equally ready to turn an
' ' honest ' ' penny by doubtful means. And when we are
able to turn German ideas to account without paying for
them, we do it as readily as they ; witness our piracies of
German theater pieces, and of other property of an intel-
lectual or artistic kind. Still, it is the duty of our laws
to check where we cannot change the sordid side of hu-
man nature ; and bearing this in mind, it is not without
reason that we state the opinion that the German talent
for adaptation, for producing colorable imitation, and
their great want of originality in commerce, place their
manufacturers in stronger temptation than our own to
seek their designs, their models, and patterns in other
countries, and thus occasionally to trade on the ideas of
others to a degree that is as astounding as it is stoutly
denied in the Fatherland.

Not only this, but the loose construction of the Ger-
man laws for lli(- ])rotection of trade-marks and designs
{Micstersclmtz)^ is \ery often productive of injustice
amf)ng themselves as well as to the foreigner, which can
never have been contemplated I)\' the high-minded men
who framed them.

If their registration system does not work wonders in
protecting their own mental ])roperty among them-
selves, it is not surprising that it alTords little protection

' III llie foot-note on page 268 we supply an instance in iioinl.


Imperial Gcnnany.

of German

when the mental property pilfered hails from beyond
the sea.

If we look closer at German manufacturers, we find
that they fail uniformly to reach the highest standard to
be met with in other leading countries. Also the large
importation of their goods has had a deteriorating effect
on the public taste, though it has, in many instances,
put our own makers on their mettle. They have made
the public and the producer consider cheapness before
everything else.

Besides copying the English, they honor other nations
with equal attention. Whatever is brought out in

Point of Ger-
man excellence.

The DucAi, I'ALACb:, L;kl nswick.

Vienna in the special trades the Viennese excel in —
fancy bronzes and leather goods — is immediately copied
in Offenbach and elsewhere.

American sewing machines are kept out by German
imitations. The so-called "articles de Paris" of the
past almost all come from Berlin now, even including an
enormous trade in ready-made costumes.

It seems strange, indeed, that in a country whose
officials are such models of high-minded rectitude and
duty, whose thinkers and men of science stand so high,
such slavish imitations in commerce should be so com-
mon. For it is mainly in certain fields of commerce

Commerce and H/ami/acture. 273

which are closely allied to science, such as chemistry,
electricity, and the manufacture of scientific instruments
and artillery, that the Germans excel. In chemistry
they have made some of the most remarkable inventions
in our time. Their chemical factories also, and those of
Austria, are legitimately outdoing us in this branch
of commerce. In these instances doubtless the natural
bent of the national mind for science and their unrivaled
technical schools go for something, whereas, in so many
other branches, they are little better than imitators of an
inferior but earnestly painstaking kind. It is hard to
have to say that the people who gave mankind the
greatest discovery of the age — the spectroscope of
Kirchhof and Bunsen — are the arch commercial pirates
of our time.

Some years ago the Prussian government sent Pro-
fessor Reuleaux as their commissary to report on some Character of

J.' . . , ..... /^ 1 • 1 German goods.

distant mternational exhibition. On his return he
startled the Fatherland with the verdict that German
goods were distinguished by being uniformly cheap and
bad {billig 2ind schlccht). This created a great stir at
the time, and may have been a somewhat exaggerated
verdict ; but there was some truth in it, and matters
have not materially changed since, although many
patriots fondly pretend that they have.

It is not that the Germans are alone in producing
rubbish— every commercial nation does the same ; but
the Germans Iiave a special faculty for copying the
rubbish u\ otlirr nations, besides producing their own.


Besides imitating everything fcjreign, wiielher an itka
or a mere pattern, the Germans trade on each other's Anoth<?rcom-

' imrci.-il trait.

ideas to an txtrnt that is perhaps iincqualetl in the

274 Imperial Germany.

world. In fact, woru it not for the restraining influence
of their somewhat unpractical trade-mark laws, it would
be even worse than it is.

Some years ago a certain Dr. Jaeger traveled about
the country holding lectures to popularize his system of
All example. woolcu clothiug, and recommending patterns of his own
design made by a certain Stuttgart maker. His propa-
ganda created a great demand for the article, which was
at once copied by several rival makers, who adopted his
designs and denominations.

Although not strictly commercial, the following is
apropos. Some years ago a delightful sketch of Berlin
middle-class town life, "The Buchholz Family," by
Julius Stinde, achieved great popularity and ran through
many editions. It will scarcely be believed that the
very title was pirated by a compatriot, and a book was
offered to the public under the title of the "Buchholz
Family in Paris" !

We have already referred to the Of?enbach imitations
of English and Viennese leather goods patterns ; for the
Viennese are far ahead of the Germans in fancy leather
goods,' as they are also in artistic bronzes. But it does
not stop here ; the Berlin leather workers copy the
Of^enbachers, and undersell them in the cheaper Ger-
man home market. The manufacturers of Of?enbach
evidently think there is nothing like leather, for some of
their leather goods are among the few German articles
that seem fairly able to compete with English-made
ones, and the trade between Offenbach, England, and
America is very large indeed.

The process of copying and underselling each other
is observable in almost every German trade, and pro-

1 The above, although strictly true, may need some qualifications, inasmuch
as the South Germans are lately producing goods in embossed leather which
need fear no comparisons.


Coviinerce and Manufacture. 275

duces a keenness of competition often of a kind that
is far from elexating.

No wonder the Germans are continually complaining
of over-production. But, as the only thing that is °odGction.
eternal is change, so the Germans may well look for-
ward with hope to the future as likely to bring them
more independence of ideas in commerce, as our time
has already brought them national independence. The
consciousness of the latter must, sooner or latter, react
on their manufacturing industry. A nation that for
generations had been accustomed to look abroad for
many things besides manufactured articles cannot create
in a moment an original supply for all its wants.

In the meantime, it must be a source of gratification
to all well-wishers of the Fatherland that the splendid
penal laws against adulteration of food have preserved
this one vital branch of human production in Germany
from the scandalous manipulations we constantly wit-
ness in England and America.

In the foregoing we have endeavored to draw an im-
partial pro-and-con picture of the growth of commerce
and industry in Germany of recent years. The facts
and figures which are brought forward can necessarily
give but a very limited and only temporarily applicable
idea of so vast a matter. There remains a broader and
wider deduction to be made as the sum of the subject.
In their commerce and industry the (iermans ha\e
already succeeded in transforming theory into method Kesuitm
;md [)ractice on a gigantic scale. To judge by what J,',t.r^ai'poi"c'y.

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Online LibrarySidney WhitmanImperial Germany; a critical study of fact and character → online text (page 18 of 23)