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American Economic Success and German Emulation

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equally diverse and

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~ntradictory. Th~y ran the ~amut from specific rec.-

~, g:}l~':-ommendations for the adoption of particular machines and labor processes

4
American Economic Success
and German Emulation

'.~ ~X~f;{-to sweeping advocacy (or rejection) of assembly line production, high wages,
~ -,!:;~~-,- nd mass consumption. Those on the political right proposed rationaliza.-

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~ion controlled by capital; those on the left suggested reform implemented

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or mitigat1ng 1ts detr1mental consequences; others v1ewed any state act1on

. ,~t)' !h;~:!7n~~fr'~::1:rc::::::~~i~:;~~~~~!~::;~~~~~~::tr~~~~~:
~'''' as counterproductive. Finally, capital and labor developed utterly differ-

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ent scenarios for when and to what degree prices, wages, and profits would

:'')jf. change in the process of rationalization, and who would benefit and who
~~,;._:,-,
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lt w~s o~e thing for German visitors to Detroit to be infatuated with


Fordism i tt ~as quite another for industrialists, trade unionists, engineers,
and ~conom1sts to restructure the troubled German economy along Ameri,
can Iines.' From 1924 on, few disputed the need for dramatic economic re,
structunng-or r:itionalization, to use the term preferred by Gerrnansbut co.ntroversy d1d surround what form rationalization should take. Which
Amenca? economic principles and practices could be adopted and which
were vahd only in the circumstances of the New World? Did Fordism ha ve
to be 1!11ple~ented in ~oto ar could one pick and choose among its elements
and still attam _the des1red levels of profitability and prosperity? Would econom1c_ mo?er~1zat1on along American lines automatically bring about an
Amen.can1:at1on of society and culture? German proponents of Pordism and
Amenca~1sm. quickly found themselves embroiled in a farranging and
often acr1mon1ous debate about America s past and present and Germany' s
future.
The s.ecrets of American economic success such as Fordism, were in.-

terp~ete~ in contradictory ways. German commentators disagreed about the

~elative ~mportance of natural endowments, technological achievements, and


~nn.ovative products. Sorne identified mass markets as a cause of prosper.1~y others, as a consequence. Many Social Democrats insisted that far
stgh~ed, ~esourcefuJ, and daring entrepreneurs created the American eco.nom1c ~1r~cle, wherea~ industrialists singled out America' s ostensibly
enthusiast1c, hardwork1ng, and apolitical workers as the critica! factor.
German proposals for imitating the American economic model were
58

would bear the-costs.


America-real and imagined in multiple ways-thus shaped the Ger..
- ::> ''-:- roan understandings of available economic options. But German class con
'. ...;) flicts and political ideologies also infltJenced which alternatives were pre
ferred by businessmen, Social Democrats, and engineers. Divergent analyses
of America both intensified and altered long-standing disagreements be.tween capital and labor aboutwage levels and state arbitration, and about
the eight.-hour day and state social policy. To give primacy to one or the
other misses the complex ways in which Germans defined and redefined their
visions of economic reform and social modernity according to their inter.pretation of economy and society, both at home and in America.
This chapter explores the debates on the American economic model and
the possibilities of importing it. Its central concern is with the question that
was of foremost importance to economic modernizers in Weimar-could Ger.many imitate America?. The two subsequent chapters will examine the
equally troubling question-should Germany do so? These far-reaching
debates revea! the different ways in which Germans tried to appropriate
Americanism for their own economic and political ends.

The Secrets of American Economic Success


In 1925 Carl Kottgen publishedEconomic America. This widely read work
discussed the roots of American prosf>erity and modernity and offered an
endorsement of the ideology of rationalization, along with a proposal for a
particular and limited form of economic restructuring in Germany. Ar tic u
. lating the understandings and aspirations of German industry, Kottgen
believed that natural resources and work intensity were central to America' s
economic superiority and emphasized Ame rica' s incommensurability with
Germany. While industrial circles applauded his work, Social Democrats,
economic liberals, and engineers insisted that the similarities between Ger
many and America outweighed the differences. They offered varied explanations for American preeminence. This debate was conducted in the daily
press, poli tic.al and technical journals, company magazines, and popular books
and pamphlets, as well as in the meeting rooms of major firms and economic
organizations.

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60

Imagining America.

American Economic Success and German Emulation

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Everyone acknowledged that World War l and the ensuirlg economic


disruption of Germany and E urape as a whole had been an enormous boon
t? ~merica. Disagreement set in. however, about whether American supe
r1onty was temporary or permanent, and whether it was built on fortuitous
contingencies or structural advantages. Everyone recognized_ that America
was abundantly endowed with natural resources but disagreed about ho
much_ weight to give to nature as opposed to technology or markets, wag:
or ~rices. There were also such intangibles to consider as culture and
nat1onal psyche. Should the secrets of American economic success-and
hence the _possibilities of Oerman emulation-be discussed in terms of iron
ore depos1ts and population density, wage cates and market size, machine
output and the division of labor? Or did "the great problem of American
technology and economy lie," as the engineer Paul Riebensahm maintained
"n?t in the '?ig number,' or in numbers at ali, but rather in many othe;
~h1ngs that he between numbers and facts. " 1 Our investigation of these
~ssues must of necessity begin with Economic America, the opening salvo
in the war of words about the American economic miracle.
. When Kattgen traveled to America in 1925, he was at the pinnacle of
h~s success and public visibility. He was the general director of the vast
S1e?1~ns. electrotechnical cancero. the acting head of the RKW, and an
ac:1v1st in the VDI and in such organizations as the German Standards Com
m1ttee_ a~d the Committee far Efficient Production. Kottgen combined
expe.rt1se_1n tec~nology and economics in a way that was un usual but greatly
adm1red In We1mar engineering and industrial circles.2

Kottgen was born in 1871, the year the German Empire was faunded,
an~ ~Is for~unes bloss~med with those of the new state. An engineer by
tra1n1ng, Ko~tgen stud1ed both machi ne building and electrical engineering
at the Techmsche Hochschule in Berlin, graduating in 1894. He began work~ng 1mmed1ately at Siemens and Halske, becoming a departmental director
1n 18<J"/and ~ead ~lerk ayear later. Siemens was oneof Germany's two giant
electrotechmcal firms and was noted far its advanced technolgy, modern
labor p~ocesses, an~-at least in comparison to Ruhr heavy industry-Jess
~epress1~e ~nd ant1,Social Democratic labor policies. 3 Kottgen was most
mfluent1al m developing technologies far applying electricity to heavy
mdustry and makmg them profitable. He joined the board of directors of
the new SiemensSchukert work in 1905, and in 1907 became director of
Siemens in E?gland, a position he held until 1914, when he was interned
far the duratmn of the war by the British government. ln 1919 he returned
to Berlin to lead the central administration of SiemensSchuckert and be
carne head of the board in 1921. 4 That same year, the RKW was established.
~arl van S1emens, ~5tt~en' s boss, was its honorary head, while Ke>ttgen
h1mself became act1ng director. 5 Kttgen thus represented the most tech
nological~y and organizationally advanced forces in German economic life.
He ~as ~1?gularly open to receiving the American gospel of efficiency and
prof1tab1hty. He translated it into a German version of rationalization and
preached it to ali who would listen.

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61

During his stay in America, K5ttgen pursued many projects. He at,


tended to the interests of the firm to which he devoted bis life, concluding
an agreement between Siemens and Westinghouse for the exchange of pat~
ents and information about production processes, and he toured all major
Westinghouse plants. He shared these experiences only with Siemens top
management. 6

The official purpose of his trip and the subject of bis book was to explain
~hy America had become the world' s dominant economic power. Oncean
objective picture of the American economy was presented and certain basic
and immutable laws of economic life were explained, he asserted, it would
be possible "to carry into the widest circles of our population enlightenment about what is possible and achievable in our economic circumstances
not only in terms of wage rates, but also in terms of the introduction of
purely mechanical procedures. ''7 Kt>ttgen was equally interested in explor
ing the U.S. government's role in encouraging productivity, standardization,
and the elimination of waste. Kttgen hoped that the American example
would help the RKW and its industrial and engineering supporters to win
greater political and financial support from the government. 8
In discussing these issues, K>ttgen avoided ali anecdotal and personal
comments instead he bolstered his arguments with innumerable statistics,
graphs, charts, economic equations, and photographs of factory interiorsall of which lent bis book the desired aura of scientific seriousness, even if
they did little to enhance its readability. Kottgen was careful not to appear
to be the spokesman far Siemens ar the electrotechnical sector; rather, he
presented himself as the selfless champion of a universally benefical ratio
nalization and as the disinterested representative of "the economy"-as
German industrialists, with characteristic immodesty, thought of them
selves.
The secrets of America's economic success, KC>ttgen argued, were its
greater absolute production and greater productivity as well as its recogni
tion that production determined consumption and wages. These, in turn,
resulted from the beneficia! interaction of natural advantages, extensive
ratiOnalization, and more intensive work. According to Kottgen, the aver
age American man earned a real income that was 70 percent greater than
his German counterpart. 9 Half of that was due to America's natural
resources, above all its fertile soil far agriculture. Climate, soil, sheer size,
and, to a lesser degree, mechanization and statesponsored research had so
increased agricultura] productivity that only 29 percent of the American
labor force worked in agriculture, as opposed to 43 percent in Germany.
As a result, not only was food cheaper but more workers were available to
produce other goods. 1 Coa! and iron were also abundant and easily acces,
sible, thereby lowering the costs of fuel and raw materials. 11
Far Kttgen these unique natural endowments gave the United States
sorne permanent and inimitable advantages, but its prosperity was also due
to rationalization in the forms of standardization, simplification, mass pro,
duction, and mechanization. Kottgen detailed American innovation in

62

Amc:rican Economic Success and German Emulation

Imagi11i11g America

appendixes devoted to the general principies of efficiency

~nd

to the spe

cifics of production at Ford. 12 He was particularly impressed by how much

more rationalized the American machine industry was than it.S German coun
terpart, attributing this difference to the war and postwar boon:}s 1 combined
with a larger market and "the natural preference of Ame.ricans far that which
is uniform, standardized, the same model. " 13

Last, but certainly not least in KOttgens eyes, Ame rica s econ~rnic superi
ority and greater perca pita productivity derived from its more intense work
pace and its longer workday. There was no "schematic" and stateimposed

eight.-hour day, no limitations on overtime, and no restrictions an firings. Of


equal importance, he claimed that "it is second nature to everyone, even the
humblest, that 'production per person' is decisive for the economy, that an
increase in production per person benefits everyone. "14
Although Kottgen' s primary concern was production; he ~xpressed ad
miration for the cafeteria, the chain store, and, above ali, the 5-a.nd lOcent
store. These he viewed as a product of rationalized manufacturing, rather
than as a means of promoting domestic consumption and thereby encourag
ing industrial restructuring. 15 He was even more impressed by the govern
ment' s "especially strong initiatives" to orchestrate the voluntary coopera
tion of industry, commerce, and consumers in the setting and implementing
of norms and standards. 16 Not only did the U.S. Department of Commerce
have a Bureau ofStandards, but Herbert Hoover, when he was secretary
of commerce, had established a Division ofSimplified Practice anda Bureau
of Specifications. Here was a clear cause of American superiority that was
separable from its unique history and natural endowments.
Like most German industrialists, Kottgen did not first discover Germany' s
lagging productivity when he went to the United States. He had obsessed
about it in a 1923 pamphlet entitled Wor~ (a more appropriate title would
have been More Worlrj.17 He blamed Germany's low postwar productivity
on the Social Democrats, who had inspired government policies which regu
lated hours and dismissals, expanded the nurnber of unproductive workers,
and narrowed wage differentials so that the industrious were not adequately
rewarded. Ke>ttgen'S solution was straightforward and simple: "more produc
tion through more intensive work." In a scathing attack on the Social DemCY
crat Frieda Wnderlich, published in Soziale Praxis, Kottgen claimed that
Germany was not technologically backward and that high wages would
neither increase consumption nor enhance German competitiveness. 1
After visiting America, Kttgen could not deny the painful shortcom
ings of German technology and factory organization or assert that work
intensity alone would enhance productivity and profitability. He had to
invent more complex arguments to justify denying or postponing wage in
creases in Germany. He sketched out the basic position from which indus
trialists were to argue for the remainder of the decade: percapita produc
tivity was greater in America dueto mass production, which, in turn, was
made possible by large markets that resulted from the fortuitous conjuncture of size, low food costs-hence more disposable income-and a cultural

63

reference for uniform goods. High wages were theoretically possible in


bermany, but their practica! realization in the foreseeable future was dis
missed. The American experience showed the necessity of increasing prCY
ductivity by intensified work, better organization, or perhaps even more
mechanization, befare wages and domestic consumption were raised. 19
Kottgen envisioned a new economic role for the state. He combined con
tinued attacks on the interventionist Social Democratic welfare state with
pleas for state intervention to promote standardization and rationalization.
Quite predictably, the former was described as imposing coercive policies,
the ]atter, as encouraging voluntary "cooperative work." The former was
class-based and economically counterproductive; the latter, universally
~"-:e"'' beneficia! and economically essential. For Kottgen, America both reenforced
industry' s traditional opposition to the emerging welfare state and suggested
!l'E0": .. new forros of state activism that would aid industry but provide neither
immediate benefits nor an active role for workers and their representatives.
When Kottgen returned from America, he became a tireless propagan
dist for these ideas. In addition to writing Economic AmeTica, which the
VD! published, he spoke about his experiences befare the RKW, the annual meeting of the National Association of German Industry (RDI), and
the German World &onomy Society. These lectures, as well as other arti,
eles, appeared in publications of the RDI and the Gerrnan World Economy
Society; in Die A7beitgeber, journal of the Association of German Employ
ers' Organisations (VDA); in the VD!' s 'Techni~ und Wirtschaft; and in
such daily papers as the Deu.tsche Allgemeine Zeitu.ng. 20
Given Ke>ttgen' s prominence, his promotional activities, as well as the
support he was given by both Carl von Siemens and the Siemens firm, bis
book was widely reviewed. 21 Business circles received his message enthusiastically. At the 1925 meeting of the RDI, the association' s business man
ager, Ludwig Kastl, echoed many of Ke>ttgen' s arguments about America.
"In all areas and with ali factors of production there is an effort to speed up
and intensify the production process," he noted with unconcealed admira
tion. "There is happy cooperation in the completion and improvement of
individual products. 22 An unnarned reviewer in the Deu.tsche vol~swirt
schaftliche Correspondenz endorsed Kottgen' s views uncritically and used
them to attack both Christian and Social Democratic trade unionists with
a viciousness unparalled in Ke>ttgen' s own writings. He blamed Social Democrats for Germany' s inflation, lack of capital, and uncompetitiveness. He
stated that they "were notable to thnk economically and thus nota ble to
act economically." They utterly failed to grasp the most important lesson
ofK6ttgen's book, namely, that American wages were built upon greater
productivity per worker, which in turn enabled America to rationalize
so extensively. 23 Ke>ttgen would no doubt ha ve agreed with the substance
of this argument, even if he preferred to speak from the high ground of
science and leave the political thrust of his argument implicit.
Those in or close to the trade union movements-Christian and lib
eral as well as Social Democratic-found K6ttgen' s statistics questionable,

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Ana~Tican Economic Success and German Emulation

Jmagining Amt'rica

65

his economic th.eory weak, his conclusions wrong, and his pesSimism miSplaced. Severa! authors attacked Kottgen' s arguments aboilt American agriculture. If it was not the key to prosperity, productivity, and high wages,
then Germany's less efficient agricultura! production.did. not pose a permanent obstacle to these goals, as Ktittgen had implied. Dr. Hermann Lufft
disputed Kottgen' s statistics and accused him of using "methods over which
he had insufficient command and which he applied purely mechanically and
formally to reach conclusions that had eminently political meaning. "24 The
liberal trade unionist and member of parliament Anton Erkelenz denied

that American food was significantly cheaper, while the Catholic trade
unionist Edmund K.leinschmitt dismissed the significance of agriculture in
particular and natural resources in general in advanced industrial societies.
The secret of American economic success, both nsisted, was its superior
technology, extensive mechanization 1 and superb factory organization, that
is, factors that could be emulated. 25

Social Democratic commentators marshaled a variety of arguments


against Ktlttgen. TheGewer~schafts-'leitung praised him for giving an accurate picture of the land 1 people, and economy in America and for detailing
advances in mechanization and scientific management. But it criticized
Kottgen for railing to grasp that American productivity and high wages were
achieved through sup_erior technology and factory organization, not through
exploitation of the individual worker. Quoting Ford against Kttgen, the
review concluded-, "Everything can be made better than it previously
was. '"6 The SPD national daily, Vorwiirts, stressed markets rather than technological arguments: "The highest wages and the lowest prices strengthen
buying power in America and expand consumption so that with the help
of mass sales only in the domestic market, that mass production is developed which enables America to be enormously competitive in the world
market. "27
Kurt Heinig, a functionary of the Foreman s Union, a radical turned
revisionist, and a member of the 1925 trade union delegation t America,
focused his scathing critique of Kottgen' s book on the lamentable inferiority of German entrepreneurship vis-a-vis its Amedcan counterpart. He
described Economic America as a hodgepodge of "business platitudes, ...
work maxims-for others-so-calJed econoinic principies, and illogical con.c]usions." According to Heinig, Kattgen had seen America but had not
understood how production was organized and management was chosen.
He was living proof that "our entrepreneurs ha ve declined markedly in
quality over the last decade." Like other industrialists, Kattgen grasped only
Taylorism and interpreted even that in the narrowest way. American entre.preneurs, Heinig argued, were a different breed entirely.
Heinig knew ful! well that American industrialists ranged from backward to modern, but he could not resist the temptation to develop an ideal
type, based on Henry Ford, to use as a cudge] against German capitalists.
Thus in Heinig' s adulatory view, American industrialists across the board
understood that econornic success derived from Fordist mass production and

nd that the secret of Pordism, in turn, was the careful orga


consumption,
'

f roduction with a minute div1s1on o f 1a borand t h e mee h an1za


izat1on P
'

d'd
1
h f d
'1~'1~. n.
f ali transport within the factory. Ford1sm 1 not a ter t e un a)J
tion
f capitalism Heinig conc1uded, "but we would be content tf our
1s 0
menta
'
mar'
entre
reneurs at least
grasped Fordism, un d erstood t h e dornes t ic
k~; and their responsibility toward it. ""
. . .
.

N
gly KOttgen brusquely rejected these cr1t1c1sms h1s assess
ot surpnsm
.
..
. r
"29 H
d d
f-.,. ': ent might be pessimist1c, but so were the economtc 1acts.
e co~ce e
m I h t his analysis paid too little attention to the high rate of capital for, 00 ~ t ~ the United Sta tes. Germany could only accumulate comparable

matton

10

k"

investment capital through "more intens1ve wor .


.
.
.
Social Democratic trade unionists were not co:tent to !~erpr~t Am~nca
""'"'-'.'- based only on the suspect analyses of conserva ti ve 1ndustnahsts, hbe~l JOUf'
nalists, and apolitical engineers. America could only be understood 1~ seen
: f' t h nd Therefore in Septemberof 1925 the General Confederat1on of
at IfS a
f

German Trade Unions (ADGB) sent 14 .lead1ng unct1onar1es t~ mer1c~.


After attending the American Federat1on of Labor congress 1n Atlant1c
City, New Jersey, paying their respects at the grave of Samuel Gompers,
the founder of the American trade union movement, and meeting w1th t~e
U.S. secretary of labor, the trade unionists fanned out across the land. D1slaying the organizational fetishism that was at once the strength and weak
~ess ofGerman Social Democracy, the delegation carefully divided research
responsibilities. William Eggert and Franz Josef Furtwangler fro.m the national executive traveled in the Northeast and M1dwest, 1nspect1ng far.m~,
factories, and oil fields in order to evaluate social conditions. Kurt 1:fe1n1g
was responsible for determining how the economy as a whole funct1oned;
The representa ti ves of the miners', garment. worke_rs', tr~nsport _worke~s
d woodworkers' unions investigated the1r particular 1ndustnes, whde
:~de unionists from the food and beverage workers: organization explored
the puzzling phenomenon of Prohibition. Finally, Fntz Tarnow stud1ed the
trade union movement and B. Meyer examined .workers' ban~s.' After two
months of inspecting and interviewing, counting and categor1z1ng, the del,
egation returned to Germany, where four of its members produced 'The
American ]ourney of German 'frade Union Leaders, a we1ghty tome on
30

economy and society in America.


.
. .
.
Unlike such prewar trade unionists as Carl Leg1en, who v1s1ted Amer1ca
to learn about a Iess developed workers' movement, the 192~ delega tes carne
to learn about a more successful form of capitalism. The tnp and the book
it engendered sought to elaborate a Socia~ Demo.cratic explanation for
American economic success and to determine wh1ch pract1ces the labor
movement believed could and should be imitated. Of equal importance, t~e
delegation promised to uncover the dark side o~ the America~ econom1c
miracle. H Given that bourgeois observers either 1gnored the social and economic conditions in which the majority of workers lived or treated workers as the abstract embodiment of virtues deemed desirable
industry, _one
can readily understand this desire to expose the seamy s1de of American

?Y

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i
1

AmeTican Economic Success a11d Gerl"!Jllfl Emullltion

Imagining AmeTica

capitalism. Finally, responding to Kttgen, the trade ~nionist~ explored th


reJationship betwee:n work interisity and prosperity.32
.
e
. Like those who ha_d preceded thm, the trade unionis.ts were concerned
first. and foremost w1th American production and prod_uctivity. With
admuable thoroughn~ss, H~inig and Furtw~ngler weighed the evidence
gath~re~ about work intensity, factory otganization, mechanizatiOn, standardizat1on, sales, and wages. lndustry by industry, Heinig.made his case
the work J?ace was least intense in the most modern and productive sec~
tors; .the e1ghthour day, ev~n if far from universal, was more widespread
than J~ Germany; and Amencan machines did not, on the whole, run faster.
~~en~an factories, especially the most modern ones, were guided by the
prmc1ple of the optimum-an attempt to get the greatest result from the
leas~ poss1ble use of energy and material"-not by t~e Taylorist precept of
max1mum effort by the individual worker. Optimization was achieved
through mechanization, but even better results were pos~ible when the
factory was organized to bring work, parts, and tools to the worker. 33 Jn,
stead oflowering their wage bilJ, American firms sought to cut costs in ali
?ther areas. They paid attention to Hoover's investigation of waste in
1ndustry, which pointed out deficiences and layed the blame on employers.
The Ge_r~~n trade unionista were astonished and envious that government
wo~l? 1n1t1ate such a study and that industry would cooperate. Perhaps,
Heinig suggested, America might best be described of as a form of "state
sociahst priva te capitalism. "34
. According to the ADGB delegation, norms and standardization played
an Important role in Amencan productivity, even if it was a different pro
cess fro~ wh~t most German observers claimed. According to the ADGB
?elegat1on, ~1gh output and low prices were not attained by manufactur
mg standard1zed goods, but rather by producing interchangable parts that
could be _used 1n many d1fferent models. American rnass production was
fu~th~r ai?ed by the size and volume of its markets as well as by the tastes
of its imm1g:ant populations. But these advantages were created rather than
nat~ral~r g1ven, for American industrialists operated according to the
max1m~ sel1 a lot and sell quickly." Hence, they were able to lower prices.35
More important, they paid high wages.
. American wage rates, not only for skilled workers but for many un
sk1lle~ ones as well, were roughly four times greater than German ones.
Amer1cans could bu~ m?re far their wages, since food and clothing were
scar_cely more expens1ve 1n absolute terms in America than in Germany and
at ttm~s they were even cheaper. 36 To be sure, the trade unionists noted
the ex1stence of child labor and exploited wornen's work; they acknowl
edged the u_nderclass of black and new immigrant workers; they admitted
~hat one:th1rd of American workers lived in poverty. But even the most
1mpover1shed workers seemed substantialiy better off than their German
counterparts. The American poverty line was set well above the Gerrnan
one, and those below it spent only 40 percent of their income on food as
opposed to 55 percent in Germany.37 Workers occupying the bottom ru~gs
1

67

. f h roletariat seldom remained there permanently, at least if they were


t ep

d F urtwang
1er, 1gnonng
.
. t he s1tuat1on
.
. of
,,,- O0 fB
f1tIS h or German or1g1n 1 note
_-, . blacks, jmmigrants from southern and east.ern Europe, and women. l~
..
Aceording to the 'The American Journey, U.S. entrepreneurs viewed
rates not ust as "an object of social power struggles" but as. ques
.
wage f importance for the whole economy because t heyde termine
d 1ts pros
'~ - .
. uono
..
l
.
"
G
d
. .
lea d,
t This attitude was a reve at1on to erman tra e un1on1sts,
y.
1
.
h
h
.
h
.'
peri
-.,:..,:.. th m to conclude that "if the compu s1on to pay 1g wages ts t ere,
e
.
. ble 1orce
r
r
.
1iza tion and
, ' .mg
his compulsion
proves to be an 1rres1st1
1or rat1ona
t
.
d . . ..,,
incr"eas1ng pro uct1v1ty.
. .
In early chapters of'fhe American ]ourney, the trad~ un~oni~ts stressed
. the enormous differences between Germany and Amenca _in stze, p~pul_a,
ra.w materials, and productive capacity. Above all the1r economtc h1s
tion~s
differed. Germany was an "old cultural land," which had developed
0

ern
capitalism over hundreds of years, and many res1d ues o f prev1ous
od
m

economicsystems
survived intact. America, by contrast, "h. d no ec~nomic
ast nocenturiesold and fossilized forms that needed to be cucumnav1gated,
hlo~n up, pushed aside, and reformed .... " It had vast unsettled territo
ries that could be developed by enterprising immigrants. 40 Both the mate
ria! aspects of the A~erican e:onomy a~d ~.he spirit ani~a~ing.it .were
"organic parts of a particular social format1on, the trade un10~1sts 1ns1sted,
warning that "our domestic economy cannot be altered by m1~dless co~y,
ing, by imitation of individual gears of the American product1ve mach1n
ery, or by innoculation with the American spirit. " 41
.
By the book's conclusion ali suchcaution had been thrown to the w1nd.
America was held up not only as a model for Germany' s economic future,
but as a textbook from which one could read the revised laws of capitalist
development. America did not provide the impetus to c~iticize orthodox
Marxism for reformist Social Democrats had long quest1oned the theory
that capi~alist development would inevitably bring economic crisis, social
polarization, and increased unemployment. But America did offer much more
convincing proof than Germany' s own history that Marx' s the~ry of
immiserization was wrong, that it was possible for workers to share in the
benefits of increased productivity, even under capitalism, and that capital
ism itself could be restructured.4 2 If America was the quintessential late
capitalist country, as Britain had been the paradigm of early capi~alism, t~en
depressing domestic developments were less important than encourag1ng
American ones.
The most astonishing American accomplishment, concluded the report,
lay not in ,technology or work organization but in consumption. Like every
other industrialized country, America was experiencing rapidly expanding
productive capacity, but only America understood how to expand dome~
tic buying power. High wages, low prices, fast turnover, and low profit
per piece combined to crea te a vast interna! market, which in turn promoted
"the wonders of technology and work organization. "4l Without pausing to
assess whether Germany could follow suit, the trade unionists insisted that

to

mm

r-: 1
l.i'

,,, ! '

i
1
1

68

Imagi11itig America

"the central problem of the European economy iS and ~iH rema'in increas;
ing mass purchasing power .... Thus it is completely cleaf t~at the trade
union struggle to increase wages is not only a social necessity but also a task
upon whose accomplishment the further development of the Whole economy
depends. "+4 Demand, and hence wages, were more im-portant-than supply,
and rationalizat~on was a product of expanded consumption, nOt its pre
cursor. The log1c of successful capitalism was quite different from what
?arr~wminded a~d selfdefeating German entrepreneurs, such as Kottgen,
1magmed, Accordmg to the trade union delegation, the farsighted and openm1nded American entrepreneur and not the industrious and selfless work.er
bore prime responsibility for American achievements.
'
. A cautious and nuanced analysis of American society and economy had
g1ven way toan uncritical endorsement of the American model of production and consumption. Both the productivism of Social Democratic theory
and the selfi?terest of the trade union membership encouraged' this embrace
of the American model. But why were there so few reservations about the
extent of American accomplishments or the possibilities ofGerman emula
tio?? The a~~wer probably lies in the timing of the tri p. It was easy to pin
po1nt the fa1hngs of the American mode] but harder to convince a German
audience, for, as Toni Sender noted, "What a different Jife the American
scene pres~nted in those years of prosperity, as compared with battletorn
and suffenng Germany !"45 Moreover, the trip was undertaken not only to
refute alternative analyses, but to shape concrete reform plans ata time when
all sides endorsed the necessity of rationalization. It would have been rhe
torically ineffective and politically self-defeating for Social Democrats
to hedge their admiration with too many qualifications and conditions.
Better to translate their praise for Am.erica into a simple prescription for
Germany' s economic ills.
The naive optimism of the book' s conclusion may well reflect more than
justa belief that America offered hope for an improved version of capital1sm, Accordmg toSender, if American capitalism could develop such product1v1ty and prosperity, who knew what was possible under socialism. Far
from making socialism a superfluous idea, America "offers socialist hopes
the strongest confirmation. "46
Needless to say, The American]ourney was not well received by indus
trialists. Communists were also highly critica!, claiming that it not only
glas.sed over poverty, exploitation, and inequitable wage rates, but also
demed the applicability of the laws of capitalist crises to America.47 Sorne
liberal economic commentators, however, supported the Social Democratic
analysis of American economic success, even if they saw Americanism as a
way to elimina te the danger of socialism, rather than to has ten its arrival. 48
Arth~r Feiler deni~~ that either natural resources or low wages explained
Amencan product1v1ty and competitiveness; rather, it was the size of the
domes tic market, the prevalence of mass production, the extensive division
of labor, an,d the health of the workers, Julius Hirsch developed similar
arguments in h1s w1dely read book, The American Econotnic Miracle. Al

American Economic Success and German Emulation

69

th0 ugh abundant natural resources and vast size gave America sorne eco
ic advantages, the real key to its prosperity was "a special organization
nom
'h
'l
h
[' ork in production and transportatlOil
t 'atb
JS UI ton a great S ortage
0
f :orkers, enormously high real wages, and buying power that is thereby
0
gthened,
The hallmarks of that organization of work, Hirsch constren included ,rationalization, etan d ard'1zat1on,
'
and" t h e assem bly l'1ne,
cluded,
hich means simultaneously lower prices, higher wages, shorter hours, and
- ~ eased production." It did not entail more intensive work.' 1 No wonder
1ncr
.
.
52
his critics mistakenly 1abeled h1m a Social Democrat.
Moritz J, Bonn, who traveled and taught extensively in the United
States, was the most prolific liberal analyst, comparing Germany and
America in numerous books and articles. He lambasted German entrepre
rs for clinging to medieval ideas of a just price and a fair return and for
ne U
f
, l'
,
oiding risk and competition. They needed to learn rom cap1ta 1sm in
av
,
, G erma~~ "_ h e ~ro t e,."b u t
America, which "is not eth1cally
better t h an 1n
, economically much smarter. "53' Capitalism could leg1t1mate 1tself e1ther
IS
,
,
h'
54
through high wages or social welfare; Amen ca had cho.sen ~ .e 1ormer. "
"American industry has understood that it can only produce 1f 1t can sell,
Bonn argued, and therefore it promoted buying power and cultiv:ted con
sumer loyalty. German heavy industry, in contrast, would prefer an econ
omy without customers. " 55
.
.
While Bonn' s anal ysis was practically ident1cal to that of the Social
Democrats, he saw Americanism asan end in itself, as liberal capitalism at
its best, with rationalized production, mass consumption, and no car:els.
Far Bonn, this represented an alternative not only to welfare state capital~
ism and socialism, but also to KBttgen' s vision of an efficient but austere
German economy.
Engineers, who were so central to the theory and practice of economic
rationalization, traveled to America in great numbers and carved out a po
sitien in this complex debate that reflected their professional culture and
concerns, While they produced few popular books, they did f!ocd technical and economic journals, as well as the offices of their employers, with
assessments of machines, factory organization, job structures, and manage~
ment practices. They were unquestionably the most serious ~tudent~ ~nd
ardent admirers of American factories and were correspond1ngly cr1t1cal
of German deficiencies. Such engineers as Georg Schlesinger and Franz
Westermann emphasized that in America the preparation of materials, the
machines, and the transportation system within factories were all si~nifi
cantly better than in Germany. 56 Paul Riebensahm noted that Amencans
used machine tools in ''new, practical, and inventive ways."57
In unpublished reports to their firms, engineers were eq~ally unre
strained in their praise. Lilge, from Gutehoffnungshtte, attr1buted the
"fabulous and enviable" American productivity not to more intensive work
but to thoroughgoing mechanization. 58 After visiting 23 American facto
ries, Maschinenfabrik AugsburgNrnberg Director Lauster confessed that
"automated production gives a really high degree of quality and accuracy,

"'

F1T"'1

. 'J

70

American Economic Success and German Emulation

Imagini11g AmeTica
'

which 1 had not imagined before seeing it." American firms had eliminated
alJ unproductive work and unnecessary transport within the factory. Their
machine tools and products were simply designed. Americans found Ger
man models "too complicated, too scientific, and in manY cases too diffi,
cult to produce. "S9 A study of American blast furna'ces, commissioned by
the Phoenix division of Vestag, praised the standardized preparation of
materials, the simplicity and efficiency of the machineryand the high qua!
ity and uniformity of the product. Germans had everything to learn from
the American example, the report concluded.60
Engineers offered divergent judgements of the American work pace,
but even those who believed it was significantly greater than in Germany
did not attribute American productivity and competitiveness to the work
pace any more than they did to America' s admittedJy rich natural resources.
Por all their admiration of American mass production, engineers were sin,
gularly.silent about its economic 1 as opposed to technological, ~spects. They
recogn1zed that mass production lowered costs and increased sales, and
unlike man y Germans, they admired the uniformity and quality of standard,
ized products. But they never explored whether high wages were essential
for this modern form of capitalism.
The arguments of engineers began and ended with technology and
factory organization, far this was what .they knew best. The American
factory offered concrete proof of what engineers could accomplish if they
were properly valued, as German engineers felt their American counter,
parts were. Thus, while workers attributed American economic success to
farsighted and daring entrepreneurs, and industrialists assigned responsi,
bility to diligent and unpolitical workers, engineers credited their own
profession.
These differing visions of the American economic model informed the
quite different proposals for economic reform that were introduced in Ger,
many in 1925 and 1926.

Americanizing Germany/Germanizing Americanism


Nearly every observer of the American scene, from the most enthusiastic
to the most critica!, warned against "wanting to make Europe in to America,"
by a wholesale adoption of the American methods of production and con,
sumption anda mindless cultivation of American values.6 1 Slavish imita,
tion was "not worthy of a great cultural people," admonished Siegfried
Hartmann.62 Fordism required certain economic prerequisites as well as
a preference for mass production over quality work, warned Wilhelm
Vershofen. 63 Germany needed to developits men rather than its machines,
far which it, in any case, Iacked the necessary capital, insisted Karl
Arnhold. 64 It must learn from America but avoid "the schematic transfer
of externals, which have their roots in the different circumstances of the
new world," wrote Bruno Birnbaum. 65 The ADGB delegation agreed and

'

71

.
vealingly classless twist on a famous Marxist slogan, argued that "the
maretion of the European economy from t h e cha1ns
of'1ts b ac kward ness can
libera
.
lf"66
!y be the work of Europe 1tse .
on So e German observers even predicted that America would become
Europ;.nized, or at least face European problems ..Moritz J. Bonn noted that
America could no longer find markets by extend1ng tts f~ont1er or allow1~g
11'::::::/
mi'gration 6'J Charlotte Ltkens was airead y conv1nced that Amenca
form of capitalism w1th
. 1mmature
.
relat1ons.

' $~~,::: .mass 1m t ed an early


socia
Its
.
h
e
e
rr:u::c: . represen'ty deri'ved from its extraord1nary
natural wea t , not 1rom success1u
prospen
. .
.
rationalization; late cap1tahst Euro pe had noth1ng to learn from across
68

the sea.
A

d
Most Germans, however, were convinced that menea represente
h future toward which Europe must of necessity aspire, at least in part.
~:Hirsch put it, "(T)he inner, immutable ]aws of develop.ment will lead
inevitably to phenomena ~hat are ve_r~ sin:'ilar to t~os~. wh1ch have _Ied to
h astonishing econom1c product1v1ty tn Amer1ca. But they d1d not
suc
' ' 1or
E urope was "who'w1
ll
necessarily agree with him that the only question
adapt most quickly. " 69
.
.
]t was not only the longterm logic of capitalism, but also the 1mmed1
ate capitalist crisis in Germany that seemed t? p~omote Amer1can1~~ ~1though i.ndustrialists, engineers, and trade un1on1sts an.alyzed the cr~s1s d1f,
ferently, they agreed that drama tic reforms were requ1red to s?lve tt. The
American example could be used or abused; it could not be 1gnored. As
A. Braunthal wrote in the Gewer~schaftsArchiv, "In view of the cu.rrent
economic situation, there can ~ni~ be one opinion about t~e n~ces~tty ..~~
rationalization. The only question is what one meaos by rat1onahzat1on.
In the mid,1920s argumenta about imitating America.led.to calls ~or
rationalizing Germany. The shift in terminology from Amen~ntsrn to ra~lO'
nalization is revealing and provides a starting point for explonng the var1ed
reform plans of different groups.
''Rationalization is a new word, made in Germany," noted the German
correspondent for the Manchester Guardian. "Nobody ~as ye~ succeeded
in saying shortly what it meatls, but that it means s.ometh1ng of 1mpo~tance
is not open to doubt."71 Therein lay the extraordmary appeal of th1s elu
si ve term. Rationalization was a s1ngularly capac1ous and elast1c concept.
It sounded appealingly modero, yet unlike "efficiency~ or."F~r~ism," it was
distinctly German. It offered the possibility of selectmg md1v1dual aspeas
of American production, management, and sales without adopt1ng Amencanism or Fordism- however defined-in toto. It enabled Germans to speak
a common language about sorne aspects of economic reform, while :.ceo~'
modating their incompatible ideas about others. In short, the term ratio
nalization" could at one and the same time incorporate, transcend, and
Germanize various versions of Americanism. Por example, Herbert
Hinnenthal, who became business manager of the RKW in the late 1920s,
argued that rationalization encompassed "everything that could serve to

72

Imagining America

restare equilibrium, regardless of whether it involves imitation of Amerj,


can models, adaption of American methods to German conditions, or inde,
pendent German endeavors. "72
.
To insist that rationalization should only mean te.chnologii:al andorga,
nizational change, for example, or only refer to the attainment of greater
output wi~h th~ same or smaller input, might produce a succinc~ and elegant
argument, but 1t would gravely distort the contemporary discourse aboUt
the term. lt would miss the complex movement and the bitter conflicts that
developed around it and would fail to revea! why che saber term "rationaf,
ization" carne to capture the imagination and encapsulate the hopes of 80
many Weimar Germans.7l
Central to the German idea of rationalization was the American idea
of efficiency, but efficiency, or Wirtschaftlich~eit, captured only the narrowest understanding of rationalization. A survey of definitions reveals a
consensus about economic means but not about the social and political ends
they should serve. The RKW defined rationalization as "the employment
of all means of technique and ordered plans which serve to elevate the whole
of industry and to increase production, lower its costs and improve its quaJ,
74
ity. " In .1~25 document entitled German Economic and Financial Policy,
the Assoc1at1on of German Industrialists stated, "By rationalization we
unders~and the re~sonable employment of ali technical and organizational
~eans 1n arder to 1ncrease the productivity of human work as muchas pos,
~1ble. AH those employed in the production of goods must strive to improve, .
1ncrease, and cheapen production through the use of these means. "75 The
ADGB fired back a position paper on The Present Tas~s of the German
Economy, which attacked most of industry' s arguments but accepted much
of this definition of rationalization.76

~here.al~ was agreement about how to categorize the bewildering arra y


of ~at1onah~t10~ st:ategies, advocated or employed. Technical and organi,
~t1onal rat1onahzat1on encompassed changes most directly affecting produc,
t1on and the labor process on the shop floor. Commercial rationalization
covered bo.th new methods of cost accounting and firm management and
new techn1ques of sales and service. Finally, human or social rationalization referred to personnel management, vocational testingand training, and
com~any social policy. Rationalization methods employd within the firm
~nd 10 the economy as a whole, it was acknowledged, were related and
mterdependent yet different.77
Consen_sus about general definitions was achieved by circumventing
the.econo~1c.al_ly c_entral and politically divjsive questions about precisely
wh1ch rat1?nahza.t10~ measures should be implemented, at whose expense,
and at wh1ch po1nt 1n the processes of restructuring. Just how little the
s~ared commitment to efficiency and productivism meant in the face of
disagr_eement over such issues emerges clearly in the debates surrounding
techn1cal and organizational rationalization, that is, about the Americanization of the production process itself.

AmeTican Economic Success and GeTman Emulation

73

. A variety of disparate phenomena fell under the rubric of technical and


, rganizational rationalization. There was the restructuring of firms and in,
~ustrial sectors by the elimination of inefficient and backward factories and
the concentration and integration .of those that survived. There was the
' traisformation of individual factories by mechanization or by the reorgani,
Zation of the labor process with or without new technology. Such restruc !';:';;f turing could take the form of llow production-that is, moving the raw

materials or work pieces to the worker 1 who performed complex tasks-or


. it could take the form of the Fordist assembly line, staffed by semiskilled
detail workers. Either innovation could affect an entire plant or selected
. parts. Finally, there was the standardization of work and product through
time-and-motion studies and through industry-wide norms and interchangeable parts.
German industry evinced suprisingly little enthusiasm far technical and
organizational rationalization in any of its forms. Far from wanting to mod,
ernize production and deskill workers, industrialist after industrialist insisted
on the impossibility of introducing any but the most minimal innovations.
To be sure, there was widespread approval, within industry and beyond,
for concentration and integration, vertical and especially horizonal.78 Indus
trial circles as well as engineerng and trade union ones recognized that inflation had preserved innumerable inefficient and technologically backward
production facilities which must be closed down. 79 This negative rationalization, as it was euphemistically labeled, had detrimental short,term con,
sequences far capital and labor alike, but was regarded as unavoidable. Even
the Miners' Union, which saw tens of thousands of its members laid off in
the "closure mania" of 1925, insisted that the process was "in its fundamentals correct and necessary." In practice, however, it was unbearable because
it was done solely for profit and without state aid to protect workers. 80
Industry, however, viewed mechanization, flow production, the assem,
bly line and standardization much more negatively, and considered fullscale
Fordism to be utterly unrealizable. The RDI' s German Economic and
Financial Policy, written ata crucial early stage in the rationalization debate,
summarized the views ofleading industrialists. First, the source of Germany' s
current economic crisis, which purportedly threatened the very livelihood
of the nation, was not its technological backwardness; rather, industry placed
the blame squarely on the policies of left-leaning politicians and allegedly
spendthrift bureaucrats. In tones of outrage, the RDI claimed that taxes and
social welfare payments had increased from 14 percent of national income in
1913 to 25-30 percent in 1925-a burden it considered unacceptable. The
cure far th.e economic crisis was not mechanization or reorganization but
dramatic cuts in social welfare payments and taxes. The RDI policy state,
ment mentioned rationalization only after every aspect of the state's tax,
tariff, welfare, monetary, and credit policies had been criticized at length.
The principal means recommended were concentration of production and
cartels, with standardization and worker education mentioned in passing. 81

h i;
I'

'i

'.:

74

American &oriomic Success and Germari Emulatiori

Imagining America

Technical rationalization was not only of secondary i~porta~ce; it was


also prohibitively expensive. "The question of rationalization is first and
foremost a question of money,~ insisted the RDl-a fact t.hose who constantly referred .to the American modeJ failed to realize. 82 Germany had
become an impoverished country, living austerely on the margin~ no~ed many
industrialists as weH as sorne engineers. War, 'inflation, and reparations had
destroyed the savings and profits that might otherwise have funded technological rationalization.sJ
Jndustrialists disagreed about whether rationalization by other means
would eventuaJly produce the capital necessary far extensive mechanization
and reorganization. KOttgen, far example, left open the possibility that,
at sorne unspecified point in the future, capital might be available fer
investment i/-and this was central to industry' s vision-in the present
work was intensified, hours were lengthened, and wages werf held clown.
In Kttgen's rationalization scenario-which groups such as the Ernploy,
ers' Association and the Gerrnan Brown Coal Association in Halle, sharedrnore intensive work and stable or lower wages would increase productiv,
ity and lead to greater exports and higher profits, which in turn would
provide capital for gradual investment in technological and organizational
irnprovements. This would further enhance productivity, cut costs, increase
profits, and lead, step by step, to further technical and organizationa.I ratio,
nalization that eventuaHy would lower prices and raise wages.84
Others regarded rationalized mass production as a threat to the essence
of German economic success, which they defined as specialized quality prod
ucts made by skilled workers. They argued that German quality work, es pe
cially German specialorder finished goods, hadan international reputation
that should not be sacrificed in a futile attempt to compete with American
rnass production. 85 As C. F. van Siernens put it, "In the German econorny
there is a strong streak of individualism that has carried us forward and that
rnust be rnaintained under al! circumstances. " 6 Germany' s vas t. and pres
tigeous machine tool industry was especially anxious to maintain its repu
tation far flexibility and excellence.87 Moreover, according to a favorite
right-wing slogan of the day, Germany was poor in capital and rich in men.
Since labor was neither scarce nor as expensive as in America, it rnade no
sense to replace men with machines. On the contrary, industry should pay
special attention to the "education of the next generation. "89 This plea to
value men over machines was far sorne industrialists an excuse to avoid
rationalization; for others it was a cover far intensified exploitation, ora
key element in a program to crea te a new, more productive and politically
conservative working class. In all cases it was used to explain why rational,
ization would look distinctly different in Germany.
. Various engineers tried to persuade industry that quality and quan
t1ty are compatible, that the assembJy line and mechanization produced
cheap goods but not necessarily shoddy ones. Of equal importance, flexible,
specialized production could be maintained while the advantages of stan~
dardization and rnechanization were gained, if firms adhered to industry

75

d norms used interchangeable parts, and introduced flow production


ee assembly
'
prod uctton
process.90 p1na]]y,
line at certain stages of thetr
ort h ans could significantly lower costs, even w1t
h out A menean-sea

e,
Germ
od' k .
.1
roduction runs, by adopting Fordist rneth . s ~or . eep1ng raw ~ater~a s
~nd work pieces steadily in motion, thereby ehm1nat1ng unproduct1ve time
Wl

-:.: '

and work. 91
These arguments fell on deaf ears. Sorne industrialists, such as Carl
Kottgen, Robert Bosch, and Felix Deutsch of A.E.G., argued that the
ist assembly line was applicable only to a hm1ted number of products,
Ford

1 and watc h es. "M


such
as bicycles, lamps, sew1ngmach1nes
. any arg~e d t h at
factories could introduce individual elemen:s of Ford1st product1on but
uld not attain anything like Ford' s econom1c success unless they adopted
~~total system.9' Few believed that was possible. Gutehoffnungshtte
gineer Lilge summarized the prevailing view when he 1ns1sted that w1th
~~ta vastly expanded dornestic market and the nearly universal adoption
of norms and standardized parts, American technology would be costly and
94
inefficient and mass production utterly unrealistic.
Never was pessimism greater than when the autornobile ~ndustry was
discussed. While sorne trade unionists and economic analysts c1ted the Opel
assembly lineas proof of what was possible, such industrialists as Kottgen
and Bosch 1 and engineering professors, such as Vershofen, insisted that
95
Germany could not sustain a Fordized autornobile industry. Ernst
Neuberg, director of the Deutsche Automobil-Construktionsgesellschaft,
had nothing but praise far Henry Ford' s successful battles on the econorn1c
field cornparing their importance to Waterloo and Sedan. Nonetheless, he
argu~d that Gerrb.any lacked the markets and capital to imitate Ford and
that German consumers and workel's would reject Fordist innovations. The
most German auto rnakers could learn from Ford was how to reduce inven
tories and speed rnaterials through the plant. 96
Industrialists supported Kiittgen' s proposal of an independent but state
funded agency to promote rationalization and produce norms and standards
for industry and trade. Or 1 to be more precise, industry allowed itsel~ to be
mobilized behind this project by Kottgen and Siemens.97 Jndustry viewed
the proposed RKW much more favorably than other rationalization strate
gies first and forernost because it was cheap .~ ~asy. ~he cost :vould. b~
borne primarily bythe state, rather than the 1~d1v1dua~ ftrm, and in the 101
tial stages business was only asked to share 1nformat1on an? endorse the
principie of norrns, not to restructure products and product1on pro~es~es.
Moreover., norms were compatible with specialized products and hrn~ted
rnarkets; they did not necessarily entail standardized mass product1on.
Finally, Kottgen' s revamped RKW was built on the principie of voluntary
collaboration among businessmen and engineers-"cooperative work" was
the code word-and not on the practice of bureaucratic decision making
and governmental compulsion. 98 The state would pay but not supervise;
politicians and officials would participate, but in a distinctly subordinate
role.

rl'T
; ..

'

_,~

76

1/
1
1

t,f~~'.:'.. .

Imagining Amcrica

So~e improvements in internal factory transportati~n and adoption


of certa1n norms-these were che meager recommendations for technical and
~rga~i~tional rationaliz.ltion that German capitalists distilJe~ from the glow.
1ng v1s1on of speeding assembly lines, rnarvelous specialized ni.achine tool

.~~ ~~'.fM:::~.

the

an~

stunning standardization in American factories: The representativ:~


of industry _b1amed the povertr. of their imagination and prac~ice 00 forces
b.eyond the1r control, such as the extraordinary diversity of our productmn, the desperate lack of capital, and state imposed burdens. "99 They rebuffed the ch~rge_ that industry itself was to blame for Germany' s backwardness because It htd beh1nd cartels, shunned technical innovation clung to
ou~moded market strategies, and refused to take risks.100 Indu~try thus
qui.etly ~nd?rsed the theoretica1 desirability of technical and organizational
ratmnahzat1on, while loudly denying its practica) feasibility.
!~is left t~e Social Democratic trade unions, and to a lesse;r extent their
Chr1st1an ~nd. liberal c?unterparts, as the principal proponents of technical
and orgarnzatmnal rationalization. 101 The DMV vigorously debated how
~ar one c~uld imita te American methods, but not whether one had to move
102
in that d1rection. The Miners' Union complained about the difficulties
created br_ rat_ionalization, given shrinking world markets and high unem
plo~ment In s1ngle.-industry mining towns, but they directed their attack
agains~ the unregulated capitalist context in which rationalization was
occurring,_ not ~gainst mechanization and reorganization per se. lOl
The s1tuat10~ was ironic i~deed. Those least a ble to modernize the shop
fl?r were m~st in favor of do1ng so. Those who risked the shortterm loss
of J0 _bs ~nd sk1lls dueto mechanization, flow production, and the assembly
line 1ns1sted that 1t would bnng tremendous benefits in the long run. Those
most opposed to the power and prerogatives of capital claimed to under
stand both the laws of capitalism and the self-interest of capitalists better
than the capitalists themselves.
.
T~e. Social Democratic endorsement of rationalization like the
1ndust1alists' rejection of it1 had complex roots. Trade union fu~~tionaries
party politicians, and large numbers of workers shared a fascination with
techn~logy, a commitment to productivism, anda belief that the dialectic
ofrap1talist development would ultimately benefit workers most.10 They
prided themselves on not ?ein_g Luddites. 105 Economic and technological
developme_nts ~er~ unfold1ng In only one direction, they insisted, and to
oppos~ rat1.onal1zat1on would be to "tilt at windmills. "106 Social Democrats
could ima?i~e rationalized capitalism as the basis of a reformist welfare state
oras a building block of a socialist society; they could not imagining a better future that dld not entat! extens1ve rationalization.
. T~e politics of productivity pushed Social Democrats in the same
d1rect1on as these fundamental and often weakly articulated values. Social
Democrats embraced rationalization in part because after 1923 capital had
success~ully ~brogated the eighthour day in severa! industries and was
demand~ng st1U longer hours and more intensive work as the first step toward
econom1c recovery. 10'7 Labor agreed that Germany needed to produce more

'

America11 Economic Success and German Emulation

77

t less cost if it was to become competitive abroad and prosperous at home,

; ~. .~ -.:;.~ ;_f.~-.; ' :. '. ;~~~:v~~~r1::; ~u~~~;:~o;v~~;r"~a: :~!'!'.':.:~;~~~~: :~:d~~r:i~~~;


0

'":.e~~ , , eounterdemand for more productivity from the material factors of produc
;:,) - tion."108 If industrialists modernized their factories, labor leaders argued,
:~.~i/.'. t,~. .: produc~ivi~y would in~rease without Ta}rlorist exploitation of the worker
~;
. ore1im1nat1on ofthe e1ghthour day.
Labor and capital had struggled over the eight-hour day since its introduction by the government immediately after World War l. Industrialists
prodilced innumerable statistics t~ pr~ve that shorter ho~~s ~ecimated pro
ductivity, and labor predictably d1sm1ssed both the spec1f1c figures and the
proposed correlation. 109 As with so many of the Wei~ar battles over pro
ductivity and profitability, the numbers were of questtonable value and of
secondary importance to the issues of principie that divided both sides.
Jndustry regarded the eighthourday law as a violation of the prerogatives
of manufacturers and the fundamental principies of capitalism, while labor
considered it the prerequisite far a humane exis.tence. no The introduction
0 ( the American model into the debate about hours neither lessened its
intensity nor a]tered its basic parameters, but it enabled labor to circum
vent tedious statistical battles and hold upa concrete example of the posi
tive results of technical and organizational rationalization. Work was neither
longer nor more intense, trade unionists stressed, e ven if the eighthour day
was not the officially mandated norm. lndustry emphasized precisely the
last point 1 depicting America as a land where the absence of state regula
tion of hours provided industry with the necessary flexibility to increase
productivity. The American model thus failed to provide a resolution to
the political debate on productivity, for industrialists and trade unionists
understood both Americanism and Germany's crisis differently.
While trade union leaders acknowledged that the economic crisis of
1925-26 was the most severe in recent history, they did not believe it
endangered the very basis of Germany's industrial economy, as the RDI
claimed. Nor did they see it primarily as a crisis of production and invest
ment; rather, according to the ADGB's 'The Present 'Tas~s of the German
&onomy, Germany was experiencing "a serious disruption of the produc
tion process as a result of a disruption of circulation owing to the lack of
buying power of the great mass of the population. " 111 Por Friedrich Olk
the principal obstacle to recovery was not the multitude of politicians and
bureaucrats who taxed and spent with abandon; it was the "intellectual
attitude of German industrialists. " 112 Manufacturers c]ung to particular
ism and family tradition; their mentality was almost guildlike, complained
the Social Democrat Fritz Konig. 113 His Christian trade union counterpart,
Joseph Jahn, concurred, lamenting that entrepreneurs had lost ali sense of
"developmental tendencies." Even firms with new buildings and machines
did not "live up to modero criteria for technology, factory organization, and
marketing. " 114 In a speech to factory council delega tes, G. Graf, head of the
DMV economics school, dramatically proclaimed that "Entrepreneurs ha ve

'1

rn

1-

,j

' .

78

Imaginng America

failed. The proietariat must step in. On the basis of a careful analysis of the
115

crisis, it must attempt to solve or moderate it. "


.

"Careful analysis" persuaded Social Democratic, Christian, and liberal


trade unionists that the main manifestations of crisis were high prices and
soaring unemployment, not high wages and shrinking expoit markets as
industry claimed .116 "Trade unions of all political persuasions ha ve repeat,
edly emphasized the importance of the domes tic market," noted'the ADGB.
"Using the example of the United States, they ha ve laid out the importance
of high wages and the urgency of enlarging mass buying power. "117
Industry's program of austerity, exports, and intensified work would harm
not only labor but capital as well, whereas a simultaneous restructuring of
production and consumption would be mutually beneficial. 118
High wages were central to this strategy. During Weimar, wage levels
were a hotly contested issue, and they remain so among scholars of the
period. There is little disagreement about nominal and real 'wage levels.
Money wages reached their pre-World War 1 level in 1925; real wages only
passed the 1913 mark in 1928. 119 Wages as a percentage of costs were much
lower in Germany than in America. Otto Moog cited 18 and 32 percent,
respectively. 120Controversy, then and now, involves whether wage levels
were objectively too high in relation to productivity, thereby crippling
economic growth and restructuring. 121
Trade unionists never questioned the feasibility and desirability of high
wages. Raising wages, they insisted, was an act of economic policy and not
just social policy .122 Although they sometimes justified high wages as com
pensation for the rigors of rationalized work, they generally downplayed
thedetrimental aspects of rationalization. 123' They appealed, instead, to the
Iaws of advanced capitalism and the interests of society as a whole-which
happily coincided with those of the working class. Modern industrial economies were driven by demand, not supply. Germany was experiencing a cri'
sis of underconsumption, not underproduction, because high costs, high
prices, low wages, and the destruction of middleclass savings dtiring the
inflation limited the domestic market and made industry uncompetitive in
world trade. American capitalists, like Ford and Filene, had shown the cure
for this distinctly modern economic illness. By raising the wages of blue,
and white,.collar workers, they increased buying power to correspond to
expanded productive capacity. Only adequate consumption could restare
profitability and foil employment and raise the standard ofliving. 124 There'
fore, argued the Christian trade union journal Deutsche Arbeit, it was "the
duty" of trade unionists to pursue "an active wage policy. "125
Germany was indeed uncompetitive, acknowledged Social Democrats
like Eugen Prager, but this was dueto technological and organizational backwardness, not high wages. 126 As the American model showed, high wages
would cure, not compound, that problem. According to Edmund Kleinschmitt, labor shortages in America led to high wages, which in turn forced
industrialists to increase productivity by rationalization. In Germany, trade
unions must create the same impetus toward rationalization by demanding

American Economic Success and German Emu1ation

79

.h
es 127 Social Democrats endorsed the view that high wages would
.h1gwag.

f
hihh

li:c translate into high demand and h1gh profits: rom w e t e necessary ca pita
.\.. , t hni"cal and organizational restructunng would be denved. The newly
,,oree
11 1
.
d
?-(
tionalized factories would produce at lower ~osts, se at ower pr1ces, an
rah by increase real wages still further) fuehng another round of modern
t ere
. 128
ization and enhanced prospenty.
.
.
.
.
While these views found support from liberal econom1sts hke Juhus
2:1~';'~:;,:c,~ 1~',;rSch and Bruno Rauecker, and from idiosyncratic conservatives, such as
129
Theodor Lddecke, they were flatly rejected by industry. Until 1924
dstry claimed that wage hikes fueled inflation; thereafter, that they hurt
;,oductivity and competitiveness. Although the RDI acknowledged that
l wages were lower than befare the war 1 it fought attempts to ra1se them
-'l'IP"'c~ :that Jevel, let alone to that of the United Sta tes. Although industry constantly compared Weimar productivity 1 taxes, and welfare costs to the1r
prew<ir levels, it insisted that prewar ~a ges_ could not be taken as a norm,
r ''today we ha ve a different econom1c bas1s, that cannot be compared to
1or
"1)1 1
the living and production conditions of the year 1.91 3. .
t was necessa~y
to jncrease productivity, lower costs, and cut pr1ces first, argued Ludwig
2
Kastl, before real wages could be raised.u
.
Although it was theoretically feasible to increase consumpt1on by lowering prices, trade unionists doubted the efficacy of th1s strategy, for Jt was
based on too many improbable assumptions. First, industry wo~ld hav: to
cut costs by technical and organizational rationalization-whtc~ un1ons
doubted would happen without the prod of higher wages. Then mdustry
would have to translate lower costs into lower prices-which it showed
Iittle desire to do, and which the government could encourage b~t not en,
force in Finally industry would have to keep wages stable or ra1se them,
' oflowering
' nominal wages and perpetuattn~
undercons~mptton.
IM
instead
For leftists and liberal economists alike, the h1ghly cartel1zed nature
of German industry was the principal obstacle to lower prices. ~n all se~,.
tors of derman manufacturing, individual firms banded together 1n organ1,.
zations that allocated production quotas, set prices, and in sorne cases actu
ally marketed products. Although the RDI. claimed that s~ch cartels
stabilized prices without blocking modern1zat1on, econom1sts hke ~ontz
J. Bonn maintained that "by their essential nature cartels are .host!l~ to
rationalization. "135 According to the DMV, cartels protected 1neff1c1ent
firms, discouraged rationalization, and caused high p~ices that both li_mited
exports and restricted the domes tic mark~t. B Lac~1ng the. econom1c ~nd
political power to weaken cartels, trade un1ons saw httle c~o1c~ but to f1ght
underconsumption from the wage side rather than the pnce s1de.
The t-acle unions' advocacy of high wages was tied to their assessment
of the world market in the J920s. Labor and capital both recognized that
German foreign trade was suffering, not only from _high C?erm.an produc,.
tion costs but also from shrinking world trade. Th1s decline, In turn, re,
sulted from the increased capacity of industrialized countries-especially
the United States, the industrialization of new countries during and after

"

.,,,.,.,--.,
I, 1 '

!' '.1

80

,,

1'
1
1

Imagining America

American &onomic Success and German Emulaiion

0 0

81

-~ ,j_-~,:'0~,.,~r .-,' . exi: :s ~~::,~ ;~~ ;::~~~;:~::e~~~~~:~:~~::~~~ ~~~h=~;:~;~~

World War I, and the more limited ability of other European countries to
absorb imports. 137 But a shared diagnosis of the ailment did not lead to a , .
common prescription for a cure. Por Social Democratic, Christian, and lib.
-~~~~r ro.a Leading Social Democrats denied that their cammltment to rationaliza
eral trade unionists, expanding the domestic market, both ~b~blutely and
. "4!'.~.;, tion meant they had abandoned the class struggle. Rudolf Hilferding, Fritz
in relation to exports, was not only desirable bt essenti3.I, for even if exports
-~ -.1-t;f._~ Naphtali, and other ~ovement th~oris~ insisted that a pri~ary_ task afSocial
could be increased substantially, they would not utilize ali of the expanded
.:.': _:*-:. 1~~:;/._. J)emocracy was to bnng a modern1zed, 1ntegrated, and rat1onahzed economy
productive capacity of Germany's rationalized industries. Ger~an man
~; _;)~~-'._::' under the control of a democratic state. Pohtical democracy must be aug,
facturers did not need to abandon exports, but they had to realize the ~:~ ::friT~<~- ented by econamic democracy. 147 At the same time, stated the ADGB
potential of domestic markets, as American capitalists had done. ns
:~.; -~:>~~ :adership, "we also believe that, for the solution of variaus economic, finan
Trade union leaders downplayed the obstacles to mass consumption.
t~ cial and political problems, a joint effort by ali parties is worthwhile, with
Germany was not America, Edmund Kleinschmitt admitted, but it had a
2
:
,., the 0 bject of overcoming the present crisis and developing the productive
relatively large and dense population. 139 Germany was facing labor short
,; :~' ~7: capacity of German industry. '' 148 Far Soc~al Democrats, ra_tiona~iza:ion thus
ages and double-incomefamilies, Julius Hirsch pointed out, and this would
f.~-8;:, c. provided another possible arena for the kmd of collaborat10n w1th mdustry
increase income far rriass consumption.140 lt was unlikely thq.t Germany
._
,,; and the state that had been tried-admittedly with little success-during
would develop a mass market far cars, predicted Otto Meibes, a contempo
:, ,
World War 1 and with the Arbeitsgemeinschaften after the war. 149 Ratiorary a_nalyst of the automobile industry, but if costs and prices were low
nalization had the additional advantage of being compatible with the reered 1t could develop one far motorcycles.141 The metalworker Fritz
formist program af welfare state capitalism as well as with the aspirations
K~~mer, who _had worked in the United States, offered an even more opti
of thase who advocated econamic democracy and eventual socialism.
m1st1c prognosis: If a single large auto firm was created from the multiplic
Comrnunists attacked both the Social Democratic leadership' s commitity of existing ones, and if it consolidated, specialized, standardized, and
ment to rationalization and its advocacy af caoperation with industry.
rationalized production, costs would drop dramatically. If wages were raised,
Sounding rather like their capitalist enemies, Hilda Weiss and Alexander
a mass market far cars would develop. 142 In short, future Prosperity could
Friedrich accused the Social Dernocrats of failing to understand just how
be achieved not by competing in the shrinking and increasingly competi
serious the current crisis was. 150 Rationalization represented a futile attempt
tive Eurpean or world markets, but at home.
to campensate far the decline of German capitalism and imperialism. 151 While
Industry remained unconvinced. According to Siemens, the econornic
few of the technical and organizational measures employed were new, they
and cultural obstacles to mass domes tic markets of the American type were
were being introduced atan intensified pace, creating longterm structural
143
~normo~s. The Association of German Employers' Organisations paid
unemployment. 152 The reformist trade unionists failed to realize that capi,.
hp serv1ce to the necessity of raising domestic buying power, claiming that
talist industry desired such unemployment and, in any case, was powerless
the home market was central to the future "of the German people, German
to elimina te it, as shown by the English experience-which Communists
culture, yes, even the German state." But it quickly added that toe domescansidered more relevant than the American one. 153 Capital wauld, indeed
tic market could only be develaped if exports were increased, capital was
must, implement its program of longer haurs, lower wages, plant closings,
accumulated,and factaries_ were rationalized.144
and exports. Social Democratic wage theory was based on illusions that were
These debates had a frustratingly abstract quality, Trade unionists
belied by the laws of capitalism and the interests of capitalists. 154
rarely discussed what should be produced and cansumed in a reoriented
Whether the KPD hada more accurate analysis of the economic crisis
Gern:an e~onamy. They understood the necessity far mass consumptian in
than did the SPD is open to debate. Certainly it better understood the
a rat1anahzed econamy, but not the necessity for a new type of mass pro
multiple reasons why capital did not want to-and in the short run did not
duced good, namely consumer durables. Even Fritz Kurnmer, who painted
ha ve to-follow the Social Demacra tic program far consumption,oriented
a rosy picture of a Fordized German automobile industry, was extremely
ratianalization. But the wellfounded pessimism of its analysis did nothing
vague about who would be a ble to afford one. Social Democrats concentrated
to compensa te far the powerlessness of the movement ar the paverty of its
on cauntering industry's continued emphasis on exports rather then detail
program. In the era of rationalizatian and relative stabilization that began
ing the economic arder they desired. Jndustry recognized the new problerns
in 1924, the Cornmunists were on the margins not only of mainstream poli
of world trade but sought to solve them with old production and markettics but of working-class life as welL Party rnembership dropped, union
ing strategies. Observers one step removed from the palitical fray were no
strength declined, and unemployment, due in part to rationalization, took
more successful at discussing Germany' s market crisis concretely. Birnbaum
a devastating toII.155 Both theory and personal experience led Communists
anguished that "for Germany the problem lies in reconciling the uncondito insist that trade unions should not promote rationalization, far that was
t1onal necessity of stimulating the domestic market ... and the need for
the responsibility of industry alone. But they were equally convinced that

.; "'.

"

. .

82

Imagining America

the class _struggle should not be directed to oppose it, beca.use the modern
ization of production was inevitable and would promete t~e Intel".ests .~labor
in the long run: The shared productivism and technolog1cal ~eterm1n1sm of
the Second and Third lnternationals led to a shared inability to imagine any
forms of production other than highly rationalized ons.
The KPD' s neitherendorsenoroppose stance was necessary bUt w'eak,
acknowledged August Enderle, a Communist trade union expert and mem
her of the DMV. 156 The Social Democratic trade union program of Fordism,
mass consumption, and economic demociacy was sowing confi,ision not only
in its own ranks but among Communists and the unorganized as well. CoID.,
munists might deny that all was well for American workers, but they had
developed no serious Marxist analysis of that nation' s economy. 1s1 In the
short run, all Ende:rle could prescribe was a struggle far higher wages and
shorter hours, while waiting for the capitalist crisis to intensify. 158 But this
was identical to the strategy ofSocial Democratic and Christian 'trade unionists. They did not differ in their shortterm demands but in their views on
whether capitalist recovery was possible and whether workers might gain
anything from it.
The Communists' attitude toward rationalization, like that of refonn,
ist trade unionists, engineers, and industrialists, was shaped by their analyses
ofGermany's failures and America's successes, by prior theories, and by
the ability or inability of Fordism to modify or refute them. After 1926 all
parties would debate rationalization primarily in terms of practices within
Germany rather than the promise of the American model, however con,
strued. Befare turning to those practices, however, we need to explore the
debates on the possible social and cultural consequences of Americanism
on and off the shopfloor, for the forms of rationalization that were imple,
mented were shaped not only by what was considered possible, but by what
was considered desirable in political, social, and cultural as well as in purely
economic terms.

5
Work, Workers, and
the Workplace
in America

Fordism claimed to ha ve transformed the nature of work as well as workers'


reaCtions to it, and Germans took that claim seriously. They saw mechani
zation, flow production, theassembly line, and Taylorism not merely as tech,
nological improvements with economic consequences, but also as social inno,
vations with psychological and political implications. This restructured
system of work raised old questions about exploitation, job satisfaction, and
occupational identities and cultures but expressed in new ways. It cast
doubts on the future of German quality workand the German skilled worker,
and it raised the problematic issue of whether work shaped the worker or
had to be shaped to the cultural and political peculiarities of a given nation.
German concern with the Americanization of work focused on a set of
interrelated themes. The links between rationalization and deskilling,
between mechanization and quality-of both the product and the producer-were of key importance in a country that industry and labor alike
defined in terms of German quality work. The issues of work intensity,
monotony, and job satisfaction-or "joy in work," to borrow the elusive
but ubiquitous concept-were central to German debates on the crisis of
work which many believed afflicted Weimar Germany. Did most workers
want mindless detail work, as Ford repeatedly asserted? 1 Or were their
desires far meaningful tasks and work,centered identities thwarted by tech~
nology and flow production?
Germans were fascinated py industrial relations on the American shop
floor. And well they should be, according to Paul Riebensahm, for Americans had "a good nose for what les beyond material, machines, and account,
83

~{1

6
The Cultural Consequences
of Americanism

For many Weima~ observers, Americanism and Fordism symbolized much


moredthan stunn1ngly efficient, modern system of production. they repre
sente a world
[r
'
'
d h
view, a way o 11e, anda set of gender re!ations organized
~~o~n t e primacy of econ?mics and consumption and the devaluation of
ig cu1ture.1 T.hey embod1ed a spirit of pragmatism and materialism. an
acceptance of-:--1nd.eed, a desire for-uniformity, anda thoroughly ratio~
na!, unr~mant1c att1tude toward production, work, and the factory as well
as repro uct1on,_ le1_sure'. and the home. The majority of Americans seerned
to ;~pr~~ch th;1~ hves in the same way that a minority of Gerrrian artists
an inte ectua sin the N.eue Sachlich~eit movement analyzed modero soci~
etyh Th~y soberly accepted industrialization, urbanization and mass culture
:~~s e~~n~ang~y prote~t.or utopian fantasies. To most German commenta~

d ~rican poltt1cal system was irrelevant to American economic


success an t us was n~t discussed at 1ength however, American culture,
gender, a~d ev~ryday hfe were not ignored. Economists, journalists engi~
neers'. an s~c1a_I workers debated whether economic modernity 'in its
A~ncan g~1se inherently required or inevitably produced not only new
pro ucts an styles of consumption but also new men and women.
German travelers to Amenca asked this question in two different ways
C~_arlorte ;~kens and Adolf Halfeld were interested in the links betwee~
ra I~na ize . i:nencan ca~1tahsm and those phenomena invariably described
as c aracter1st1c of American society in the 1920 .
.
.
.
s mov1es, sports Jazz the
~manc1pa~10~ of youth, the displacementof traditional cultural le;ders' the
emocrat1zat1on of consumption, the rise in divorce, and the altered ~osi~
108

'Th< ."""'I ConS<qu<nm of Amedcan;sm

109

i.?,1 ,~,:;.: tion of women. They explored whether these were the product of such

,-~~,J~;~;-peculiar_American institution~ as ~he frontier. or Pu:itanism and the revolt

,~ ,,;6~.. against 1t. If not, were they 1nev1table man1festat1ons of advanced ca pi~
.1. .<._~\:'., talism?2 Did "the Fordization of ali aspects of American culture condemn
' ~~~-._~:_.,, the healthy instincts of a young race to intellectual indifference and drill
~l ,';~{~,: the life expression of millions and millions of pe~ple into a regimented
;J~~\; >existence," as AdolfHalfeld, a German newspaper correspondent living in
-:,.~- ~~~:1;. -America, argued?3 Were the efficient but cold American women and the
- "" functional but soulless American homes (as Germans viewed them) the
~ e: .. ~,
~, , . unaVoidable products of economic modernity?
.;,,J:;.
Other commentators were less concerned about the consequences of
_.,
capitalist development than about the consciousness it bred. Did Ameri4 :-:._J.~- can men's singleminded pursuit of productivity, efficiency, and the
'
almighty dollar-so admired when economics was discussed-have alarmj, ~-- ':;: ing consequences far culture and gender? Did the demands that Fordism
placed on men-whether owners or managers, technicians or workers-lead
to a fundamental redefinition of masculinity and femininity, a fundamental
shift in domestic responsibilities and social roles? Was the peculiar superfi
ciality and striking feminization of American culture the necessary flip side
of male devotion to technology and profits?
Culture and gender were inextricably intertwined in these ruminations
about the consequences of economic Americanism, far Americanism and
Fordism called into question traditional assumptions about culture and
gender and the gendered nature of culture. America not only lacked Kultm
in the German sense of both high culture and a high value placed on intellectual and artistic matters; American culture was ostensibly controlled by
women. Americans not only consumed standardized, mass produced goods,
but such consumption also transformed both public culture and priva te life.
While men embraced the ideology of rationalization in the public sphere,
women did so in the home. In the Weimar debates on rationalization, mass
consumption and the American woman were considered emblema tic of the
social and cultural consequences of economic Americanism and of the hopes
and fears they engendered. 4 It is to them that we must turn.
Mass Consumption
"The almighty do llar and its use are the meaning and goal of American life,"
wrote Moritz J. Bonn. "A civilization has emerged whose essential feature
lies exclusively in the satisfaction of more or less material needs with the
technically most perfect, most comfortable, laborsaving machines." Puri
tanism had once provided sense and structure to life and directed economic
activity toward savings and investment; now "enjoying pleasure though
immediate consumption" and winning consumers for new products shaped
the mentality and culture of Americans. 5 Bonn' s equation of Americanism
with consumption was widely shared by his contemporaries as well as by
historians.6

110

Imagining Ami:Tica

When defining Fordism or analyzing the secrets or'American econorni .


succe.ss, Germans of all classes and political persuasions debate~ whether co ~
sumption_ was a prerequisite for e~onomic m~ernization ora consequenc~;
whether it was the cause of American econom1c success ora fortuituoUs bu
secon~ary feature? But when they examined American: society and culturet

the pnmacy of consumption was indisputable. Germans had come to AmeriC:


to study new technology and labor processes; once there, they were over
whelmed by the way the products of the new technology affected all aspects
of soc1ety.7 Every visitor to Amerca was struck by the abundance of con
sumer goods--cars, radios, every imaginable househoJd appliance, and the
thousands of proclucts sold by Sears and Roebuck. Enormous inequalities in
consumption seemed less important than the existence of mass consumption
on a scale unparalleled in Germany. American prosperity was symbolized by
American mass consumpt1on as muchas by mass production.
D~spite the fascination with American consumption, reffiarkably little
attent1on was paid to precisely what was consumed, by whom, and in what
amounts. To be sure, German observers commented on the spread of the
automobile, above all the Model T, to town and country, and among al!
classes. And no wonder, for whereas the United States had 183 cars per
thousand 1nhab1tants in 1932, Germany had only 8. Moreover, the car trans,
formed rural and urban areas and the relationship between them; it intro,
duced n~w forms of work and play, sociability, and family life.9 But Germans pa1d ltttl~ attention to the proJiferation of such goods as radios,
telephones, ref~1gerators, vacuum cleaners, and washing machines. ID Bour, ',-,
;;
3 '
geo1s and work1ng,class observers alike seemed more interested in the high
wages that fueled consumption, than in exploring how they were spent.
~bey noted the prevalence of home ownership but did not investiga te what
k1nds of goods were purchased for those homes or how their occupants Iived
The majar exceptions were Irene Witte, whose study, Home and Technol~
ogy in America, detailed the mass consumption of appliances, and Moritz
J. Bonn, whose books were filled with details of daily life gleaned from his
man y years in the United States. 11 Perhaps because so much of American mass
consumption involved women and the home, most German men preferred to
discuss it in abstract cultural terms, rather than concrete material ones.
. Those discu~sions centered in part on the relationship of mass consump'
t1on to the. creation of an American society that, in comparison to Europe,
seemed un1f~rm, homogeneous and monotonous. When describing Ameri,
can convent1ons-whether clothing or food, housing or transportation,
~astes or needs-Germans saw only far,reaching standardization.12 Walk,
1ng the s:reets. of Chicago, Arthur Feiler was overwhelmed by "the monstrous ~n1form1ty of these passing individuals," ali dressed and coiffed alike. u
Surveymg housing, Alfred Rhl complained that "justas the outside of the
house, "':'h1ch is often purchased finished from the factory, conforms to a
convent1onal style, so too the inside reveals nothing of the personality of
th~ b~ilder or owner. Everywher~ one encounters the same objects; every,.
th1ng Js a mass product. " 14 With a mixture of admiration and disdain, Bonn

'The Cuhinal Consequences of Americanism

~-

111

ted that Sears and Roebuck "twice a year determi?es what_ m~n a~d
no
nd children should wear. It clothes them, desp1te ali var1at1ons, In
'
1
f h A
.
' women
ne stylea .... It creates the same form of e
11e 1or a ~rge p~rt o t e me~1,
r ~n papulation. "IS Admirers of ~merica stress~d un1form1ty as muchas d1d
-.
According to Julius Hirsch, everythtng from underwear to auto,
its cnucs.
.
.
d b
' b"I was standardized and people purchased not JUst stmI ar goo s ut
:roo1es

.
1
h .
16
;.:brand names, such as the Arrow shirt col ar or Wrig e! s c ew1:g _gum ..
:. , No one doubted that standardized mass con:umpt1on was efftcien~, in
..
f productivity and price, but they questioned the value of umfor:;'a~d its effects on society and culture. Adolf Halfeld raised aesthetic
. ctions claiming that mass goods lacked the beauty and good taste of
o be produced
'
.
. "Many 1eare
'
d
in cultures with a strong arttsan
tra d"1t1on.
items
.
d"
"d
1

.
d
t"
h t "the dazzling colorfulness ofEuropean tn iv1 ua s, re Ig1ons, an na ion
:li~ies will be replaced by the gray, monotone, mechanistic uniformit~ of
the American norm. "18 Nearly all _recognized that there was a democratiza,
t 10
n of consumption in America, 1n contrast to Europe, where needs were
1 55 , 5pecific 19 As sorne reported with approval and others with dismay,
20
e

m1"ddl ec1ass A mer~cans.

workers dressed,
ate, and drove cars JUSt
like
If more uniform and egalitarian mass consumption seemed emanc1patory
t 0 German trade unionists and workers, it raised the frightening spectre of
.
mass man to many middle,class observer~. 21 .A _ccor d".!ng to Bo? A rner_1ca
pioneered the "normal individual, a mass 1nd1~1dual, wh~ considered h1m
self free but lived justas others did." Standard1zed producUon and consumption produced standardized people, argued Paul Wengraf. Indeed, m their
thoughts and feelings Americans were more un1form and m~re cl~sely .P_t'
terned on the average person than people in any o~her socI~ty, 1ncludI~g
Russians." Agreeing wholeheartedly, Arthur Holitscher tned to spec1fy
the mechanisms of mass consumption that were responsible. "Mail arder
catalogs standardized goods and people," he argued, while "newspapers and
the radio standardized needs and opinions. " 24
Social Democrats countered by asserting that standardization did not
produce oppressive uniformity, that _mas_s prod.uction did not_ mean mono,
tony. The 1925 trade union delegat1on Invest1gated the anx1ous German
rumor that there were only three kinds ofbedsteads and four types of alarm
clocks in all of America. As they crisscrossed the land, they carefully
counted the different bedframes encountered in hotels and homes, read bed
ads in newspapers and magazines, and discussed this issue with trade union,
ists, store owners, and manufacturers alike. Diversity abounded, the dele
gates happily reported, and not only in beds. Despite the prevalence of the
Model T there were at least 54 different types of cars produced. Moreover, goods of the same style carne in every possible price and quality. lt
was thus a serious mistake to equate American norrns and interchangeable
parts with a uniform, universally manufactured model. 25
As he puzzled out the contradictions of Americanism, Wengraf arg~ed
that people there might be homogeneous, but America had create~ the h1gh,
est standard of living far the greatest number. The average m1ddle-class

112

'

'

European might be more cu!tivated and _educat~d, _bui: co~p.<red to _the


average American worker w1th a home and car, h1s hfe was h1ghly prtmi
tive, uncomfortable, unhygenic, and often downright unworthy." However
Germans judged the value of material abundance versus cUltural achievement, or uniformity versus diversity, there was no deriying tht in America
"the outlines of a future type of human, a future human society, is Visible. "26
While Germans disagreed on whether the standardization Of consumer
goods in America had been carried to extremes, they were convinced that
standardization, as a cultural and social value, was held in high esteem by
Amencans. Many found thi:; validation of uniformity more troubling than
the still diverse reality they encountered in the streets and stores of the
United States. Americans simply did not understand the irnportance of
multiplicity and differentiation, lamented Paul Rohrbach. 27 According to
Arthur Feiler, they actually tried to be inconspicuous, to be like everyone
else. 28 Atice Salomon concurred, claiming that individualisrn wa's notan ideal
for Americans. 29 Rather than clinging to particularism as Germans did,
Americans, including immigrants, wanted to eliminate alJ differences in
lifestyle, speech and thought as well, argued Julius Hirsch. "Standardiza,
tion wants to be the essence of the nation. "30
Uniformity was one lens through which the reality of American mass
consumption was viewed and frequently found wanting; culture was the
other. When Germans anguished over whether Arnerica had or would
developKultur, they employed a term laden with meanings to express multiple concerns. Both their general argument and the specific tropes they
employed borrowed heavily from German critiques of modernity, couched
in terms of culture versus civilization, Gemeimchaft versus Gesellschaft, and
also from a Europewide discourse on Americ;i_ 'o;mediocrity 1 superficiality,
ancl inadequacy. 31 Comrncl)tator.s. ~'l. econom-iC A.merican.iSi:ri aSsumed," pr
petuated and popularized available images of America that had emerged in
Germany since the turn of the century. These images no longer centered
around the nineteenth-century themes of Indians wilderness and freedom
-but rather around industry, modernity and Kult~r.32
'
Sorne of the cultural stereotypes and concerns that shaped the percer
tions c:>f travelers were quite straightforward and selfevident. Most G~r
mans felt that America had not produced great artists, musicians, and
authors; it Iacked firstrate museums, operas, and concert halls. Its univer
s.ities were, at best, pale replicas of European ones, while its colleges, with
'their emphasis on practical training, sports, and sociability, did nothing to
promete science or culture. 33In short, the institutions and representatives
of high culture were lacking. Even those, like Julius Hirsch, who insisted
that America hada great deal ofhigh culture in the European sense, admitted that it was embedded in a very different context. 34
In part, the context singled out was American mass culture-movies,
radio, jazz. and spectator sports-but only in very small part. While mllY
Weimar Germans debated the new mass culture, most commentators on
American economic life discussed very little about new leisure activities.

113

'The Cultural Consequences of Americanism

Imagini11g AmeTica

; h
ere more concerned about the values expressed in and encouraged
reyw
.
"h h
Consumption than about the concrete forms tn whtc t ey were
f
35 Mass culture like mass consumpt1on, was a reflect1on o a
ex:pressed .

.
d "d
.d
roblem. America not only lacked high culture; most Amencans t
h"1gh esteem. Thetr
mos t
eeperp cultural institutions and ac h"1evements tn
not hoId
basic values seemed antithetical to Kultur.
.
Germans of varied political outlooks, such as Arthur Peder, Charlotte
L0tkens, Adolf Halfeld, Moritz J. Bonn and Alfred Rhl, elaborated on
charges by describing a series of dichotomtes that allegedly characthese
dA
. I h ..
rlied the societies and mentalities of Germany an
mer1ca. n t eir v1ew,
~ any endorsed the disinterested pursuit of intellectual and aesthetic
:~:rs and the inner development of the individual, whereas America legi~
~mated the production of material goods and the attaini:nent of visible
success. German culture appreciated the complex, the amb1~uous, and the
nique America valorized the straightforward, the functtonal, and the
uttainable. Germans and other Europeans favored disinterested, freeflowing
~ntemplation~ Americans preferred instrumental rationality. <?erman ~ul
ture was built on the creative use of leisure; America emphas1zed ac.t1on,
speed, and fun~tionalism, whether at work o~ play. Germ~ny ~pprec1ate~
quality; Amenca sought to reduce e~e~yt~1ng to quant1tat1ve term~ ..
Europe understood the fundamental d1st1nct1on ~etween cult~re and ~1v1
lization, whereas America merged the two, regard1ng technolog1cal ach1eve
ments as cultural accomplishments.l7
Each author presented these dichotomies in slightly different terms, yet
each carne to a similar conclusion. Germany had spirit or intellect (Geist);
America had materialism. Germany had Kultur America had consumpt!on.
According to one disgruntled observer from the Ruhr 1 Ame.rica was less
38
the land of unlimited possibilities than "the land of absolute materialism. "
Yet Theodor Ltiddecke praised Americanism as "the most marked manifes,
39

tation of the economic instinct in ali facts o f prtvate


an d pu bl"1c e
ue. "
Neither condemning nor praising, Arthur Feiler wondered "what might
have becomr.: the great aim of the masses of the population .. : if this eco~
nomic system itself had not been a ble to offer them material aims which_ are
near at hand and so relatively easy to reach?" 40 That was id le speculat1on,
according to Paul Wengraf, for in America one was seeing the ful! implicat.ions of a thoroughgoing materialism: "The ideal, the dream" was of a
humanity, well fed, well housed and healthy; whose intellectual and social
41
level Was average. and whose enjoyments were simple and unproblematic.
If American civilizatiun was not German Kultur, just what was it? In
trying to specify the values and activities that structured American ~ife,
Germans referred again and again to work, achievement, and pragmattsm.
America was a society that made a religion out of work, argued Irene
Witte.42 Economic activity was valued above ali else, according to Alfred
Rhl; work filled people' s lives and fulfilled their spiritual and intellectual
needs.43 "Work, productivity, anda sense of responsibility are valued mor~
than literary education," claimed an approvingarticle in a major Ruhr bus1-

w-

r
114

Imagining AmeTica

'The Cultural Con.sequences of Americani.sm

ness journal. 44 Taking a slightly different tack, the ~ocial Worlcer AJice ..
Saloman saw the distinguishing characteristic of America as the practic.aJ :
application of knowledge and science to conquer nature and salve concrete ~.
problems. Attentive to the situation of women, as few. male travelers were '
she cited the electrification of the home as a prime example of his. 4SAmeri~
had, in the words of the engineer Franz Westermann, "a culture Of the here
and now, a culture of rea1ity. "46 Every aspect of it was imbued With a robu.stness and energy that sorne Germans saw as the secret of America' s strengtb and others as a sigo of restlessness and emptiness. 41
Instead of enumerating abstract values, many Germans simply described
the American man. They Shared the view, expressed in its most extreme
form by Erwin Rosen, that "the American nation was born at the moment
when the American ideal of manhood was fully articulated. "48 By German
standards, the American man and the American ideal of masculinity were
'
effective but limited, arousing admiration and anxiety in equaI 'measure. The ..
American man was regarded as naive and overly optimistic, or, in harsher
1
formulations, uncomplicated, almost childlike. He was in Rosen's words, ..,,"" ~_,.,
:
"a very simply constructed person, very natural. ''4 9 The language was similar ;: .
to the way Europeans described their colonial subjects; but Americans could
'.' .
not be dismissed as unsophisticated and immature. Their narvet was com'
bined with incredible determination and energy, noted Westermann.5
~
American optimism was built on the conscious denial of the inadequacies
and evils of the world, but it instilled enormous self-assurance and an empowering sense of superiority. 51 The American man might well be a phiJis,
tine, admitted his defenders 1 like Anton Erkelenz, but most Germans were
not different. 5 2

115

erica~ man was practica!, cooperative, and proud of his


.1'd so. The Am 1 h
t noted Theodor Ltiddecke, Car! Kottgen, and
"e accomp is men s,
d
d d
ted
onom1
"H
. ht lack Kultur but he both un erstoo an accep
rwin Rosen.
e m1gl'
57 He had 'a "healthy egoism," according to both
he principies of cap1tda PISm '1 W graf Both admired his fresh spirit and comstermann an au
en

.
d
. I progress. ss Rosen described in detatl an . average
. ,.ranz eto practica
N
y ayk
~utrne~t of Mr Thompson, a department store sales manager in ew. o~
n.the Herusean
hfe
h d. d b cunee d from one activity to the next,
enthus1ast1c
fh
A.
C1ty.
r d the key characteristic o t e menean
.:about
and his limitations: "the compul'
the soucce a on
f h A
.
an
'..!~
.. (Dran ZUT crat).59 According to Wengra t .e mer1can m .
~ s1on to" actn of d eegd s " a ..m an of "'acts ,, He represented a d'new'd bourgeo1s
-was a ma
.

,, Although he lacked in 1v1 ua 11ty, he


the Babb1t ... a mass man.
. h 1 1 f . r
. to f u lf'll
3__. -.type,
bled Amer1ca
1 1't s "mission" of creating a h1g eve o c1v1 iza..wa
ro

everything.tHecpee~;o~~ ~etrength

~~~ tion Most


for maGss humanc1'thya.racterized America in similar terms, but they d1sermans

d trumen

Others dissented. Adolf Halfeld condemned Americans as narrow economic men who "in their noneconomic activities are probably 1ess demanding and more indifferent ... than any of their contemporaries. "53 Peter
Mennicken, another harsh critic of the United Sta tes, contrasted the Ameri
can horno faber, who promoted progress and civilization, unfavor3.bly with
the European horno sapiens, who created Kultur and embodied Geist. In
the discourse of which Mennicken was a part, both civilization and progress
were negative terms, connoting materialism, pragmatism, fragmentation
superficiality, and conformity. Mennicken regarded Ford, that quintessen-1
tial representative of America, as the perfect "Zivilisationsmensch." He was
an organizer, nota leader (Fhrer); an inventor, nota genjus. He had achieve
ments (Leistungen) but no personality.54 Like the "Ford-man" he had created, Ford had "drugged himself with work and accumulation," which had
become ends in themselves instead of means to a higher end. Ford, a businessman who could talk only business was markedly inferior to Walter
Rathenau 1 head ofGerman General Electric, a diplomatand politician who,
in Mennicken' s eyes1 was ''a philosopher" who could also discuss business
and economics. ss
1

While admitting that Americans devoted themselves exclusively to


workl many Germans admired the creativeand confident way in which they

f_

<

Id f materiahsm, pragmat1sm, an ins


'
agreed on whether th1s wor o f Kultur as Adolf Halfeld feared, orthe
tal rationahty w~s the ~nt1thes1s yet 11!-d~fmed kind of culture, as Julius
harbinger of a d1st1nct yfne":, as_ d 61 Sorne insisted it was both. Arthur
H h d Paul Wengra mamtame .
dh
irse an
1
t d the demise of European Kultur an
e
Holitscher, for examp e, reg_ret :
d b 1 hevism as alternatives 62 Ger1 d d the rise of American1sm an
s
app au e .
"the hunt for the dollar'' was predominant
mans also d1ffered on w~etherl .
f ali else as Alfred Rhl and Martin

0 1

~~~::~~::: ~, ~:y:~etth:;:a~:;~~i~m and id~alism coex1s~ i~ :::r,~~~~6~

and new comb1_nations, as Arthur ~~~:~~:~~~~u~;;:~~J~as :n inevitable


Finally' the_r d~sagreed about whe attribute of modern1zed product1on that
stageof cap1tal1stbdevelopme~t t anlt chose-or an 1mposs1bility anywhere
Europe could em race or reJeC as

i~ ~nrn:;;~;;

but
to resolve this last question, German observers explored
'si tes for the new American culture of consumptlon. Those whdo
h 1
t e prerequ1
t o Kultur were not concerne
. d b ut the relationship of consumpt1on
worne a o .
1
es and markets led to mass consump
with "':hat
of technoJY'
divided industrialists and trade
in
what
kind of individual, history,
un1on1s s; r

k1~ds
~~1tt~rly
tro~-:-1stsueasttheart pthreeoyc~~~~ein:~rested
1

and society produced that result.


.
h h da
American consumption was built on Amencan consumer~, w . ~
reputation among Germans far beinghunsophi~tica~~~ :n: ~a~t!~:;~;:~:~~
Whereas Germans-or at any rate, t ose in t e mi
.
l
who could afford it-insisted that goods, whether for _bus1nes~hor fer~~~~
h
Americans
wit s an
use, be made to t eir spec1ricat1ons,
di dwere
f' content
d b t adition.
Ameri-'
ized products. German needs were purporte y e ine Y_ r erica,ns were
can needs, by the rnarket. Gerrnan tastes changed slowl~'. ~~oth reflected
swept up by one fad after another. These stereotypes, ~ tcd . to World
and exaggerated American consumption patterns, had existe prior

1 0

~1
l!:,,:
t, )
,:
i,

116

Imagining Ame:rica

,j

~r

'The Cultural Cottsequ<ttm of Americattim

117

','}\ it'-l{ .:
n observers did not explore the emergence in the late nineteenth and
, ~~WJ.~?e,rm~wentieth century of a new consumer culture with its ethos of self. .
~1 ..,earY
. 73
American mass consumption went hand in hand with a uniformity of ~, ~i~:;,,
; ..~tion through consumpt1on.
Jifestyles and attitudes, as many observers noted. PubJi~ opinion, personal -'.~, ~~'.~~XY r~ Most Weimar Germa~s. were less concerned wit~ American tradi~ion
appearance, and behavior we.re so standardized that German Visitors often
:i ff,, than with the lack of trad1t1onal th~ught and behav10r that char_actenzed
had trouble knowing whether they were dealing with a businessman, a "',.. ,, .. "_ American society. They saw 1mm1grat1on asdthe key. to expla1nA1ng t_he
professional, ar a worker. Every aspect of American society, from the rela- :.; ---~Il~:~ routability and uniformity of needs and deman s. 1mmtgrants to _menea
tive absence of class conflict to the imposition of prohibition and the one ";::'.' ...t,<;. were regarded as creatures very different from the Germans. ohr Ehnghshmen
class transportation system, reflected this homogeneity. 65 Butwhat was
'~.::_;
Russians they had once been. Far from being burdened w1t t e customs
cause and what was effect? Sorne sought an answer in the specific dynami': ~~d values of the old world, the millions of Europeans who immigrated to
ics of mass production and consumption. Wilhelm Vershofen maintained
A erica were eager and able to assimilate. The typ1cal lowerclass 1mm1 . .
that highly rationalized, Fordist production methods so exhausted and
, g;t brought little from his ho~eland, argued_ Moritz]. Bonn, bec~~se "he
exploited workers that they sought relief in stimulating, sensual, and irra ot only socially disenfranch1Sed but also mtellectually and spmtually
tional consumption, symbolized by the automobile. 66 Viewing the relation
n herited. "74 According to Alfred Rhl, "he wanted to leave behind and
".
dIS!n
d"f'
"7' j
h" .
ship more positively, Theodor Lddecke stated that standardized producforget bis tradition, he wished to become a 1 1er~nt perdso~ . n. t IS I~
tion shaped people's character, accustoming them to standardized goods.67
terpretation, the experience of crossing the Atlant1c erase t e 1mm1gran_t s
According to Moritz J. Bonn, there was "a democratization of need satis
previous culture. The immigrant mind was a kind of tabula rasa on wht~h
faction" in America that contrasted sharply with the classspecific consump
American culture-ar, more aptly, American consumption-could wr1_te
tion patterns of Europe. As demand became generalized, prices were low
what it chose. Immigrants were preoccupied with "the creation of an e~1s
ered 1 and lower prices enabled demand to become yet more general, with
tence, the hope for savings and possessions," according to th_e trade un1on
the ironic result that manufacturers became rich while the poor ceased to
delegation. 76 Jmmigrants let business define needs an_d ~e termine what type
envy them because they, too, participated in consumption. "This democ
and style of goods would satisfy them. Even those w1sh1ng to preserve so~e
ratization of need satisfaction is simultaneously a prerequisite for .and
tradition or sorne individualism were unlikely to succeed, far, once 1n
a result of standardization," Bonn concluded. 68 This was an accurate de
America, "greenhorns" were subject to extraordinary p:essures to conform.
scription but nonetheless unsatisfying, for it faed to explain whether
What they chose to think or buy was influenced by their workplace, school
the supply of uniform goods automatically created its own demand, or
or church, and by the media. As a result, di verse immigrants quickly became
'?Jhether the peculiarities of American history produced the desire far mass
Americanized and were willing, indeed eager, to consume whatever mass
products.69
.
goods were available. 77 .
This view of immigrants and immigration was superficial and schemat1c,
Severa] authors pointed out the multiple ways in which American busi
ness sought to crea te demand instead of waiting passively for it to arise. High
ignoring the differe'nt experiences and opportunities of women and men and
wages and standardized mass production were the principal but nOt the only
among different generations and ethnic groups. It exaggerated the extent
means. Advertising and credit buying, the chain store, and the mail arder
of mass consumption in America while downplaying the spread of standard
catalog were also singled out. They expanded markets geographically and
ized, although not necessarily mass produced, goods in Germany. ~ron: the
socialJy; of equal irnportance, they suggested new needs and created new
perspective of the late twentieth century, when mass cons~mptton 1~ so
demands.7 Whereas these measures were not completely unknown in Europe,
widespread not only in Europe but elsewhere, the effort to link American
they originated in America and were much more developed there. Many
mass consumption to the frontier ar Puritanism seems farfetched. Nonet?e,.
Germans seem to ha ve viewed them warily, as products of the American
less, American consumption, especially in the industrial Mid':"es~ to wh1ch
character and value system and hence antithetical to German culture.
so many Germans traveled, did differ qualitatively and quant1tauvely from
Many sought the roots of uniform consumption in American history,
that in Weimar Germany. Germans were genuinely puzzled by the dynam
singling out two distinctly American phenomena. One was the frontier
ics of mass consumption. They sought to understand which goods were
experience, which forced pioneers to focus on basic needs and generated a
candidates for such consumption; whether people of any or all classes would
desire for equality; the other was Puritanism, which stressed conformity
purchase them; and whether desirable ar detrimental social and. cultural
in belief and lifestyle and condemned individuality as arrogance.71 Heinz
consequence.s would come in their wake. Their contorted theor1es about
Marr viewed Fordism asan expression of radical Puritanism, and standard
the heritage of Puritanism, the effects of immigration, and the fa te of Kultur
ization in production and consumpon asan effort to subject people to the
are a testament to just how difficult it was to imagine mass consumpt1on in
"ideal monotony and uniformity of the Puritan regementation of Jife. "72
ali its complexity.
War I.64 Weimar Germans did not question their validity, choosing instead

to explore how Americans developed these tas tes and habits f ~onsumption.

r1

r1

(. '

'The CultuTtd Consequences of Americanism

118

MiddJe,class commentators were divided about the fu.ture of mass con,


sumption in Gerrnany. As we saw, most industrialistsargued that mass production and mass consumption were impossible, at least iil the foreseeable
future, because Ger~any Iacked markets, ~apita!, and.the ability to pay high
wages. The automobile would never be w1dely purchased, mailorder hous
were impossible, and the chain store was a ihreat to traditional business ea
8?me cultural critics of mass consumption worried that it ~ight com~ ; .-.
e1ther b.ecause Germans fooJishly desired it or because it was essential to econom1c recovery and successful competition with America.78 Only a fi
like the engine.er P. Warlimont, thought that Germany could and sho~';;
consc1ously 1m1tate Ford' s sales strategies and consumption model 79Pe
11
d

wer
s~I agree w1th Paul ":engraf that, even though American mass consump
~10~ represented the tnumph of civilization over Kultur, "the American
1zat1on of Europe is . irresistible fact. "80 Thus, whether they argued in
terms of hard econom1c facts or took a romantic view of German traditions
most bourgeois visitors did not believe that the culture of consumptio~
would soon transform the fatherland.
~s we discusse~ earlier, party and trade union leaders, functionaries,
and 1ntel~ectuaJs beheved that mass consumption, and the high wages and
~tandard1zed mass production on which it had to be built, would serve the
1nterests not only of_workers but also of capitalists. Mass consumption was
the essence of Ford1sm and the secret of American economic successs. It
represented the logic of the next stage of capitalist development-which
had already been realized in America-and it transformed production in
ways that would promete socialism. Those trade union members who immi,
grated to America wrote back glowing reports of the goods they could
acqu1re ~nd the more satisfying Jife they led as a result. s1
.:.~ Social Democrats and trade unionists viewed mass consumption as neC
essary but ~er~ not ~onvinced that it was inevitable. They encountered
sta~nch capitahst res1stance to their proposals for mass,consumption in the
earh~st stages of the debate about Fordism and rationalization, and would
contmue to encounter it throughout the late 1920s. Even though Social
~emo~rats asserted that capitalism must develop, sooner or later, in the
d1rect1?n of technological rationalization, mass production and mass con,
sumpt1on, the~ worried that industrialists would distort capitalist devel,
opment, to the1r own detriment and that of workers.
Although Soci~l Democrts preached the gospel of mass consumption,
they were uncerta1n how such an economy would function in Germany.
Sorne assumed there was a ready market for more massproduced goods
others ar.gued that Gerrnans would have to be educated to purchase th~
stand~rd1zed pro~ucts ~f rationalized industry.B2 Most ignored advertising
and v1ewed cred1t buy1ng with suspicion. 83 The left was as vague about
:Vhat valu~s would structure a culture of consumption as they were about
Jts econom1c mechanisms. Social Democrats nalvely assumed that Germany
coul~ ~ave mass ~onsumption without oppressive uniformity, justas they
had tnsisted that 1t could ha ve mass production without undermining quality

_J_

119

k 84 They wanted the virtues of Arnericanism without the perceived


or
ces.
1arge1y 10

_.- Social Democrats define d t h e contentof mass consumpt1on


~ ti've terms. Most were convinced that the automobile would not be
nega
a
as 1t was 1n
"Amenea.

th nter of production and consumpt1on


in ermany
.A e ce di"ng to Kurt Heinig, those who desired an Americanstyle car cul,
"ccor

SJ.Ze
and d iver
. 5uffered from "autoism. "85 Nor couId G ermany, g1ven
1ts
86
~?re tain mailorder houses like Sears and Roebuck. Efforts to develop
s1ty, sus
.
d .
1
.
re positive picture of German mass consumpt1on prove s1ngu arly
amo
h"
d

G
"t 1
->unsccessful. Tarnow's famous slogan, is a vice to erm~n cap1 a tsts to
-~. od
"not baking ovens but bread,"87 was symptomat1c of the move,
P' uce,

I
h d h

'roent' 5 difficulties in imagining mass consumpt1on: t emp as1ze t e satis .


. , t" n of basic subsistence needs by a most baste good, rather than the
1ac 10
'
.
b
l'creation of new needs, or the satisfaction of ex1st1ng.ones Y ne~ meaos.
Tarnow' s slogan missed the whole point of the Amencan econom1c model,
d 't failed to offer a concrete cure for the German economy. Yes, Tarnow
~7d ;ecognize the importance of domestic demand and the nee~ to .stimu
late it; he valued spending not saving. But he seemed to ha ve httle idea of
.. what should be produced for domestic consumption. He and h1s fellow ~ial
De ocrats may have been right that it couldn't be cars, but it certa1nly
wa~n't bread. "Not machine tools but motorcycle~." "Not expodr~sd but
liances" would ha ve been better slogans. Yet Social Democrats 1 not
. :~~!ore the wealth of goods between the extremes of bread and cars. Their
vision of a consumer society remained devo1d of consumer _goods.
The difficulties in imagining mass cons"Umption sprang in part from t~e
constricted material circumstances of the ~id~ and late 1920s. Real wages d1~
not reach their prewar level until 1928, and roughly 75 percent of workers
income went for food, rent, and clothing. Food alone accounted far 45 ~er,
centof a workingclass family' s wages, as against only a third of that of wh1te
collar workers and civil servants. The majority of workers hved in hous1ng
built before World War !; half of the apartments lacked toilets, andan even
greater number Jacked electricity. The housing built during Weimar--<>ften
as a result of state programs initiated by the SPD-was much better, but only
the bestpaid workers could afford it. 88 Given the limited disposable mcome
of the average worker, it was hard to imagine precisely what could. be produced and consumed on a mass sea le to ha ve the desired macroeconom1ceffec~
on productivity and employment. It was easier far Social Democrats. to beg1n
with wage demands and worry later about what in~reased wages .m1ght pur,
chase. Given the inadequacy of the housing stock, it seemed se~s1ble toco~,
centrate on building new housing rather than focus on what kmds of apph
anees and furniture would be needed. Social Democrats were more at ease
inventing strategies to increase aggregate wages and social consumption than
,,
..
..
those to satisfy individual needs.
The Social Democrats' vision of ''the new person andan ennobled
mass culture further shaped, and limited, their vision of mass consumption.
As Adelheid von Saldern argues, Social Democrats were very concerned

120

~f{i

lmagit1it1g AmeTica

with reforming, rationali.zing, and disciplining wo;king.-cl~ss life. The


sough_t to. eliminate the perceived evils of o~der proletarian Hfestyles, sucK
as taking Jn roomers and boarders, frequent1ng pubs, and having nume
children, and the new distractions and temptations of mss culture su rholls
.
d.
. .
e ~
mov1es, ra 10, and spectator sports. As a feature of the ne~ Jifestyle J
care~uJJy chos~n and functionaJ products wouJd be acquired in ration~ta:y
9
effic1ent ~ys. The produ~t was 1ess important than how it Was consumec1d
Co~su~pt1on was seen ne1ther as an end in itself nor as a means to Jf. reahzat1on oras a postive source of pleasure.90 The "new person" wa:et'
have mcx:lern consumer p~eferences but not be defined by what he or sh~
consumed. The Social Democrats wanted mass consumpton but nota 1
cu
ture of consumption.

I'

The American Woman

~any of the deepest fears and reservations Weimar Germans expressed about
e culture of co?sumpt_ion and the consequences of economic modernity centered arou_nd the Amen~n woman and American gender relations. At first
gl~nce, th1S seerns puzzlmg. After_ ali, it was Henry Ford and his engineers
an _auto workers-that is, men, 1ndividuaUy and coHectively-who were
the icons of ~he new economic arder. Detroit, that mecca of German travel
ers to Amer1ca, hadan overwhelmingly male workforce.91 And it was Ger
;an men who ~e?ated the economic aspects of Fordism in terms first and
oremost of th~1r 1mpact on men's wages, work, and profits.
The prom1nence of women and gender in this debate can be understood
more as.a produce of German anxieties than of American realities. War and
~evol~.~~on, economic crisis and new attitudes toward sexuality political
~~sta 1 1ty a~d e~ergent mass culture had altered German wom~n' 5 posi
ion-sometl~e~ in ways that were emancipatory, often not-and created
enormous anx1et1e~ a?~~t male power and privilege as well as about women' s
~oles and respon_s1bd1t1es. German economic and political dehates were
aunted by the f1g~res of the "new wornan "-young, stylish, liberatedwho reJected marnage or combined it with work and motherhood of the
woman V~ter, unpredictable but presumably conservative; and of the older
woman, single or married, who worked from necessity, not choice, at jobs
many men felt should be theirs.92 Airead y preoccupied with gender athome
Eerm;ns confronte~ not onJy the realities of women and gender in Americ~
ut t e representat1ons of Women in American mass culture in Germany.
For m ~ny, women came_t~ symbolizeaH thecontradictions and ambiguities,
as W~ a~ ~he opportun1t1es, of modernity. Debates about the German eco
?m~c
crtsis _and t~e pos~ibilities of a Fordist solution thus slid easily, aJmost
1
nev_1tab .Y.' 1nto d1scuss1ons of American culture, high and low, and of the
erot1c cns1s that purportedly loomed 1arge in both societies.93
. AThe.amorphous anxiety eXpressed about women and gender relations
:;. h :r~a coa_lesced around three principal concerns. Those preoccupied
lt
e menean culture of consumption questioned whether women and
t

J_

~11}'

'The Cultural Coruequences of AmeTicanism

121

lusive but powerful feminine sensibility bore the primary responsibil


r promot1ng

blame-1or
stan d ar d"1ze d mass consump eion. Others,
q~;'._ i.tY erned more with Kultu.r than consumption, scrutinized the relation..
rf%.f~ .-~~;between ~ornen' s po~erful position in American society and the os ten
_::_~j~_ 'sible feminizat1on of Amencan h1gh cul~ure: Nearly _ali ~emoaned the tr~ns
;jf.rs. formation of home, family, and sexuah~y 1n Amenca in wa!s tha_t m1ght
)e;' well be modern and rationalized but wh1ch seerned soulless, dJSturbmg, and
;--~,~'~ distinctly unEuropean. Whereas the American man, whether worker or
r'.(- '. capitalist, aroused admiration even as ~is limitatio~~ w~re ackno~l~ged,
-the American woman engendered anx1ety or host1hty 1n the maJOnty of
German commentators. Her achievements and virtues were considered to
be as problematic as her failings. Befare we explore th~ pervas.ive and per
"t~>ce nicious influence attributed to women, we must examine the 1mage of the
American woman constructed by Weimar Germana.
. Discussions of "the American woman" were conducted almost exclu
-;. :( ~ ;. ,, ' sively about middleclass women. To be sure, "middle class" was broadly
construed, far the image of the American woman was a composite picture,
drawn from the-experiences of shopgirls and secretaries, professional women
and college students, middleclass social reformers and church women, and
.1 the nonemployed wives of businessmen. But certain groups were virtually
omitted and invisible-factory girls, domestic servants, married home
workers, recent immigrants, and black women from the North and South. 94
The commentators, like the objects of their analysis 1 were overwhelm
ingly bourgeois. Nowand again Social Democrats, trade unionists, or workers
who had immigrated made a passing and usually derogatory reference to
women and gender.95 Social Democrats tried to redefine the American bour
geois "new woman" in ways compatible with the movement's vision of
politics and motherhood, while Communists dismissed her as one more
perversion of capitalist culture. The American workingclass woman was
seen as yet another example of suffering and exploited proletarian woman
hood, such as existed in abundance in Germany. 96 ln general, however, the
left remained resolutely focused on male workers and male capitalists, on
the world of work and technology. Not so bourgeois observers, whose gaze
wandered nervously from the factory floor to both the home and the pub
lic sphere of politics and culture.
In America middleclass Germans encountered what prewar Germans,
such as the Harvard psychology professor Hugo Mnsterberg, had already
discovered, namely that women seemed to enjoy much greater equality and
power than their European counterparts. 97 Germans claimed that Ameri
can women were held in high regard and were able to make their influence
feit at home and at work, in culture and society.98 Women had much greater
legal equality and public visibility. 99 They had the same educational oppor
tuniti~s as men; indeed, they often received more education.-for men fre
quently abandoned their studies far lucrative jobs. The education might
well be superficial by European standards, but women had access not merely
to the same kinds of schooling, but the very same institutions, as men. 100
''"'1 an e
'.l;.~. ..'.-. -or

122

Imaginitig America

'The CultuTal Consequences of AmeTicanism

Accord~n~ to German observers, American women Viewed ,aid


.
mentas pos1t1ve and natura], yet they did not
h - 1 ~ employ.

'ence, but also for believing that woman actually were morally, intellectu,

ti;

with
singleminded devotion of American :.~~~,e;h:; ;;;;~ ldollar
to wor . tn greater numbers than their European counter arts e Ieved

j~s~~-r::,f~c~o~~1n

~mpete

;Jy, and aesthetically superior. 113 Others saw the key to women's perva

meri~or d~~r~~~:

hat:e greater ch.anee to


wiih
.
"h A
g
rthur Hohtscher, m both business and the
e
s1ons 1 t e menean
h
bl' h
proa~s
and has achieved much J:~;n .s esta . ~s ed herself much more securely
Both be'
d f
hg paymgpos1t1onsthantheEuropeanwoman "103
wrean a tert ewa h h d b

to both th
11
r, s e ~ a etter chance of marrying.104 D
hadan easi:rr:eral .,eveldof prosperity and to household technology, ,;:;
me tre an more time far a career lt
..
ous social work. "IO,. A d "f h h
~u ~ra act1v1ty, or serj.
Saloman she could ownna 1 she e ose to rema1n single, claimed Alice

car, ave a country hou


db
success.106 There were those h .
d
~e, an
e accepted as a
role and pubJic resence
w o v1ewe t?e American woman' s economic
of decadent leis.fre and f .m~ch more negat.1vely, seeing her as 'Jeading alife
her greater equality andr~~~~~~~~~~umpt1on. But even they acknowledged
This was undoubted]
d
those who were most ent~u:~ e~aggerate and ~n~,sided view, as sorne of
eventually discovered In th ~st1c about the pos1t1on of American women
to be born in Amer. . . e 920s, f~r example, Saloman said she wanted
herself there as a ref~~:;~r~er ~~~lt re1n~arnat~~n; in the 1930s she found
lack of o ortun. .
~. I eran was Jtterly disappointed at the
theless :en vi:~sd rec~ghl1t1on,f:and support America offered.I08 None
decad.after World ~!uicd~ or rom afar, the American woman in the
1 hseem to enJoy an enviable kind of equality
and freedom wheth
and had children T~r or ~ot s e worked, and whether or not she married
definitions 1 she h~d loooug sdhehm.ay n.ot ha ve shattered traditional gender
sene t e1r gr1p.
In an effort to discover the sour
f h A
.
influence-which sorne found admira~:a~d e h me~~ca.n w_oma~' s power and
commentators traced th .
ot ers exorb1tant 1@--German
eir roots to the count '
1 h

that, as in many colonial


. .
ry s ear Y tstory. They believed
that persisted through th:::~~~es, tFe~e ~ad been a relative lack of women
Because the women w
i~gl o t e ront1er In the nineteenth century.
ere essent1a to build
morality, they were highl ri d b
,;~g a new country and guarding
situation to enhance the1'ry1 pfl ze ~ mben. Women took advantage of the
n uence m oth the bl'
d
transforming a "state with m , . h ,, .
.. pu te an pnvate spheres,
was women' s advanta e
en ~ :1g ts in to a woman' s state. "111 But how
closed? Sorne argued th~t~::OSltmn perpetuated long after the frontier was
tions of economic and cultural encan ~amen ~~d secured legal rights and posi,
Coeducation a phenomenon thapotwf;er rnmdw ich they could not be dislodged.
d d
,
'
ascmate many Germa r th
women s opportunities and influence.112
ns, rur erexpan e
Thus, by the twentieth centur th A
.
status no Ionger depended 00 imbaly ~ menc~n woman's exceptional
male recognition she did h
anee sex rat1os or male consent. But
Halfeld condemned A
.ve, as many noted. In distraught tones, Adolf
menean men not only for tolerating women 's promi,

123

'

:ve influence in men' s preoccupation with economic affairs and lack of


interest in culture.
If the American woman was viewed as "a creature especially favored
.by fa te," she was also seen as the embodiment of the values that dominated
:,.:America. The American woman was believed to share a fascination with
, technology and an enthusiasm for machinery. She embraced the ideas of
?efficiency, rationalization, uniformity, and discipline, and participated in
the American "body culture, " 114 with its emphasis on health, physical train
/_ing, and sports. Nothing illustrated the camplex links between women and
,'American values better than that quintessentially American form of enter,
-::, tainment, the allwoman precision dance team. The psychotechnician Frltz
---Giese and the film critic Siegfried Kracauer, for example, both insisted that
the Tiller Girls, the most famous of these dance troupes and ali the rage in
Berlin in the mid, 1920s, were the consummate expression of Americanism. 115
According to Giese, these dancing "girls" were "movement machines," who
captured America's obsession with technology, admiration for collective
discipline, and enthusiasm for rationalization. They celebrated athleticism
and neutralized eroticism in ways that were peculiarly American. The Tiller
Girls reflected the economic power and influence of American women as
well as American economic values.116
For many Germans the power and influence of American women were
deeply threatening; so too were the values they embodied. Technology and
efficiency, rationalization and standardization were creative, if limiting,
when valorized by men, but disturbing when embraced by women.07
Equality and camaraderie between male bosses and male workers prometed
praductivity and profits; equality and camaraderie between women and men
subverted gender hierarchies and privileges. It was not the American
woman' s economic position that most concerned Germans; greater economic
oppartunity and equality were even applauded by sorne observers, menas
wellas women. Rather, it was the American woman' s influence on culture
and consumption, on home and sexuality that was troubling.
The American woman was seen as a prime prometer of mass consump'
tion, justas she was of mass culture. Because American men devoted them,
sel ves to production and work, women were responsible for consumption
and leisure. They showed themselves particularly susceptible to the super,
ficial, escapist and distracting features of new cultural forms. 11 8 Like their
Gerrnan counterparts, they were the majority of rnovie audiences and were
assumed to view films passively and uncritically. 11 9 American women were
equally receptive to the worst aspects of mass consumption, according to
AdolfHalfeld, who expressed these widespread concerns in the most con,
cise and extreme form. Women eagerly purchased the uniform and manota
nous products of mass production; they fell far every fad, displaying a dis
tinctly feminine emotional instability. Men did not serve as a counterweight
to the mediocrity and fickleness of female taste; as a result of being taught

rrr
li
. i

1
1

1
1

1
1

124

'fhe Cultural Consequences of Americanism

ln1agi11i11g America

and dominated by women, they had become feminized. "Onlyvia the woma
and her unique cultural leadership role could standardization conquer a
aspects of American life," Halfeld concluded. 120
. The American woman was not only integral to the' cu~ture of consump
t1on; she was absolutely central to Kuf tur1 or what passed-for it in America
"The man devoted himself to business, the woman to culture," reiterated
Morit.z J. Bono in nearly every work he wrote. 121 According to. Alice
Saloman, there was a distinct "feminization of culture," far women were
not only the principal consumers of culture, but its principal organizers
promoters, and shapers. 122 Women represented the vast majorityof teacher~
at all levels belowcollege. This feminization of the teaching profession, the
result of abundant job opportunities far roen and coeducation, was striking
to Germans. E ven more un usual and troubling, by European standards, was
the central role that women p1ayed in promoting museums, concerts, and the theater. Men might prvide the money, but women.determined the
cultural uses to which it was put. In so doing, women imposed their own
:
tastes, rather than deferring to the intellectual and aesthetic judgments of
men. Perhaps they had no choice, admicted some Germans, far America had
no significant group of artists and intellectuals; it had no leisured aristoc
racy and it bad no male bourgeoisie wboappreciated literature and the arts.
In short, it lacked the masculine social base of Kultur in Europe.I2J InteHec
tually and organizationally, men surrendered the field of culture to women
:
willingly and unthinkingly.
'
Judgments varied on what women had created. AdolfHalfeld was pre
dictably most upset by the feminization of ali emotions, tastes, arc, and
thought. This was, he insisted, the American problem in its most danger
ous, almost pathological form. 124 Charlotte Ltkens' assessment was more
mixed. Although she admired women' s independence, energy, and dedica
tion in cultural activities, she believed that "a sphere of cultural activity so
completely directed and measured by women lacks, in large measure, the
tensions and subtlties ... which enable the pu re work of speculation or
fantasy to come to fe for society. " 125 Moritz J. Bonn and Alice Salomen
were more positive, arguing that although women had not created a sophis
ticated and introspective European culture, they had created one which
emphasized the useful, the practica!; and the moral. Nearly al! agreed that
women' s cultural and social power was directly responsible for that most
incomprehensible and uniquely American phenomenon: Prohibition.126
The culture women created was thus seen as a manifestation of values
that permeated American economic life-such as practicality and concrete
ness-and as a complement to the onesided, materialistic preoccupations
of American economic man. Jt combined pragmatism and moralism, and
added culture to consumption, but in ways that bourgeois Germans found
to be superfjcial, unorjginal, and unsatisfying. Even more disturbing, Ameri
can culture was judged to have "distorted the natural arder of a relation
ship in which, so long as people can remember, woman has received the
creative spark from man. "I27

125

turned the world upside down, not only in the public


Amencamsm
fd
. . Al L
L
f l
but in the private sphere o omest1c1ty.
tnoug111t 1s
, here o cu ture,
1 b
d Am .
'
sp lear whether German commentators actual y o serve
e~1can 1am1 y
. not c f t hand man Yclaimed with astonishment that the American woman
lifeat irs d 1' t like a goddess at home. Home was not her separate
was treate a mos
l
. d
f f' .

h h h exerted complete contra overa Imite range o a ra1rs.


here mw IC 5 e
df
h
sp che; ic was a realm in which she ostens1bly exercize arreac _1ng d
)la
k.
d which men ser ved her needs and obeyed her Wishes in a
1ngan In
.
l
51'onma G
r nd to be obsequious. ' 2 The Amencan man noc on y
anner ermans iou
h h d. h

m
d
b ld f
. he was even reported to was t e IS es, e ean
howe ver a e erence,
1
h. d
d
s Ld care for the children-all in arder to p ease Is eman 1ng
the
~KJuse, an
.. h
t
ale d
::.,
'fi 129 "Over there "noted FritZ Giese, t ere are no separa e m an
; ~ - w1 e.l
h
f du,ty Being a woman does not mean being a cook or
0.--fema e sp eres o

.
E
~r.''
h "130 As one unhappy man summarized che s1tuat1on, In urape man
fjO::C root er.
th
een 13 1 Women
:T~', was the lord of the house; in America woman was e qu
.
'

t h Id be noted were more skeptical about whether such a rad1


~~r
trave ers, I s ou

h
d d h
. ~~
l redivison of domestic labor had occurred, but even t ey. a m1Cte w1t
'~:
that American roen did more around the house than the1r German coun

'

:c1

:vy

:;t;:__
..
,;'

__._

terparts.132
.
The home aver which the American woman ruled was seen as quin
. 11
odern German travelers paid no attention to the cenements
tessen t 1a Y m

1 f 1 h
g
and old homes in the East, focusing instead on newer s1ng ~ ~mi Y. ousin
the Midwest and West or the modero apartment buildmgs m places
i?k New York. Houses were conscructed in che simplest, most funcCional
~~ner, they argued, and the work required to maintain them ha~ ~en re
minimum. Not only was there running water, electr1c1ty, and
d t
d uce o 3
d
l
. d r
bundance 13)
central heating~ there were househol app iances .In azz _1ng a

Even in the homes of skilled workers, one could f1nd refr1gerato~s, vacu~m

k
nd washing machines. 1" Everyone rehed heav1ly
cleaners, e1ectnc coo ers, a
l
on canned goods to simplify meals, and many families_ate out frequent Y at
the automat or soda fountain or, far special occas1ons, ata restaurant
ar club.ns Americans hada "rational Hfestyle" that was nowhere more
evident than in the home.
. h
German observers offered severa} explanations far such pervasIVe ouse'
hold rationalizacion and mechanization. First and foremos_t the shortag~ of
servants and their high cost forced an alteration in the des1gn and f~nctlon
ing of middle,class homes. Money could buy technology a~d serv1ce~ o~~~
side the home much more readily than it could be ~sed to ht~e dome~tics.
But labor market conditions alone did not explam the rad1cally d1fferent
nature of the American home. Its farreaching rationalizat10~ relecced the
low regard in which Americans held housework. Accord1ng to German
observers, the American woman did not regard h~use~ork as a Ber~f, an
occupation from which to derive meaning and sat1sfa.ct1on. Rat~er, It wa~
a boring and burdensome necessity that should_ be d1spensed w1th as ef
ciently as possible so that more important and 1nterest1ng act1v1ties could
be undertaken. m Finally, it was believed that household technology and

'The Cultural Co11seque11ces of Americanism


126

127

Imcigining America

functiona1 modern arthitecture helped the American woman overcome hfr


inadequacies ~s a housewive. Many Germans shared Franz westermann's
view that "The (American] woman is a brilliant social companion anda
partner for her man, assuming he earns enough money. If she 1-Yants t, she
is also often a diligent business woman. But the talentS of a good housewife

in the German sen.se are usually not present. '' 138


The modero American household was a prerequisite far thf: American
woman 1 enabling her to pursue paid employment or cultural activities as
she chose. 139 But modernity had its price. America had reaJized what the
Bauhaus theorized, and man y Germans, however much they applauded the
American rationalized factorf, fOund the American home cold and soulless.
lt lacked cozy nooks and supertluous spaces; it had none of the comfort and
clutter and charro that ostensibly characterized its German counterpart. 140
The spacious kitchen had been reduced to a functional minill1um. Such a
kitchen was "the symbol of the emancipated woman," noted the trade un ion
delegation with a deep ambivalence toward both the kitchen and the lib,
eration of women it reflected. 141And that ambivalence was widely shared.
The American woman was seen as pursuing rationalization and mechaniza,
tion at the expense of any proper spirit of care and nurturance. She led much
ofher life outside the home, as did her husband and children, so that family
life and cultivated domesticity in the German bourgeois sense were miss,
ing.142 Sorne attributed this to the underdeveloped American need far a
private sphere; others to the fact that in America "the personal life of an
individualistic age can be maintained only by having recourse to drastic
measures of sociaJization," by which was meant everything from efficiency
apartments and canned goods to automats and laundry services.14 3 Whether
or not they viewed the American house as desirable or inevitable, most
Germans shared Salomon's view that it was nota "home. " 144
The American woman was not judged more favorably when it carne
to lave and sexuality. As sexual subject and object, she was a mpst puz'
zling crea tu re to German observers. Deeply in volved in America' s body cu!,
ture, she pursued physical fitness and beauty relentlessly. The result was
health, strength, and performance-a rationalized body but an asexual seJf,
presenta6on. She was not seen as mascuJine so muchas neutered. "Nowhere
in Europe, except in England" argued Fritz Giese, "is there thiskind of accen,
tuated modesty, neutralization of sexual difference, e1imination of femininity. "145 According toAlice Saloman, American women were "undersexed,"
perhaps because of their education with its stress on activity and sports,
perhaps because of career demands. 146 The American woman as a new
type-asexual and unerotic but distinctly moclern and very powerful-both
fascinated and frightened Germans who saw imitations of her at home. 147
The American woman's behavior, Jike her seJf,presentation, diverged
markedly from European norms. Sorne accused her of flirting continuously
but setting narrow limits to that flirtation. 148 Others claimed she insisted
on platonic friendships and abrupt1y rejected any erotic overtures.149 AJI
agreed that she set the rules of dating and courtship, justas she did of mar,

.
. ture " according to Adolf Halfeld.1so
"Amazon state tn m1n1a
'
1
db E
flage-an
.
f Puntanism she imposed a sing e an y uroBu1Iding on the her1ta~e o
1 t nd,ard in In literature as in life, the
restrict1ve sexua s a

1 f
d
d 'th marriage but incapab e o gran
pean entena,
.
an was concerne WI
l
Amencan wom
roached in a rational, objective, rather ca cu at1n~
. pass1on. Lave ~as app d b
I ke Moritz J. Bonn, was the prereqU1'
nd th1s argue o servers I
; roanner,
'
. u2
~ site for women's equaht~ American woman's appearance and behavior,
Por sorne Germans t e
1t reflected America, s own contra
her mixture of openness and as~xuaFI YA.rthur Holitscher America wasa
dictory attitudes toward_ sex_uahtyd or ression progressive'sexual attitudes
confusing mixtureof Punta:i1sm ant ~e~xualit; while morahty condemned
and prost1tution. The media flaun. e l s
Gi~e offered two photos. One
it.15J To illustrate A~ericanla~b~~:o~:~:d with painted designs; the other
showed a woman hav1ng her
ring the length of a woman, s bathpictured the Florida morals po ic~~~as~th the law. Flirtation, with its su
ing suit to be sure t?at she _com~ 1~ Aw erican gender relations, he believed,
perficialityand allus1ons, ep1tom1ze
m
d ,,.
.
.
tenced and suppresse
.

whde sexua 11ty was SI


I
duct of Amer1ca s re 1merican
woman
was
ess
a
pro
For oth ers, t h e A
. f t
Paul Wengraf an enthusiast
gious past than a preview of Eur?ped sthu ~:woman "who ;djusted to the
hA
"ca and Russia pra1se
en
d .h
of b ot
men
. 1f '
nized her life independently' an w1t ,
new economic and socia or~s, [~
1ss Few were as unequivocally
drew from the egotistical ru ~o t ; ~A erican woman and American
enthusiastic. Even such admirelrs o
e k m ledged thatGermanywould
gender relations as Bonn and Sa.om~n, ~c cnotw1'ng them Theodor Lddecke
d I rice 1or 1m1 a

.
y to emulate America economt'
pay a cultura 1 an spiritua P e G
.
d h.
tended plea 'or erman
. .
1nterrupte ts ex
.
. . he saw existing in both soc1et1es,
cally with a tirade about the erkouc cnsids modern dances a declinmg birth
. .
b l'zed by silk stoc mgs an
'
a cr1s1s sym o 1
. He admired Ford for trying to restare ~ra,
1
rate, anda new sexual_ mora ity..
d oc1al relationsh1ps at the same time

er

dition and respectab1hty to famtly an 5


t' 156 But Lddecke
he prometed mass product1on and mass consumph1ond
h h
en his hero could stem t e t1 e.
seemed unsure w et er ev
.
Soc l Democrats and social workers,
~Ile ind~stnalis~ and ene~~~e;~~ th:~ultural consequences of Ameri,
pohuc1ans and Journahsts argu
h
d that sorne form of eco

woman t ey recogn1ze
h A
cani~m an d t e . menean ha ve ~o occur in Germany immediately. Bour
no~1c restructur~ng wouldbelteve that their past culture was supenor and
geo1s Germans m1ght well
.
d acial proiects promised a more
. 1 D emocra t s, that their econom1c an .s d that the
)
Soeta
American economy
progress1ve future, but both groups recogn1ze
and economic model dom1nated the present.

i;.-:; r

Modernizing GC'tmany

178

fied: "Everyone with insight has known for a long time that we do not reject
the rationalization of prcx:luction, because it can mean nothi~g other than
employing technical and organi_zational measures with reason." 159
Sometimes opposition led to informal protests--absenteeism, insults to
foremen, even fistfights. These were especially conimon in mining. In
1929-1930 the Mining Association reported 256 cases of managers being
insulted and cursed out by miners. In another 68 cases, workers and fore,
men carne to blows. 16 KarlHeinz Roth has argued that the new semiskilled
workers created by rationa!ization engaged in passive resistance from 1927
on. Without support from the unions, these workers expressed their oppo
sitien to new forms of wofk by means of absenteeism and sabotage.16'1
Although there were sorne instances of this in the automobile and the
electrotechnical industries, they were not the rule.
The prospect of job losa during a period of high unemployment made
resistance extremely costly and unlikely. This was especially true in such
industries as mining, where the work force was older and had families to
support. 162 What economics didn' t curb, poli tics quelled. Even though the
Social Democratic union leadership could not impose its faith in rational
i.zation, it did effectively restrict militant and organized protest against it.
Communists and left Social Democrats, who shared the Social Democrats'
theoretical endorsement of technological and organizational restructuring,
had no practica! strategy to offer disaffected workers. The KPD carne to
represent the unemployed more than the employed; those party members
who still held jobs reported that it was all but impossible to engage work
ers in shop floor struggJes or political work. 163
The very ways in which rationalization transformed work undermined
the possibilities o( both formal organization and informal protest. As Uta
Stolle' s pioneering study ofBayer, BASF; and Bosch shows, rationalization
disrupted traditional workshops and work groups and destroyed informal
networks, which had often served as a basis for more formal politics. The
possibiJities for communication among workers were significantly dimin
ished. 16< Reports from KPD factory cells lamented that pauses had been
eJiminated and supervision intensified. Workers could no longer speak dur,
ing work, and "had time neither to agitate nor to listen to agitators." The
contradictory effects of rationaiization were neatly summariz:ed in the asser'
tion, "Flow production, which unites the operations of the worker in to a
complete uninterrupted process, separates the worker as a living being, as
a member of a united coUectivity. "16'5 Under these circumstances, workers'
disHke of rationaJization resulted only in division and demoralization, and
led to their disillusionment with trade unions and the SPD.
Although the trade union and SPD leadership often seemed blind to
the social consequences of economic rationa!ization, industry leaders and
engineers were not. They acknowledged, indeed frequently overestimated,
worker opposition to rationalization. But they refused to buy acceptance
of it by high wages and massconsumption. Instead they developed an arra y
of policies to create a new type of worker and working,cJass family.

9
Engineering
the New Worker

.
1 b German industrialists on the soul of the German
A great envelop1ng assau t y
. attack consists in nothing less than a com
worker is in progress. The goal of,.th1s f
s of male and female workers.

plete restructuring of the menta ity o m1 ion

. lD

tic trade unionist Fntz Fncke


With this ominous warning the ~Ja t~oc7 He proceeded to deliver a
bega~ his 1927 pamphl~t 'The~f .:~: r:ti~~afization in industry. His cdti
scatb1ng attack on new orms
1 t"tute for Technical Labor Train'
cisms were also aimed at t~e German ns I i ned by a proliferation of facing(Dinta).' Fricke' s alarm1st prose;w:i~~c:o~kers' attitudes toward work
torybased programs a1med a~ trans ~r
family and fatherland. Din ta and
o rams company newspapers,
and the firm, cow~rkers an cap1t~ ism..
the engineers it tra1ned ~an app~ent1~~1p pr g 1oth~r Weimar institutions
and welfare and educat1on serv~ces. I e ~e7~~~strialists Dinta claimed to
f od 't. "l
run by scientists of work, eng1neers, an
" h h
b . gas a factor o pr uc ton.
ha ve discovered t e umanl e~n"bl
d influential practitioner of human
Din ta was :he most voca v1s1 e~ ~~dustry' s vision of a distinctly Gerrationalization m the 1920s. lt shar d efficient, and profitable yet avoid
k lt romised to create
man economy that would be rattona ze ' .
Fordized mass production and predeservehquahty wtoarnd. p:oductivity as well
itt to ac 1evemen
ld b
e co~m - nd ali without high wages and mass con,
workers :'ho wou
as to their Beruf and the firm a
d Ruhr heavy industry it pen. , Alth
b Dmta was centere m
'
.
sumpt1on.
oug
.
lo addressed pervas1ve
etrated many other sectors a~d r:g1ons.klts ~~~e ;~sence of a Beru.fsethos

concerns abkout qDu~l1t.tayr-;c~::~i~J tl~e::pe~~tion of academic, engineering,


among wor ers. In 1.
179

1
1

.\

&li1'l
ET-.. '._'

180

Moder11izing

Engineerlng the New WDT~er

Gern~ny

f' ' _. '

--

r,

'

and industrial proponents of company social policy and translated swee .


vague statements about vocational education and workcenter~
1den_t1t1es, thefactory community, and industrial leadership irito very prag.
m~t1c programs for skilled and unskilled workers, employed men and their
w1ves at _home, t_h_e aged and the young. It publicized these programs with
extraord1nary d1hgence, spreading its distinctly rightwing ideology fa

~ng a~~

beyond the factories in which Din ta was active.

Din ta' s vision of a rationalized economy and working class was not the
most. modern or Americanized model developed in Germany, but neither
wa~ 1t the most. in transigen ti y reactionary. Din ta mixed technol9gical modern1~~ and soc~a.l re~ction with great skil1 and sophistication, drawing on
trad1t1o~s of m1htar1sm and service (Dienst) and combining them with cost
~ccounting, modern psychology, and psychotechnics. It was politically flexible, functioning under Weimar even though it preferred a more authori
t~ri~~ regime. Nothing illustrates the limits of Americanism and the pecuhant1es of German rationalization more clearly than Din ta' s project far the
industrial leadership of men (industrielle Menschenfhrung). And nothing
11lustrate~ the left's difficulties in dealing with rationalization as ideology
an.d pra.ct1ce better than its response to Dinta. Our analysis must begin not
~ith D1nta, but with the movement far "human rationalization," of which
1t was a central part.

Company Social Policy and Social Rationalization

Lik~ s~ many terms i~ the discourse on rationalization, "company social


pohcy does not lend 1tself to succinct definition. Rudolf Schwenger, an
expert on company social policy in the Ruhr, insisted that company wel
fare was too narrow a description. Company social policy aimed at "the
careful treatment of the human in the firm, his effective integration into
the f~~tory arder, as ~ellas the systematic influencing of all relations among
men: It al.so sought the exclus1on of all influences that were foreign to or
hosti!e to the firm 1 " inciuding trade unions and the state.s L. H. A. Geck,
a l~ding industrial sociologist, distinguished between "company social
pol~c~," or m~~ures benefiting workers, and "social company policy", or
pohcies benef1tmg the firm economically. Realizing how integrally in ter
tw1ned these were, he offered a comprehensive definition that included "the
totality of efforts and measures which seek the welfare of those in the firm
ora regulation of their interactions in the factory itself ar in the firm en~i
ronment or in people s existence outside the irm. "7 The general la beis far
the movemen~ of which company social policy was a central part were
equally sweep1ng and amorphous. What scho1ars now term social rational
ization was then called human rationalization (menschliche Ranonalisierung),
hu~an economy (MenschenOkonomie), human management (Menschen
bew1rtschaftung), _and the virtually untranslatableMenschenfilhrnng, whose
nearest mean1ng is the leadership of men.
Weimar company social policy took different forms in different firms

181

::_:i'and sec tors and its goals were articulated in different ideological intona

t .
Measures that prometed ''the planned management of human labor
an d vocationa
Id
' ' to
tions. "ranged from vocational apt1tud e test1ng
a v1s1ng
.
Power t . eship programs general worker educat1on
courses, company news
appren 1c


d recreational programs. 8 Nor did company socia po 1cy stop at
n
apees,
a
e
P
the factory gate, for a var1ety of educat1onal an~ we 1are programs were

'd d far working women as well as far the w1ves and ch1ldren of male
eff''
d
- Provie
es Whtle sorne efforts stresse d econom1c
1c1ency, o thers a1me
' emP oye

h'
h
d
b
d'
d
t'lling "proper" conceptions of 1erarc y an o e 1ence, an " t h e
, at ms '
h
f
.1 .
'~-~ optima
J s t 1m
ulati'on of Joy in work "9 Often t e. proponents
o socia
ratio-.
.
1'
1 t' n espoused a factory ar firm commun1ty (Betr1ebsgemeinschaft oc
na za
. 1
. d .h
:: Werksgemeinschaft), concepts implicitly if not exp 1~1t Y assoc1ate wtt
.~
m anti'socialism and opposition to trade un1ons. Overall,
human
"' nationa is ,

l
f
""tlon sought to create new workers and new work1ng,c ass ami
ratmna i~
.
11
. d
h
lies that would be more technically, socially, and em~ttona Y suite to t e
ew rationalized work as well as more politically qu1escent.
n Instead of paternalism, charity, and yellow trade unions, the new c?m'
pany social policy stressed education, psychology, and cost account1ng.
Efficiency, profitability, and human rationalizat~on were seen as mutually
reinforcing.10 Company social policy was premts~d o~ the acceptan~e of
rationalized work, even as it promised to restare JY in "".'r~, ~ocat1onal
itment and dedication to the firm. Rather than d1.sm1ss1ng work
comm

fh
.
h
.
centered male identities as a phenomenon o t e past . 1t soug t to rev1.v~
them, but in a form more economically useful far capital and mo~e pol~tl'
cally amena ble to the overtures of the right. Akhough company social pohcy
often advocated a psychotechnical restructurmg of the w?rkplace and could
be combined with wage incentives, it relied most hea.v1ly on ~edagog1c~I
and welfare measures. It sought to reshape the worker s b~havtor and att~..
tudes from the inside by influencing his "work personahty" or even h1s

'

whole person. ll
.
.
d

Company social policy accepted, albe1t reluctantly 1 We1mar tn ustna
relations, even as it sought to outmaneuver trade unions an~ estab~ish. a e.aun
terweight to state social policy. Propone?ts of campany social policy 1ns1.sted
that the firm was a unique social format1on that must be allowed to .develop
according to its own laws.12 The firm was to be isolated from soc1ety and
serve as the basis far reforming it.
.
Company social policy was very much a product of ~ar, revolut1on,
and the new political realities ofWeimar. The massive recru1tme.ntof f~male
labor during World War I led toan expansion of company social pohcy to
serve the needs of women workers in the factory and at home. n The revo
]ution of 1918-1919, the factory council movement, and the 1920 factory
council law spurred further activism on the part ~f ind~~t~1ahsts. Far all
their limitations, these events and achievements d1d poht1c1ze t~e factory
and increase workers' power in state and society. Yellow trad~ un1o~s w~re
outlawed, collective bargaining was legitimated, and protec~1~e leg1slat~on
and social insurance were expanded, ali of which made trad1t1onal patriar

182

Engineering the N,ew Wor~er

Modirrnizing Gi!:rmany

chal company social policy ineffective. 14 Paced with new pow"er relationships on the shop floor as well as in nationaJ politics, industrialists, eng.
neers, and scientists of work sought new means to counter.workers' power
and preempt its expansion. 1"
.
Practical economic considerations also directed ati:entioh to the shop

economic and technical rationalization. 16 Productivity and profitability were


enhanced if one selected the "right" person for the "right" job by meaos o(
aptltude tests and vocational advising. Skill training on all levels was equally
1mportant, far the smaJI, relatively unmechanized artisan shop-the previ
ous training ground of most skilled male workers-could not prepare them
for the new rationalized factory, and no programs existed for the new semi,
skilled workers. Company social policy was also viewed as a compensation
for the physical, psychic, and social costs o( rationalization. Spcirts programs
and daily gymnastics sessions were proposed to counteract the detrimental
effects of routinized work, and convalescent homes and workshops for the
aged and the disabled were built for those who nonetheless succumbed.
Whereas rationalization, sta te social policy1 and collective bargaining tended
to blur the lines between skilled and semiskilled work and between male
and female jobs, company social policy sought to crea te hierarchical and
distinct categories by the differential awarding of material benefits and
privileges.17
Company social policy was inlluenced by the American example of the
ostensibly happy worker, who was dedicated to production, and of the
autonomous firm, which solved political and economic problems with no
outside interference. 18 But America's problems were not Germany's, and
most architects of human rationalization rejected America' s specific solu,
tions. They built company social policy on the assumption that German eco
nomic moderni.zation would be distinct from its American counterpart, that
Germany would remain rich in men but poor in capital and donlestic mar,
kets. For workers, meaning and motivation were not to come from mass consumption and mass culture. 19 Rather, it was necessary, in the words of the
industrial sociologist Peter Baumer, "to lead the worker spirltually and intellectually into his work" so that he would "no longer confront bis work
as the basis of his existence ... with skepticism and inner rejection but
would affirrn it to the best of bis ability."2
. For_ in~ustrialists, company social policy was not only an aspect of
rat1onahzat1on, but also a weapon against Weimar social policy. They con,
trasted the llexibility o( factory-based programs with the rigidityof state laws,
and the differential rewarding of performance (Leistung) with the uniforrn
wage rates of collective bargaining. On a more general ideological leve!, they
lauded company social policy for promoting individualism, loyalty to the firrn,
~nd a h'."'lthy particularism and denounced state social policy for undermin~ng ~~h1~vement a~d factory cohesion and preaching a pernicious universal1sm. F1nally, the idea of a factory community was offered asan alternative

h Social Democra:tic goal of economic democracy; it represented a com. 1


. . "
ting vision of company and soc1eta organ~tion.
.
pe Weimar company social policy was des1gned and tmplemented by a
' ty of individuals and institutions. Industrialists, academ1cs 10 techn1,
nd
varte
d
.
. t b .
niversities and research centers, an engineers in priva e us1ness a
ca1u
h
. .
D' t nd
the academy participated, as did suc _ private organ1zat1ons as Jn a a
h quasi-public ones as the RKW. Sorne groups, such as the Deutsche
~~reinigung were explictly political, while othe~s claime? to be a?ove party
]itics. A brief survey of this popular field w1ll help ~ttuate Dmta.
.
Po The capitalist firm was the locus of company socia! pohcy. ~an~ Jndustrialists developed programs with or wit~ou~ the a1d ?f organ1zat1on~
Dinta. Ruhr heavy industry was heavily 1nvolved 1n the new com
l' r
"O t
such as
ocial
policy 'ust as it had been in earlier paterna tstJC 1orms.
u '
8
'
pany
ch
d
h

t
the Ruhr such metalworking firms as Bos an t e opttca Jns rumen t
SI e
h
.
d camera company Zeiss transformed t eir extens1ve prewar company
~elfare policies, while the most modero and competitive firms, s~ch as :he
electrotechnical giant Siemens, embarked on vast c~mp~ny social pohc!'
programs. 24 Even small textile factories and construct1on fums pooled the1r
resources to implement sorne of the new measures .
The new discipline of industrial sOEi<?.lf>gy sket~hed t~e con tours of and
justification for a comprehensive new company social pohcy. Itscenter was
the Institute for Company Sociology !1c:l Social Co!1lpany ,lvf~!'gement,
established after the Prussia!} La_11dtag and th_e Prussmn M~1stry _of<?.u~
ture concluded that engineers needed to be educated about the human s1de
ohhe production process.,,located _at the Technische Hochschule m Berlin, the institute was founded in 1928 by the econom1st Goetz Bnefs and
the-engineer afid enthusiast of Americanism, ~auLR1ebensah_m. Fror_n th1s
Visible academic position, Briefs elaborated h1s own theory of t~e f1rm as
both a source of economic and social problei:ris anda locos for solv1n~ them.
Of equal importance, he gathered around him a group of scholars, mcluding L. H. A. Geck, RudolfSchwenger, Peter Baumer, and Walter Jost'. who
elaborated the theory of company social policy and analyzed 1ts practlce m
Weimar firms. 26 The So~~J-~ien~.~-J_n&titute_a~__ the_l]piYersi_ty _9f Colog~-~ hada department fodustrial pedagogy. By 1932 courses on company social
;olcy were beingtaught in Leipzig and in Frankfurt am Mamas well. Dw
sertations were written on such themes as worker estrangement from the
' 'ln
d us
ty
flrm (Werksfremdheit), an dh uman management ln
r "
.
.
A variety of private and semi-public institutions promoted f1rm-ba~ed
vocational education. The German Bureau for Technical. Ed~cat1on
(DATSCH), established by the VD! in 1908, develope.d .gu1dehnes for
courses, while the Working Committee for V ocational Tra1n1ng, wh1ch was
a joint project of the VD!, the RDI, and the VDA. debated .the broader
problems of vocational training. In 1930 the Fr~nkfurt Social Museu.m
brought together the principal theorists and pracuoners of company social
policy, suchas Karl Arnhold, JosefWinschuh, and Ernst Horneffer, as well
as their trade un ion critics, such as Fritz Fricke, to debate ftrm-based vocato te

fl~r an~ workers' attitudes. According to employers, engineers 1 industrial


soc1olo~1sts, and psychologists human rationalization had to complement

,,, ;:-

,.;,

183

ModernzitJg Germany

E11gi11eering the ]\{ew Wor~er

tional education. 28 That same year the RKW, which had been r'eprimanded
by the Reichstag for ignoring the social consequences of rationalization
began exploring aptitude testing, vocational education, workplace design'

_:_- ,
ffect of making engineering central to economic modernizatiqn while
i;-ous
eeasing the number o f pos1tions

many o f
~d
open to engineers
an d ma king
7
.-, hecr which continued to exist less varied and challenging.l
toseThese economic problems, status anx1et1es
andh

~
t warte d asp1rat1ons
d the political and econom1c strategies ofWeimar engineers. They had
shape

t he repu bl"te as
l the Ioosest tiesto the We1mar
party system, toIerattng
on y t rovi"ded prosperity and they were susceptible to the flattery of
.1ongas1p

h ht-wing thinkers as Oswald Spengler and the prom1Ses o such nghtsuc ng


bd
dh"
38
wing movements as National Socialism. Many. a an one t e1r prewar
ance of neutrality in the conflict between capital and labor and sought
St
. 39
actively to neutralize class con 11 tct.
.
.
Although Weimar engineers were conv1nced of the centrahty ~f tech
ietal development they realized that they were more hkely to
no1ogy to Soc
'
. .
h 1
1
rove their status and influence by hnk1ng tec no ogy to cu ture or to
1mp

h"
k
economics orto social engineering. Numerous ng twtng t tn ers, sorne o f
whom were engineers, depicted technology as cen~ral
the developm~nt
f Kultur. This reactionary modernist strand of engineenng thought, wh1ch
:as displayed most prominently in the VD! journal 'Technology and Culture, sought to improve the status of engi~eers by augmentin~ the value of
technology.40 A more prosaic and pragmat1cstrategy was to ~1e technolo.gy
ever more closely to capitalism by making the eng~neer a bus1nes~man w1th
an eye for profits andan aptitude far cost account1ng: The W~rk1ng ~roup
f German Factory Engineers, headed by the qu1ntessent1al eng1neer
~usinessman Carl Kottgen, and the VD! journal 'Technology and Economy
regarded American engineers as exemplary in this regard and sought to emu-

184

and quality work in a series of conferences and publications on "Human~

and Rationalization. "29

Engineers played a particularly prominnt role in social rationaliZation


and their activism was not restricted to such organizations a's DATSCH'
or ser_vic~ to individual employers. They established three independen~ __:organ1zat1ons to promete company social policy and train "social" engineers.
The Deutsche Volksh~hschule, associated with the_eJfplicitly_a_n~ti~ocialist
J?eu~sche ':'ereinigurig, offered general courses for managers and eng~
o~ right.w1ng ec~nomics and politics rather than teaching new leadership
sk1lls oc 1nformat1on on company social programs. 30
The Saarbrcken Institute for the Knowledge of \l,Tort(AFAS) was
established by the Saar Employers' Association and the Saarbrcken local
of the Working Group of German Factory Engineers. Run by Adolf
Friedrich, who began his career asan engineer at Krupp and became a professor of social psychology at Karlsruhe, the AFAS concentrated on train-.
ing engineers and foremen who would, in turn, train workers in the facto
ries. 31 In t ~e eyes of admirers, Friedrich's approach to Menschenfhrung
1
combmed technology, economy, psychology, philosophy, and theology."
To su~h critics as Willy Hellpach, it was "a mishmash of religion, psychoanalysJS, and vulgar psychology. " 32 Although the AFAS was important in
the Saar, its influence remained purely regional. 33 The third organization
of engineers was Dinta.
Engineers had many reasons to support human rationaiization, for its
pro?onents shared their basic assumptions about the place of technology in
s~1ety They addressed the persistent problems of the engineering profes
s1on, and they spoke to engineers' most farreaching aspirations.
Weimar engineers enjoyed neither economic security nor social status.
In part this was a heritage of incomplete professionalization in th~ pre-World
War 1 era. Although the number of engineers had expanded greatly during
Germany' s rapid industrialization, the occupation remained deeply divided
between those who were academically educated and those who were trained
in firms. Employment situations varied greatly among engineers working
in industry as well as between them and those who were state employees
or free professionals. Fina1ly, the line between engineers and technicians
could not be drawn with clarity.
Ali this contributed to low pay and a status that was "ambivalent and
contrad~cto~y. " 34 The VDI failed to turn this divided and amorphous.
occupat1on tnto a profession. In the Imperial era it prometed technology
more than technicians and recruited only one fifth of its potential members.
A~d the VDI was only the largest of severa} competing organizations that
~la1med ~o represent the interests of engineers. 35 These problems persisted
into .We1~ar and were exacerbated by a glut of engineers, especially uni,.
vers1ty trained ones. 36 Of equal importance, rationalization had the ambigu

185

t?

late them. 41

d
Dinta subsumed arguments about culture and economtcs un er 1ts
42
broader plea far the engineer to redefine himself as educator and leader.
The engineer' 5 role was to modernize the_ German economy and prevent
pernicious forms of Americanism from tak1ng hold.
Origins and !deology of Dinta

1
1
1
1

The proposal far an institution to promete techni:-a-1 education ~as _first


raised ata meeting of one of the majar Ruhr heavy 1ndustry organ1~at1ons,
the Association of German !ron and Steel Industrialists (VDESI) m May
1925. Albert Vogler, who headed the VDESI and would become general
director ofVestag 0 1926, accused industry of ignonng humans as a fa~tor
of production. As a result most workers were hosti~e to the firm and ahen:
ated from their jobs. Vogler then introd~ced a senes of s~.eakers who ex,
plained the need for and the outlines ofDmta. In a talk on _Mass Psychol
ogy and Work Success," the sociologist ~arl Dunkm~nn m1xe~ attacks ?,
Marxism and trade unions with pleas far good sense In manag1~~ hu~ans
and ''humanitarianism." His final list of goals ranged from prov1d1ng in~el
lectual enlightenment" through increasing individual ~ffort to promot1ng
"the family, a sense of Heimat, camaraderie, friendshtp, and the factory

!Tii
..~ 1

1
186

''

Modernizi11g Germany

.i

Engineering the N..ew Wor~er

communit "T ki

y.
a ng a much more pragmatic approach, the psychotech .
Walther Poppelreuter ~Jaborated the need far aptitude te~ting. Therucia~
~e.er Kar~ Arnh_old4J m1xed pragmatism and ideo!ogy. He' o e d h eng1
w1th an 1mpass1oned plea "to wake the powers sJu b .. p~ ne
IS talk
and place them in the service of the econ
" ~ enng 10 ou~ peopfe apprenticeship training program geared toW o~y. _and t~en ou_thned an
cent boys and promoting economic prosperit;~4 ~~1ng en a~g~red adoJes
with Arnhold as its head, was established. .
ew mont s ater Dinta,
Arnhold was born in Elberfeld in 1884 d
.
.
.
training there. Prior to World WarI he w
7 r~c~1ved hts engmeering
iron works, whose director had worked i~s t~:iu:~ d ~ the G. :d I. Jaeger
to emulate American methods Th
A
1 e_
tatesan waseager
apprenticeship training program~ w~re rn~olt first began organizing
en wfahr. ro e out m 1914, Arnhold
immediately volunteered As r .

1or so manyo is gene t.


L
.
maJor politici.zing event and hi
1
.
ra ion, t~1e war was a
la~er relationships and a'rganiza:i:~~t;ni;~~;e~ce provi?ed a model f~r
ot1c Education and editor of th
ecame D1~ector of Patnity far explaining soldiers w~yn:;::,;:i:~I~r~gn~~ ~ost, ~tth rlesp~nsibi],
war Arnhold was active in various ri h , .
. . ~me iate y a1 ter the
then returned to W
1
g t wmg paramil1tary Free Corps and
h d ti
d
u~p_erta to work in the trade school. By late 1920 h
a aun a new pos1t1on at the &h lk V
.
e
er erem of the Gelsenkirchen
Bergwerk A G wh h b
far boys and. h~~ erek e egan to se~ up apprenticeship training programs
sewor courses far gtrls Hi

again by the 1923 F


h
. ' career was mterrupted once
by the French.
rene occupation of the Ruhr, during which he was jailed

to

.
By 1924 he was back at &halk
h
v
In A Lije 'or th &
er, w er~ ilg1er first encountered him.
J'
e onomy, an anonymous biogra h f A h Id h
~ y oh rn o t at I suspect is actually an autobiography V" l .
that Schalker apprentices were w~rki~g er.1s sa1 to av~ been impressed

and political turmoil of 1923. Accordin g tw1~o~t ~ay dunng the .economic
cooperation of Communists w'th th ;. o ~g er s b1ographer, t was the
l
e Irm t at drew Vgler' s favorable
attention 45 Whethe
Arnhold;
lf
r apocryphal ar true, these stories reveal much about
s se presentat1on and ap
J H
.

political divisions Ali fh1's w detd1bcat1ohn. to dproduction that transcended


.
by ere t.as o e ac 1eve not by con f ront1ng
t h e trade
un1ons
directly but

a inga new type of workman


The next recorded meeting f V" l
dA
.
rnhold was in early 1925,
when the two men journeyed o ~g eran
age-to Munich to visit O ~~ ~er aps more accurately, made a pilgrim
and reactionary mod
. swa
pengler, prophet of Prussian socialism
far factory educationer;~:~~J1: excel~en~e. 46 After listening to their plans
neers," which woutd' combiner :;:;~ t . to establi~~ an "order of engi
Prussian army with a "qu . . .
sciphne and sp1r1t of service of the
as1re11g1ous sense of m " d
Id'
Ission an would recrea te
the camaraderie ofWorld W I,
ar 1ront so 1ers b th h
and among workers in the fir 47 If A h Id ' .o w1t In its own ranks
m.
rn o re1ected sorne of Spengler's

en:

1
1
1
1
1
1

[llore archaic language, he nonetheless adopted his vision of a militari.zed


pedagogy, with engineers in the central role of teacher/Fahrer. Indeed, on
roore than one occasion, he grandiously claimed that Din ta would take over
the educational functions once performed by the Prussian army. 48

By the mid-1920s Dinta was clearly an idea whose time had come.
~? Within six months of its founding, the Dinta House was opened in
ji'. Dilsseldorf. Albert Vogler and the right-wing social philosopher Ernst
-,... Horneffer spoke at thededication ceremonies, as did the city's mayor, Lehr,
who agreed to become the official patron of the organi.zation. In a written
greeting, Spengler praised Dinta far trying to instill "a sense of honor and
ambition" in German workers.49 The Dinta House served as the training
center far engineers, who then set up Dinta programs in firms, and as the
editorial offices far Dinta' s publishing operations. By mid 1926, 25 engineers
and 12 foremen, sent by Ruhr firms, were enrolled in Dinta training
programs, while other Dinta engineers had already established 24 apprenticeshiptraining workshops in mining and metalworking. Din ta was airead y
publishing 18-20 company newspapers. By decade' s end, Dinta ran training programs in 150-300 German and Austrian firms and published more
than 50 company newspapers, which reached nearly half a million
employees. ' Din ta continued to expand until 1930 and more ar less held
its own thereafter, des pite the Depression.
Dinta was especially strong in iron and steel, machine making, and
metalworking, and to a lesser extent in mining-all sectors that hadan over,
whelmingly male labor force. Gutehoffnungshtte, Hoesch, Thyssen, V
Schalker, Friedrich-Wilhelms-Htte, Waggonfabrik Uerdingen, and Siemens&huckert in Mlheim/Ruhr were among the majar firms that brought in
Din ta. It received active support not only from Vogler, but from such promi
nent Ruhr industrialists as Paul Reusch of Gutehoffnungshtte and such
firms as Rheinmetall, a giant munitions and metalworking firm in Dssel
dorf. 51 Dinta also ran programs in textile, rubber, cement and construction
companies. Many other firms and sectors adopted Dinta ideas and policies,
even though they neither sent their personnel to Dinta for training nor had
a formal affiliation with Arnhold. The Ruhr was unquestionably Din ta' s
stronghold, but by the late 1920s it had spread into parts of central Germany and Silesia and had established a few outposts in southern Germany
and in the Alpin-Montan Gesellschaft of Austria." lt had no influence
among technologically advanced and less reactionary firms, such as those
in the electrotechnical and Berlin machinery industries.
The membership of Din ta' s various boards and committees suggests the
range of its support. On the executive committee were Vagler, Franz
Burgers, another Vestag director, and Fritz Winkhaus, general director of
the CologneNeuessene Bergwerksverein. This solidly Ruhr heavy indus
try directora te was supplemented by a much broader managing committee
whose twenty-four members included Anton Apold, head of Alpin-Montan
Gesellschaft; Ernst van Borsig, head of Borsig; G. Lippart, director of
MAN; Conrad Matchoss, professor of engineering and head of the VDJ;

.'
l

:;,i~h~~ t:i:i~~ :~g;~~l:~:af the poli~~i'tur~~~o~;:~dt~h~~~~~:~ ::t:~~

187

,, '

.".,.-~1'

1
1

188

Engineering the ]'{ew Wor~er

Mode:rnizittg Ge:rmar1y

Rudolf Breni:ecke, direct~r of th~ l!pper Silesian Eisenbahr:ibedarf; as Well


as suc? prom1nent Ruhr industnahsts as Paul Reusch 1 Fritz Springoruin,
Paul Sdverberg, a_nd Max Schlencker, head of the Langnam.Verein. There
was an organ1zat1onal comm1ttee which included Heinrich Drost
h
fth e I n du.stry press
1n
Dsseldorf August Heinrichsbaue

e,h e 1ef
.
e d 1tor o
r
.
'
_
r, w oran
a _press_ serv1c~ io_r heavy 1ndustry, and representatives of several oth~r re,
gtonal industrial 1nterest groups. The scientific committee revealed its 1 k
to technocrats, academics, and right-wing publicists. In addition to ~:r~ Dunkmann, Ernst Horneffer and Oswald Spengler, it had three engineer
mg professors, mclud1ng Adolf Wallichs, and a member of the Kaiser
Wilhelm lnst1tute for !ron Research."

189

precisely this promise to combine the incompatible in a sphere that employ,


ers and engineers could reasonably hope to control, namely the firm, that
01ade Dinta so appealing.
]n Arnhold' s vision of the restructured firm, engineers rather than in,
dustrialists wuld play the central role. 60 Engineers were to be the new
Jeaders of men (Menschenfilhrer) and educators of the pcpulace. They would
replace the ostensibly "rigid, mechanistic" administration of labor power
with a warm, organic leadership of workers. 61 They would put the worker
in the service of the firm and enable the firm to serve the national economy.
But the engineer as MenschenfUhrer had to earn the obedience of his subor,
dinates by his exemplary behavior, not assume itas part of bis class privi,
leges and managerial prerogatives.
The ideal new workers whom these "engineers of the feelings " 62 hoped
- to crea te varied by sex, skill level, and employment sector. The ideal new
skilled worker would be technically well trained, but unlike his predeces
sor, who had learned bis skills from other workers in artisan shops, he would
be trained by the firm and for the firm' s particular needs. He would be loyal
to the firm and adaptable (wendig) to the changing needs of the rationalized
production process.63 His attitudes and character would further distinguish
him from other skilled workers. He would accord primacy to efficiency and
profitability, or to use Dinta phrasing, he would understand "economic
thinking" and be "achievement oriented." lnstead of striving far mobility
in to the white,collar class, he would commit himself to his job as American
workers reputedly did. 64 His relationsbip to bis work would "allow him as
an individual, despite rationalization and mechanization in a private capi,
talist economy, to ha ve a livelihood, joy in work, and satisfaction in life
within limits. " 65 Of course he was to use his leisure productively and value
bis family. The new skilled worker, in short, was to retain the technical
expertise and dedication to quality of the old skilled worker, while relin
quishing the latter's control of the labor process, cultural autonomy, and
political consciousness.
The requirements demanded of the new semiskilled men were much
more modest: enhanced manual skills, an improved work ethic, a commit,
ment to rationalization, and a minimal understanding of the production
process. Employed women were ali but ignored by Din ta, while nonwaged
working women were expected to devote themselves to their roles as wives
and mothers but perform them in a rationalized manner. Din ta' s model of
the new male worker was intimately related to its vision of the reformed
working,class family, in which working,class men' s and women' s work and
lives were clearly differentiated but at the same time restructured accord,
ing to similar principies of rationaliz.ation.
Dinta ideology contained a peculiar mixture of individualism and col,
lectivism, whose tensions were never resolved. Dinta accorded primacy to
performance (Leistung) and championed "the elevation of the individual from
a mass existence to a self,conscious personality." Yet it also demanded his
"bonding to the firm" ( Wer~sverbundenheit). "66 The craft tradition and craft

. Din ta' s success was due not only to Arnhold' s indefatigable organiza,
t1onal energy or the power of his patrons, although these were undoubt
edly a~sets ..As soon as D1nta ~s established, Arnhold Sent.information
about_ its P_h1losophy and programs to ali chambers of commerce and techni
cal un1vers1t1es, to pro?1inent industrialists who where "accessible to Dinta,"
an~ to :4uch organ1zat1ons as the Working Committee for Vocational Edu,
~at10n .. Arnhold constantly asked Reusch to introduce him to bis fellow
tndustna~1sts,. and one assumes that Vogler provided the same service ..ss
Along with ~is assi~ta~ts, Arnhol~ too~ to the lecture circuit, addressing
41 emplo~ers assoc1at.1o~s an~ ~ng1neenng groups in the first half of 1926
alone. This propagand1st1c act1v1ty continued throughout the decade with
lectures, ~erson~l meetings, glossy brochures filled with pictures of Dinta
p_rograms in :ar1ous firms, and finally the publication of a regular informa,
tional magazine, Work Schooling. 56 Din ta also set up affiliated organizations
s~ch _as the Research Centeron Heavy Work and the Society for the Friend;
~ Dinta, and cooperate~ with such vocational education institutions as
A TSCH, as well as w1th psychotechnical associations 57
D~nta' s success .was primarily due i:o its message: it p;omised to address
~ mult1tude o~ perce1ved economic and social problems with ideological ciar,.
It_y, prag~at1c ast~t_eness, and effective eclecticism. Although Arrihold
1
; mse.lf dtd not ~ng1nate most of the ideas and policies he prometed, he
omb1ned them in ways that were innovative and appealing.58 Dinta
preached th_e gospel of productivism and individual productivity, while
flatly re1ecting Fordis_t wage and market strategies. It celebrated modero
technology but prom1s~d to obviate its detrimental effects on work and
w~rker.s .through educat1on alone. lt embodied a military spirit of discipline
? serv1ce and e~evated leadership and hierarchy in the firm to new heights.
~tmultaneously, 1t p~e?ged to ~nspir~ individual achievement and aspiration.
;h~owed to depolit1c1ze the lrm w1thout involving itself in party politics.
ts progr~m perfectly reflected Arnhold' s personal makeup. He was a man
once descr1bed as "a forme off"

..
.
r icer, now an eng1neer; superf1c1ally the pro,
totyp1cal smar_t American, inwardly a cadet'with a dash of Realpolitik,
always roo_ted In the facts. "59 Din ta' s claims were sweeping and vague yet
:he means 1t chas.e to achieve them were sharply defined-the new wo,rker
nd the new eng1neer who would be instrumental in creating him. lt was
1

Engfr1eering the J.ew Wor~er

Modcrnizing Germany

190

unions were by no meaos without their own tension bet~een in,dividuat


attainment and coHective interests, but these interests were defined by the
workers in terms of their perceived needs for material benefits, control of
production, and the defense of craft culture. Arnhold had a very different
vision of colJective i~terests, in which the military provided model for
the factory c?~mun1ty.
incorporating theindividual in a hierarchiCaJ
?rder_, the milita~ provtded str~cture and discipline and ended.isolation;
Jt cla1med to prov1de camarader1e among equals and an overarching sen

!3Y

of ~urpose, which was shared by superiors and subordinates. It demand~


achtevement, but in directions_ defined by others. The military also served
a~? ~xclusively male mode1. Yet despite Arnhold's admiration.for the
d1sc1pline, :Jan, and hierarchy of the Prussian army, he wanted neither blind
obedience nor total subsumption of the individual into the whole. The new
male worker was to combine individual achievement (in production but not
in consumption) and militarylike "camaraderie, loyalty, and p!ide in his
estate." In no case would he be a "child of his class. "'7
Din ta' s vision of the new worker was linked to larger economic and
political goals, which were presented in a rhetoric that combined the eco
nomic and the spiritual, the modern and the archaic. Din ta might wax poetic
about the factory community and company leadership, but it was always
~damant that the laws of capitalism were immutable and it promised to
1~c~~cate that '.'tr~th" in to workers. Din ta never forgot that its first res pon
s1~~1ty to. cap1~ahst supporters was to promete productivity and profit
abd1ty. D1srnsswns of joy in work and loyalty to the firm were invariably
comb1ned w1th hardnosed cost accounting. Only programs that were "prac
tical and economic," instead of "patriarchal or emotional," would increase
prod~ctivity and promete social improvement, argued Arnhold. 68 Din ta
promtsed that its training programs, social policies, and company news
papees would be economicaUy profitable. Ata minimum they would increase
individual performance without increasing wages, and in many cases the
programs might even pay for themselves. Workshops for the aged and the
1nftrm: f~r ex.ample, could produce and sell brooms, thereby covering wages
and ehm1na ting the need for pensions. 69
Din ta explicitlyaccepted key elements of the Taylorist and Fordist models of reorganized work, although it avoided Taylor' s emphasis on maximiz
ing individual output, preferring instead the Fordist idea of optimizing sev
eral factors of production. lt did not believe, however, that economic and
technical rationalization alone would sol ve Germany' s economic problems,
because workers ~eac.ted negatively to them. Dinta offered an inexpensive
way to resolve th1s dtlemma. It would neither reorganize the labor process
dra.matically ?r e~do.rse higher wages and mass consumption as compen
sat1on for rat1onahzat1on; rather, it would restructure workers' attitudes
toward work. As Ernst Horneffer trenchantly put it, the goal was "the
education of people in work and for work. "70
However difficult it might be to realize in practice Dinta' s mixture of
individualism and collectivism offered a rhetoricaI altern,ative to worker soli

191

'th its connotations of conflict and socialism, and to individual


danty, wi

d
d
b'l'
I
.
'th its implications of mass consumpt1on an upwar mo 11ty. t
15m, WI
d h
.
.
f
th A
.
f~ da way to instill the much-adm1Ce e aractenst1cs o
e .mer1can
0
erke -his efficiency flexibility, individualism, and sympathet1c underwor man
'
. fl
. l'
. b
. nding of capitalism-without his correspond1ng ~ws-matena 1sm, JO
~:tability, uniformity, and egalita~ianism.7~ It prom1sed .to create what s~
Germans thought they saw in Amenca-a comm1tment to produc
~~~~ shared byworkersand employers.72 FinaUy, the military.model offered
kingmen an exclusively masculine and eht1st selfdefin1t1on, a sense of
worrpose and a workbased community that incorporated elements of the
pu tradition,
'
d. ~ h em.
yet transformed and d epal'~t1c1ze
,
craft
Dinta was much more reticent about 1ts poht1~l g~als. Arnhold con
t tly claimed that Dinta was nonpartisan-nat1onahst, to be sure, but
sis en
h . . d D' t
d
not party political. Nor was Dinta anti-trade union, e 1ns~ste ; 1n a an.
the unions simply had different spheres of competence. D1nta was a ver~1
cal organization, Iocated in and serving the need~ of the .firm alone, w~de
trade unions were horizontal organizations operat1ng outs1~e th~) en:erpr1se.
Within the firm factory councils had a role, but not un1ons. D1nta fre
quently spoke of the need for a factory community (Betriebsgemeinschaft)
or company community(Wer~sgemeinschaft), but Arnhold d1d not env1S1~n
this as a yeUow trade union of the sort advocated by the German Assoc1ation of Patriotic Workers and Company Associations or b! P~~l Bang' s
Association for a Planned Economy and Works Commun1ty. Inste~d,
Arnhold argued, it was to be a community dedicated to product1on
(Wer~sprodu~tionsgemeinschaft), which would create a new atmosphere m
11orm.
r
75
the firm, not a new organ1.zat1ona
.
.
. .
Other Dinta supporters were much more open.about 1ts.~.~1soc.1.hst
and anti-trade union orientation. Horneffer procla1med as h1s. ideal the
establishment of factory guilds that would include owners, eng1neer.s, man
agers, and workers.76 Others couched Din ta' s at.t~ck ~n the w~rkers move
ment in more modern terms. Max &hiefen, wnt1ng 1n the D1ntaoperated
Phoenix 'N,_ewspaper, insisted that Dinta strove far "a strong and healthy
Germany and a contented, industrious people, who valued the fatherla~ ~
and the worker more than the class struggle and the Internat1onal.
Arnhold's assistant, Paul Osthold, who was an economist, World War 1
veteran, and activist in veterans' associations, outl_ined a s~eep1ng ideo
logical and political agenda in a pamphlet provocat1vely ent1t~:'d Struggle
for che Soul of the Wor~er. 78 He began with the modest goal of freemg the
worker from the Ioneliness of his isolated partial f.u~ct10~ In t~.e produc
tion process " but quickly moved to the more amb1t1ous a1m of overco.ming the hostle opposition betwee~ worker and employer." H.is ~e.~t P?ln~
went to the heart ofWeimar confl1cts between la~or and cap1:at. sat1sfy
ing and pacifying the worker in the current econom1c syst~m w~th t.~' mea~s
that are available to the German economy in its current s1tuat1on, t~at 1.s,
without increased wages or the eighthour day. The final.goal revea Is D1nta .s
implicit antiMarxism: "to bring the worker to the potnt that he frees h1s

~
i'
i-

"

'I

''

. j

1
1

_,

'

E71ginee1ing the N.ew Wor~er

Modcrnizing Germany

192

Whether the Dinta-trained engineer was employed directly by the firm


or was sent to it for a fixed period by Dinta itself, he was to be part of an
elite that possessed more than technical competence and psychological acu
meo, although the importance of these qualities was certainly acknowledged.
- The essence of the Dinta engineer, like that of the military officer, was his
Jeadership qualities; no mere manager, he was to be a Filhrer. In his work
ha bits, personal interactions, and knowledge he had to be exemplary. He
was always to be on the shop floor, offering practical guidance and moral
support to workers. He was to ha ve sorne of the openness, lack of pretense,
arid apparent cancero for the individual worker that Germans admired in
American engineers and managers. In addition, he needed to be "just," but
86
sArnhold emphasized, "to be just also means to be hard. " Such an engi. .
neer "will soon become the crystallized expression of the will of all his folJowers," claimed Arnhold, employing the overblown rhetoric of which he
was so fond. 87 By leading men in work-their sphere of self-realizationengineers would play a central role in determining Germany's future, "in

economic
hstriving1for improvement once and for all from ;he poiso-n ouscon
cept1on. t at surp us va1ue has been extracted from his ou:p t
d . '
held from .him with unscrupulous disregard. "79
u an W1th:1nt~ s s~eep1ng goals drew on ideas expressed in the Gertnan deb
on merrcan1sm, the discourse on quality work BerUf
d ; .
ates
t
od
'
an JY Jn work
and the techn
comb. d
ocra ic pr uct1v1sm so prevalerit in engineering circl~s Th '
. in~ . an ~cceptance of economic modernity with an admiratio fi . . ey
and a co?servative ideology of Ieadership.
nghtear t eas a out how th1s eclectic and ambitious mix might be

~mg -~1htar~sm

Dint~ h~~

realize~~ry

Constructing the New Worker


Dinta
.
rimaroffered to per/;orm a w1'd e range of serv1ces
far client firms but it
P h Y focus was on those activities most closely connected with' d
s
ing t e new worker and the n
k.
1
.
.
e ucat
in wkorhk, and political
wor s ops and campan ch I
1n1ng

pliabil~~-w;~e:~g;~c~~~~dm~~p~:n~~;:.~~pti~raity,joy

!eading people to a higher stage. "88


The first task facing the Dinta engineer was to transform apprentices
in to a new kind of skilled worker by establishing factory-based alternatives
to artisan skill training and to state vocational schools. V ocational training
was tied as closely as possibJe to the firm rather than to the general eco
nomic needs of the state or the broader interests of individual workers. It
was to be run by Dintatrained engineers according to Dinta principies and
employing the methods that Arnhold had pioneered at the Schalker
Verein. 89 Although Arnhold admired American industrialists' concern for
vocational training, he did not consider their concrete programs worth

:1a~~at~~n:rograms for ~i~es :~d:~f:e~~- ~i:~i:~~:0:d:~~~~ ::~


. 1. Y n~w kmd of engineer, which Dinta set about creating

occasio~n~u:~~ :::~~;;~: :~:k," announced Arnhold on every po~sible


educated in technical

193

. . k of JUSt any eng1neers, for neither those

:~~h~;::t;a~:~:~i:t;~~~~~~:~::e~":o~l:~;~: ~~:~~~:~~:~~::;:::~

ex erienced en i
. inta set out to introduce technically trained and
fa~rung so Alt;ounegehrsthtodthe tlheofry and practice of industrie/le Menschen.
e eta1soD1nta'sta
e

changed repeated!y i'n the 'd


d1
r 1n1ng programs ior eng1neers
.
m1 ' an ate 1920s th
1

rna1ned constant The cou


h. h
f
' eir genera outhnes re.consisted o( the~reticaJ le~stes, w ic ran roma few months to half a year,
youth welfare bu .
ures on psychotechnics, accident prevention
s1ness rnanagement and
.
'
held at the Dinta Ho
.
..

~oca t'iona ed ucation


qnd were
5
practica! training in e~t:~17s~~s~ld~rf. ThlS curriculum was followed by
pleting this program Dinta e . in a programs in the Ruhr.st After com
weekend Jectures in Dus Id ~g1?eersbwere ~ncouraged to attend regular
dustrial sociologists and se 0 ~ g~ve; Y engineers, psychotechnicians, in
law, accident prev~nt1'onvocaandt1ocn te ucator~ on subjects ranging from labor
,

os account1ng to yo th

ers psychology, and kinder artens 82 Th


u recreat1on, work. .
as of the newsletter that D _g t
'.
e purpose of the lectures, as well
to impart information bu in a eng1neers rece1ved regularly, was not only
raderie, and "a canee t ofth~so to.create a sense of mission, a spirit of cama..
Beginning in 1929 tph
nor l1ke that of the old German officer corps.""
0
er eng1neers as well as te h 1
and managers cou1d come to th n
e nica personnel, foremen,
e inta ~ouse for intensive four.- or five-day
courses on such th
1931 Dinta claime~~eshas psychohtechn1cs or apprenticeship training.84 By
o ave taug t over four h d d
.
programs, andas man a
h
.
un re men in such short
the longer, more rigo~o~st;r~g~a~~~ eng1neers had probably gane through

!
j

1
1
1

1
1

i
--

I_

imitating. 90
Dinta first set up apprenticeship programs in such iron and steel and
machine making firms as Thyssen, Gutehoffnungshtte, Krefelder Stahlwerk, and the Waggonfabrik Uerdingen. In the case ofThyssen' s Friedrich
Wilhelms Htte, Dinta analyzed the chaotic state of training, prescribed a
comprehensive program of reform, and promised to set it up for under 30,000
marks.9 1 Many mine owners were initially hesitant to bring in Dinta, fear
ing that it could not teach the appropriate skills and would encroach upan
management' s prerogatives.92 Others believed Dinta should be called in only
if the Prussiafl government actually established municipally run mining
apprenticeship programs." Despite these qualms, roughly 20 of the 63 mines
of the Bergbau Verein had established apprenticeship workshops by 1927,
and between 1,000 and 2,000 of the 11,000 to 12,000 adole.cent mine workers
were enrolled." By 1931 the number of programs had risen to 39." Not ali
were run by Dinta or exactly according to its elaborate prescriptions,
although they were in such mines as Centrum, Froliche Morgensonne, and
Minister Stein and Frst Hardenberg. Nonetheless, according to a Bergbau
Verein spokesman, the spirit of Dinta was "marching through mining. 96
Dinta also ran cooperatlve apprenticeship workshops, such as that for the
Essen construction industry, which trained apprentices for smaller, more

r:;T~'''

I . . .
1 ,-

'1
'

Et1gineering the N.ew ~or~er


Modernizing Germany

194

'

dispersed firms. Estima tes of the total number of Dinta apprenticeship train-

ing workshops and factory schools range from 150 to 300, and by 1930 Dinta
claimed to ha.ve trained 10,000 apprentices, virtually aU of them men.97

Dinta's preoccupation with apprenticeships re.flected ihe prevaJent


belief that skiHed workers would remain pivotal, even under rationalization
It was a1so a response to pervasive fears of aO. impending shortage of skilted
workers and the inadequacy of existing training inHandwer~ and factori~.98
Since skilled workers were central to the workers' movernent, control of

apprenticeship training also promised ideologicaJ and political rewards.


Finally, Dinta 's emphasis on apprenticeship training addressed Widespread
bourgeois anxieties about proletarian youths, who were ostensibly averse
to achievement and susceptible to the alJures of mass culture, and who re
jected authority at home, in the factory, and in society atlarge 1 evento the
point of criminality,99 Arnhold's speeches were haunted by.the image of
"youths who grow up on the streets, with stooped shoulders, hands in pants
pockets, hair combed in the face, cigarette dangling from the comer of the
mouth." He labeled them "a poor substitute forour 'old soldiers.' "100 Dinta
programs deliberately segregated youths from what was considered to be
the morally and politically dangerous inlluence of older skilled workers. 1
Ata minimum, politic. would be kept offthe shop lloor; perhaps the next
generation of skiHed workers would even reject the unions and the SPD,
which had relied so heavily on them,
Dinta training was a comprehensive threepart program, consisting of
apprenticeship workshops, factory schools, and recreation programs. In ali
phases Dinta not only worked with the apprentice but also maintained clase
contact with his fami!y, especially his mother. 102 Befare embarking upon
training, an adolescent had to pass an aptitude test. In cooperation with
the psychotechnician Walther Poppelreuter, Dinta rana testing center at
the Schalker Verein of Vestag and screened over 13,000 applicants for
skilled, semiskilled, and white collar positions; one third were being tested
for other firms. 1 lfjudged suitable, a youth was sent toan apprenticeship
workshop for two years, There, separated from the rest of the factory' s
workers, apprentices spent five days a week learning the skiUs of their trade.
In iron and steel and machine making, for example, they were most often
prepared to become fitters ar turners, andas even Din ta' s trade union crit
ics grudgingly admitted, they received technical training of a high quality.
In theory the training workshops would cost the firm nothing, because they
produced goods for the factories and mines to which they were attached,
but in practice they seem not to have paid far themselves. 104
According to Peter Baumer' s sympathetic study of Dinta, the apprenticeship training workshop provided both vocational training and "moral
education, the rearing of the apprentice to manhood. "IO.S Youths mastered
the technology and labor processes of rationalized factories and "exercise[d]
aH the bourgeois virtues," which in the eclectic list of the vocational edu,
cator Hella Schmedes included "diligence, persistence, order, responsibility, integration and subordination, camaraderie and cooperation." 106 Jn this

'

'

195

, d
. d" orced from politics, he would become acqua1nte
,\ worId 0 f productton
IV

d
.
h. k. .. by keeping track of h1s own costs an was.te
,, with "economtc tf m ~ng the factory and helping the apprenticeship tram
, _:-, producing items oh uself~:u ortlng. He would learn the economic value of
ng workshop to e se . PP f
et work as well as the power and beauty
"" , machines and the necess~tY? exa . of productivism and technological
, '
l
The captta 1st vers1on
.
h
f
of techno ogy.

to the socialist vanants t ereo


'.lf

h Id up as a ternatives
d
i;.;; fetish1sm were e.
d Dinta workshops were charactenze
' "
As man y outs1de observers note b d,
as not blind 107 They
~"
..

1ebutae1encew

w~:i b an almost mthtary ISCl~ ~n '


and roductivity' far eliminat,
1
, J:\. siessed individual responSlb~~ty :~,j'~ ;~ritof~ompetition,of"struggle"
:(; , - ,,
ing waste and preventlng acc1 en . d far as Arnhold insisted, "Struggle
-.'; "}._ ~~,' among the apprent1ces was er~oura~e kned through too much protective
. ~ is the life of ~outh and s~~~d .?i~ T~e laim was to create a "respectable,
care and lead1ng by the
... h
ked from desire, not external com
happy, and vigorous person w o wor
' ' -!

'11

pulsion.110
h
ntices attended classes in the fa~tory school.
nded greatly in We1mar, were a
One day a week t e appre b
These Werk_sschulen, whose nui:n ers ekxpha nd an alternative to the state
ticesh1p wor s op a
supplement to t he appren
f h I m In the 1920s the statechmadle
, ch Is orllern se u en.
d
vocational e ucat1on ~ oo '
s toattend continuingeducation s oo s
it mandatory far work1ng ado~-~e~~nding far vocational schools, as far so
for a few hours a we~f' La~ /r!s to privatize this part of adolescent edumuch else, the state a ':"e . 1
fforts on ouths who had no access to
cation, while concentrat1n~ its ~wn .e.
. n~nd steel and metalworking
n2 M .or f1rms tn m1n1ng, ira
'
h l
factory seh ool.s. J chools ar esta bl"ts hed new ones and by t e. ate
uJ
expanded t heir ex1st1ng s
h l
re located in these industnes.
1920s four-fifths of ali factory se oos we t staffed these schools, which.
than state c1v1 servan s,
.
Of
. l d'
Firmemployees,rather
ti"on to the firm's product1on.
d
with
1
1tt
e
1srup
.
h

Id
students cou atten
d t the spec1fic tec n1ca
h
riculum was geare o
f th f m 114 At Vestag' s August
equal importance, t e cur. . .
needs-and political pr~chv1t1es-~
e u1;hs,were taught sorne physics
..
here Dinta was active, yo
.
,
Thyssen H utte, w
.d
h t upplement their practica tra1n. .
.
d
e
apphe
mat
o
s
d
and chem1stry an som
k . The first courses focuse on
. h
t
they also too c1v1cs.
ing. Far e1g t semes ers.
he duties of apprentices to teachers and par
the Beru.f of m.etalwork1ngfi t Thereafter students were instru_cted about
ents, and the h1story of the. m~.
d legal questions of daily hfe, such as
the government, the constltut~on, ~~final semesters, they were taught in
family Jaw and contracts. Dunng _t
d
unications and "the devel"
dustrial organization, transportat1on an e~~~

opment of the soda! questio~17 Ge)r;:~~ V:.orkshop and education (ErziehTechnical tra1n1ng (Aus 1 ung
d b program of sports and rec
hool were augmente y a
. h '
ung) in t e iactory se
d.
n t these programs were .. t he mos t
. (J
dpfl ege).116 Accor
mg to m a,
h
reat1on u.gen
.
d develo ing the personal values t at s um
importantmeansofawaken1ngan
Id. p
e health and manual dexter
.
"117 They wou
1mprov
d
ber in the apprent1ce.
. f
the rigors of rationalized work, an
ity, provide needed relaxat1on rom

n
'

~1

'

196

Mode-rnizi11g Germany

increase both a competitive spirit anda sense of camaraderie among app e


.
118 I. add.1t1on
. ~ h ey encouraged el'1tism, w h ile precluding an identif.
r n
tJC~s.

c~t1on w1th_ the particular ~u.lture of a craft. Apprentices wer~ offered spe.
c1al recreat1onal opportun1t1es that isolated them from. other proleta
youths and filled al! available free time. Swimming and gymnastics h'kr~an
1 mg
an d ho bb'tes were all carefully supervised by Dinta engineers. Vest
5
Dortmunder Union claimed to have a 40member gymnastics group ~g
~occer teams, and 50-70 swimmers. In addition there was a library co~ta:~ 1ng 84? boo_ks and ~ chess ~lub. 119 ln Merseberg and in Austria apprentices
eve? l1v~d. 10 spec1al hous1ng, but that was an exception.120 At che end of
the1r t~1n1ng, Din ta apprentices were given an unheard of luxury-a week,
lo~g tnp to the German Museum in Munich, for example, ora sail on the
sh_1p Glc~auf, which Cardinal Schulte from Cologne had donated to
121
Dmta. Indeed, Dinta tried to make good on its daim to shape the total
person.
,fo the late 1920s, Din ta developed very short training courses for the
sem1sk1lled, in which instructors analyzed their jobs, taught Taylorist im
provem~nts, a~d stressed a~cident prevention. 122 The goal was to improve
wo:ker~ conf1dence, comm1tment, and productivity rather than transform
the1~ skdls, .psy~hes, or politics. lt is impossible to determine just how ex,
te~~1vely D1nta ~mplemented such programs. 123 Certainly Arnhold, wth his
eht1sm and pa~s1on fo~ the ~ilitary, was more interested in educating what
?e sav: ~s the 1ndustr1al officer corp of engineers and skiJled workers than
In tra1n1ng the factory rank and file.
Company Newspapers and Social Programa
Dint.a al~o attempted to reach adults, family members, and the unskilled,
bu.t 1: d1d so outside the factory proper. Company newspapers were the
prmc1pa_l means. In 1926 Dinta published roughly fifty newspapers with a
circulat10n of 400,000; by 1934 the number of papers had doubled and
reached over 1 milJion employees. The largest, with circulations ranging
from 14,000 to 23,000, were published for Gutehoffnungshtte, Hoesch,
Dortmunder Umon, and the Hamborn and Bochum divisions of Vestag.1>1
Throughout thelate 1920s Vestag was spending nearly 400,000 marks ayear
on the co~pany papers of thtrteen member firms. 12s Sorne company news,
papers exISted before Dinta; Krupp, for example, published a company
1?g~z1ne in the Imperial era, while Siemens and Bosch began monthly pub,
licat1ons after 1918. But the 1920s saw a massive proliferation of such news
organs ~nd a transformation of their character, for which Dnta was Jargely
respons1 ble. 126

T~e ~ompany newspaper was to be the vehicle for inculcating


procap1tahst sentiments and _loyalty to the firm. Through these papers,
Arn~o~d prom1sed~ industriahsts could teach workers the role of profits in
susta1n1ng produc~1on and of technology in promoting progress.127 The com,
pany newspaper "is the means of spiritually uniting all who belong to a firm.

Engineering the New Wor~er

197

the mouthpiece of the factory leadership and the mirror image of the
1t!S
128 A ccor d.1ng to anot her, "'I t
ees " argued one Din ta pu bl'1cat1on.
emploY '
.
f
.
1 8 the firm constantly in the center of the consc1ousness o each of 1ts
. ~~~~ers .... It is suited to warm the naked, indifferent wage relation
,i ship."129 These papers also co.vered.c?mpany sports, ~arden clubs, and
>_ . bilees as well as company social pohctes for women, children, and adoles
.. ~. ~~nt girls, thereby expanding th~ definition of the fact~ry communit~ to
' ' lude workers' families. n Thetr message about the pr1macy of the fum,
l'1sm was a1me
d
:; me
the centrality of work, and the self-evident trut h o f cap1ta
'' t 0 nly at male employees, but also their wives-whom Arnhold believed
no
eh'ld
fluenced their husband' s attitudes so strongly-and even t h e1r
1 ren. m
in The Dinta company newspapers were a joint production of the indi,
-- 'dual firms and the Dinta newspaper company, MiJl and Mine. They
;~nded to ha ve such pedestrian names as the Mine Paper, ~he Mil.l Paper,
or simply theCompany Paper, but the contents were more 1nnovat1ve t.han
the names suggest. n2 Appearing twice a month, the papers ran from eigh.t
to twenty pages in length and were distributed free_ to empl.oyees. A typ_1
cal issue contained one or two pages of nat1onal and 1nternat1onal econom1c
(but not political) news, usually provided by Dinta, anda large cover photo
of a new plant, product, or technological innovation tha~ belonged to .the
firm in question. The inside pages, which were largel~ furn1shed b~ the ICm,
focused on technology, production processes, and acc1dent prevent1on. They
contained numerous articles on apprenticeship workshops and welfare poli,
cies and were lavishly illustrated with firstrate industrial photography as
well as portraits of longterm employees and snapshots of company re~re,
ation programs. They might also contain fiction, .travel news, or sugg~~t1ons
far Ieisure activities.133 The final pages had adv1ce columns, such as From
the Realm ofWomen"' and "'Garden Tips." Initially Dinta allowed no ads,
but as expenses mounted a page or two appeared to help cover costs. Like
those in the socialist press, they were for such items as clothes, watches,
bicycles and motor bikes, sewing machines, and furniture. 134 By contrast
with many other company papers, Dinta publications seemed lively, var,
ied, and modern. The Krupp Mitteilungen, for example, was a small news
letter, filled with official announcements and detailed technical news and
only carried photos about safety. The Borsig paper focused on the firm at
the expense of sports, women' s news, and fiction. C?nly the S1emens ~it 1
teilungen was as diverse in content and as modern 1n layout as the D1nta
papers. 135
.
Din ta papers, like Dinta education programs, stressed what potent1ally
united labor and capital. According to Arnhold, workers and managers
agreed on 90 percent of all iss~es; the few ~ivisive .q~e~tions-which
included wages, hours, trade un1ons, and nat1onal pohtics.- were to. be
assiduously avoided.136 Workers were toread the papers for technolog1cal
news, ad vice, or company gossip without encountering offensive political
attacks, except perhaps on the first page, which published proemployer
social and economic analyses. Sorne company newspaper ed1tors found these
1

198

Moder11izing Germany

Ettgineering the N,ew Wor~er

po1itica1 editorials to be too propagandistic and controversia! and seldom


1
prjnted them. l7 Others, however, argued that controversi~l economic and
political issues should be addressed head'On, but their views _did not prevail.138 Arnhold preferred to depict the world of work as a depolitici,ed
environment, isolated from the messy conflicts of the larger society, even if
this made Dinta papees rather flat and unreiI.
Dinta publications were not just fascinated with technology; they
romanticized it. Technology was presented as powerful, progressive, and
a1J-encompassing; machines, as superior to the men who served them. The
papers printed lavish photos of the shop /loor and of the firm finished
products, although workers themselves were virtually never depicted. The
Gutehoffnungshtte paper, far example, carried photos and drawings of its
many factories, as we11 as of the bridges, machines, and ships it built. It
discussed new labor processes, published sorne workers' memoirs about their
changing occupations, and discussed safety in detai1. Such portrayals drew
on the images of technology that Social Democrats, trade unionists, indus
trialists, and engineers shared. But Dinta wanted these common images to
serve quite specific purposes. It assumed that if workmen understood the
entire production process and their part in it, if they saw the impressive
finished products and often exotic locales to which they were sent, they
would experience joy in work and identify with the firm. 139
Dinta newspapers were less sure how to discuss Jeisure and consump
tion, for Dinta insisted that work was the realm where men defined and
developed themselves, where meaning was to be faund. (Correspondingly,
home and rnotherhood were where women defined themselves, and they
represented another kind of work.) Given Dinta's productivist and
proemployer orientation, this emphasis is hardly surprising. Yet neither
Dinta nor the workers it hoped to reach were untouched by the rnass
consumption and mass culture of the 1920s. Dinta papers thus alternated
between ignoring leisure and giving all sorts of advice about how to use
it productively with hobbies, travel, and sports events. Sorne even spon
sored photography contests. Consumption and more frivolous forms of
recreation, such as movies, however, had no place in the Dinta vision
of the new worker ar his family. Dinta's women's columns displayed
inconsistencies as well. Sornetimes the newspapers offered ad vice on the con
crete and mundane problems of proletarian housewives; floor mopping and
diaper washing, bottle feeding and cooking were typica] tapies. At other
times, the papers' childcare advice column was accompanied by drawings
of distinctly bourgeois housewives, sitting in roomy, uncluttered, well
ventilated homes that were filled with light as well as flowers and tasteful
decorations. There the mother calmly cared far her child (not children) in
the proper manner. 140

.
.
of the workers it hoped to crea te, and efforts
ideologyofDmta ar the imarh lf-hearted. Many workers were willing to
to encourage tt were at mas rs abut few wrote for them. I42
read the c?mlpany ~ew~~a~~i~ta was active involved company social poli
The fina area In w IC
k
well as far those who fell victim to
h

fmenwor ersas
d'd
cies far t e re at.1vesl? d
k Dinta like Weimar industy in general, I
the rigors of rat1ona ize .worf~r it w;s both unpopular with workers and
not favor company hous1ng,
l'kewise considered outmoded and expen
1 t4l Co pany stores were l
h
'
h
cost y. . m lk d thusiastically about the need for works ops wr t. e
sive;. H4
ta e
ould em loy older and injured workers In men1al
aged and mfirm, wh1c w
p osed to be self-supporting and would
but productive work. T~ey ':Jere sude':ice and demorafation. Although the
ining campany did establish a work,
ostensibly save worker~ ~om k~pr
Schalker Works of the e sen irc en m
ded of the economic and politihop for the aged no other irm was persua

D~n~

's

Sorne Din ta papers solicited articles, letters and suggestions from work
ers, sometimes even offering to pay. 141 The free trade unions repeatedly
admonished their members not to send in contributions, but their concern
seems to ha ve been unwarranted. Audience participation did not suit the

199

'''

.e~

145

cal value of such an endeavfor'.


t' . m outs1'de the factory were the
h
1
t 0 D1nta ac 1v1s
. .
T e centra
targe
s
d
d
1

h 1'ldren an a o escen t daughters The three prmc1pal


h
workmen s w1ves, e

. d cation kindergartens, and healt


areas of outreach were homefecohnom1cs eg aums we;e inventions of the 1920s
d
't
e None o t ese pro r
h
h
an matern1 y car .
. .
d . nificantly. Dinta insisted t at t e
d
dent on "the family and
but their number and s1ze incr~ase s1g
k 11 d
kmgman was epen
creation of a new s I ed wor.
f the next generation of females for true
simultaneously on the e ucat1onhold
ment "I46 Far women at home
German motherh?d and house ~du:a::~e was ~o play a central role, but
as for skilled men m the facto~u ht technical skills, given a general ~du
whereas adolescent boys ~er~
.g. .
ves and daughters were tra1ned
cation, and offered re~reat1ona a~~1:~~~:~:1e of these programs will be ex,
in hous:work and chtld car~ T here it is important to emphasize that the
.
s ns wastohavewomen
placed 10 thenextchapter, ut
id~l
for.Dinta~
uhnlike far skuch~~~~ri~~~re:::; c~=~m~tion, electrificition,
rationaltze their ousewor w1
ar

a~iances.

. l olicy and the apprenticeship training programs were


h
. effort to reshape the working class, mpany socia p
two sides of the same compre ~:~;:nd in the home, in behavior and in
rker and his wife and farnily was
men and wome~, o~. the shop
thought. Dinta s v1s1on ~f the ne~ wo but not nearly as modern as that
rationalized but austere; it was mfoS:rn
BothD1'nta and Siemens shared
olicies o 1emens.
.
d h
wh1chun erayt esocta P
. . f
n but Dinta's efforts were
a commitment to technical tra1nh1ng orS?'e ' rocused on the technical
ker w ereas 1emens "
d
h k 11 d
directe at t es I e wor
d
formance but not upward mobil
employee.
Dinta
wante per l'd t d both Por Siemens' manwhite-collar
.
h asS1emensva1 a e

ity and consumpdt1onr' w ere


the "mobility,oriented small family"-an
agement the mo e 1am1 Y was
.
I ed wife and one or
upwardly mobilhe whit~~~llar :~~~~r~:~~~~~~~::~ite-colla~ jobs. They
two ch1ldren, w o wou
e ca
.

nd a licances wh1ch
would live in a modero apartment, w1th electn~1ty ~f . pp and h~alth.'47
the mother managed with the proper concern ar e 1c1ency

,;
i'

200

Modernizing Germany

Engineering the N..ew Wor~er

For Din ta the model was a reformed work.


1
..
.
efficiency without tech 1
.
d tn~,c ass fam1Iy, characterized by
size, and education wit~~u~g~, lmpdroveb~l?dd care without limited family
pwar mo 11ty.
Trade Union Responses
Although Dinta represented a clear threat to the W .
.
'
ments, the responses to it b Soc. I D
eimar workers move.
lics were varied ambivalent y d ~a d emocrats, Communists, and Cathodisputes within ~ach mov ' a~ t~a equate to the chaHenge. There Were
ties, if any, were Iegitimat::~~ a~. ~mong ~hem about which Din ta activj.
~CD ~er; ang~~ous, and there was Utter
confusion about how to combat
ideological me.ssage.
t
inta s spec1f1c programs and its broad
KPD analysts took th
.
Dinta as one element in w~ ~~tst unequ~ocally ~ega.:i:e stance, regarding
many.148 Dinta which re a t saw as t e emerg1ng firm fascism,, in Gertalist offensive ~gainst thepres~~ted :he ~o~e reactionary prohg of the cap,
only beca use the reformistwor. ing e ~ss,
achieved success, they claimed
o Social D
f

demoralized workers. Dintequ1vocat1ons


,
. f
.
emocracy con used and
"quality exploitation" its as ~ratse o qualt~y work masked its push for
science could only ben~fit ~~r~e~syc~otech?1':5 was hypocritjcal, because
seeking to divide workers b k'll ~n er soc1ahsm. They accused Din ta of
youth, and crea te a privil y sd I l~n 1_Y curb Communistinfluenceamong
produce more. Its progra.O:.!:or :~~e t ~t would_ presSure other workers to
nothing short of ridicuiou 5 . th ~rm1nfg work1n?'class housewifery were
Th C.o
.
in e ace o proietanan poverty H9
e mmun1st condemnation ofDinta
. .
.
plistic; it recognized Din ta'
1 . 1 1 ;as unamb1guous but also sim
nomic problems to which ns po 1t1ca goa s ut neither addressed the eco,
and uncritical acceptance of~~ta s~k~ 7or {ue~tion~d its own productivism
concrete strategies to comb t ~~nnc1pde o. rat1onahzation. T~e KPD lacked
ily to condemn Social Dema in ta;~ raised the spectre of Dinta primar,
bitter dass struggle," were ~~~~~d ~efieas for ''.the harshest and most
Th
~ta1led cr1t1ques of Social Demo
era tic passivity and ambival
of being wnling to cooperateenc~h ne c1al Democ.rats were even accused
in ta programs, lf only they were given
a role in running them. uo WJ

:O

J'o

The charge of complicity was ~ d d .


existed, for Dinta was prem. d un ouf e_ i ind~ed, the temptation never
AmbivaJence, however cou~~e b o~ ex~ ~d1ng un1ons, not coopting them.
functionaries and Sociat'n
e. oun in abundance among trade union
not about Din ta' s eneral ~~locrat1~ com~entators. Such ambivalence was
union movement a~d Din~ s but l~s att1tudes toward rationalization. The
commited to productivism, h:~ceP_te . the need for ~tionalized work, were
worker, and desired efficient r ;a1th'.n ~shchotechmcs, admired the skilled
tators, for example, credited [,~:~na_ l~e ousehol?s. So~e union commenproblems as low productivity d. w1~ f; cor.rectly. d1agnos1ng such economic
with the firm, but criticized it'fi 1ssat1s .cbt_1on w1th work, and disaffection
or prescn ing the wrong cure. Material re. .

1
1

201

wards and economic rights, not Menschenfilhrung, were needed. 15 1 Accord,


ing to Fritz Fricke, America showed that higher wages and shorter hours
were critical not only to solving productivity problems but to transform,
'f 0 gcompany social policy from an instrument of exploitation to a system of
"fair play.""'
Others were harsher in their criticisms, rejecting Din ta' s plea for an
emotional identification with work and the firm. They asserted that work
ers should relate to their jobs and their foremen in a rational, objective
manner, seek meaning in leisure and consumption and let the workers'
mvement, not the firm, mediate the individual' s relationship to the larger
economy and society. ul But even critica! trade union leaders were unsure
whether Dinta was a practitioner of traditional, patriarchal social policy or
_ a pioneer of new and dangerous methods, whether it advocated company
trade unions or provided modero alternatives. Social Democrats ridiculed
Din ta' s claim to coexist peacefully with the labor movement, calling it a
tool of rightwing capitalists-a claim that was not so much incorrectas
insufficient. They did not devote much attention to Din ta' s self-proclaimed
unpolitical stance, perhaps because they saw itas a blatant lie, perhaps be,
cause they regarded Din ta' s political views as secondary to its activities in
the factory. 154
SocialDemocratscondemned Dinta 's efforts to transform the worker's
whole personality. Or, rather, they condemned Dinta's desire to reshape
the personality and life of the workingman, limit his autonomy, and rede,
fine his loyalties. No one questioned Din ta' s efforts to remold the attitudes
and everyday life of the working-class housewife and her daughters. Din ta' s
activities outside the narrowly defined world of work were considered dan,
gerous ''encroachments" on the autonomous spheres of society and poli
tics. IS5 Yet Social Democrats were all too willing to accord Din ta legitimacy
wthin the firm. Two quite different sets of factors pushed Social Democrats to this problematic position. By the late !920s they had ceased contesting control of the shop floor, preferring to defend workers' rights
through collective bargaining and state social policy. Moreover, Social
Democrats and Dinta shared sorne key concerns about productivity, qual
ity work, and skills training. 156
The free trade unions, which had agitated for a reform and expansion of
apprenticeship in the 1920s, were most open to Din ta' s skills training pro
grams."7 Writing in Worl_(Die Arbeit), a major trade union journal, Eduard
Wietsch praised Din ta' s technical .education for giving workers the skills,
knowledge, and flexibility rationalization demanded. Fritz Fricke was more
critica] of the apprenticeship training workshops, arguing that they taught
not only skills but individualism, competition, and dependence on the firm.
Nonetheless he, like other Social Democrats, conceded to the firm the right
to control skills training; indeed, it was considered the firm' s duty. 158
Responses to company newspapers were more mixed, even though it
was generally admitted that they went to great lengths to appear "harmless." As long as they focused only on the firm and sought to influence

~1

f. ::
f.'!

202
Mode-rnizing Germany

Engineeri11g the N..ew

!;
.

'

I!

workers' attitude toward productivity, the ADGB claimed to have no


objections.'" Other observers were less sanguine, arguing that company
newspapers encouraged
an apoliticaJ firm soJidarity and willingness to sac#
60
rifice for capital.' Still others urged the trade union press to learn from
the company newspapers, whose technical articles, garden tips, and reports
on workers' jubilees had more appeal for the unorganized than did the dry
reporting of the trade union press.161

Wor~er

203

f he destruction of solidarity among workers, a


is a fundamental source o. t t hich all trade union work then struggles in
source of indifference, aga1ns w . 1 ntities with class consciousness
, n "Unionsmustreplaceoccupat1ona 1 e
k
h concluded.I74Toni
vat .
d h
e interests of young wor ers, e
f
and defen t e econom1 f h a ainst "these new, cunning methods o
Sender lamented that the 1g t g
1 The unions must both concapital" was much harter t~f ~ast st:~;ITe~s~ocational testing and traindemn
Din
ta
issues alone, she concluded:
ing.
But
attent1on
s ou no f:u:
.

a~d f1~ht l~r p~

Social Democrats were most critica} and fearfuJ of factory schools and
youth recreation activities, even though they admitted that these Dinta programs were "damned clever. " 162 The programs provided a technicaJ and
theoretical education that was narrowly tied to the needs of the firm, gave
employers a disproportionate political influence on young workers. and iS<Y
lated these workers from socialist youth activities and older workers. And,
adding insult to injury, Dinta apprentices were not even paid far the one
day each week they attended the factory schocJ. 16'

Christian trade unionists also expressed ambivalent attitudes. Like the


Socialists, they admired Din ta' s skills training programs and endorsed the
idea of factorybased apprenticeship workshops; many were willing to accept
the factory schools, as weJl. 164 Din ta' s appeal was not restricted to the technical and rational; its call for the development of a Berufsethos and a fac
tory community resonated in a union movement that explicitly renounced
class struggle and was deeply influenced by Catholic conceptions of voca.
165
tion and community. Moreover, leading churchmen such as Cardinal
Schulte166
of Cologne, publicly endorsed Dinta' s efforts and provided material aid. Despite all this, Christian trade unions viewed Dinta with deep
suspicion, for its efforts to capture the whole man conflicted with the rights
and duties
167 of parents and the church, as weU as with the claims of the
unions. More leftwing functionaries, such as Fritz Rtten of the Chris
tian Miners' Union, "reject[ed] Dinta because it links vocational education
with onesidedly capitalist interests. " 168 Modera te trade unionists were
wiJling to work with Dinta but attacked it for refusing such overi-ures. 169
Din ta was wiHing to coexist with trade unions, but its conception of Ieader
ship precluded cooperation with even the most modera te ChriStian ones.
Neither Social Democratic nor Christian trade unionists knew how seri
ously to take the Dinta threat. 170 Man y Social Democrats dismissed Dinta as
objectionable but ephemeral. Once apprentices left the protective confines
of Din ta and joined their fellow workers on the factory lloor, they would shed
their Din171
ta indoctrination like caterpillars shed theircococns and join the class
struggle. Echoing a popular Social Democratic theme, Hans Jahn insisted
that Germany was moving inexorably from an individualistic to a coUectivist
age. By defining people' s fa te in individualistic or company terms rather than
societal ones, Dinta was thus "doomed to failure. " 172
Other Social Democrats were more pessimistic. According to Erik
Reger, the company newspapers regrettably were widely read and manipu
lated workers feelings in subtle ways.173 Helmut Wagner argued that the
influenceof apprenticeship training "must not be underestimated .... Here

~~~conomic

t.
.
haft] must be transformed 1nto a
Our community of struggle [KampJf1gemOe1nsc d standingoftheemotionaland
.
fl ., '-b g mi:inscha e] urun er
communityo 11e(u:: ens e
. h h
ustgrow Workers' organiza
d f
ght up wit mac 1nes m

cultural nee so men cau


. h
orker strives beca use he expects
be l
toward wh1ch t e young w
dd
tions
must
paces
d.
;
h.
ltiform
needs,
inner struggles an es1re
the greatest understan ing or is mu

far joy.17S

. . was more comprehensive, Wagner's


. Although Sender s prescnp.t1on d J h ' deterministic but optimist
Saber, economistic reco?1mendat1?~s~. 1aD~.O:ocracy' s political style and
predictians were mar_e I~ tune_w1tl' t. ta 176 With social rationalization as
understanding of capit~hst. rat1a~a iza. Iondis uted capital' s general visian
with economic rationalization,: e _un1ans t. ~ar measures that worked to
but were unsuccessful at com att1ng
i~u
king class.
the detriment of the labor mavement an t e wor

PJ

The Battle far the Soul of the Worker


.
. h
a of institution building are indisput.Dinta' s accomplishme~ts. in t e_ are ssible to obtain. Assessing its impact
able, even if_ exact stat1st1~i:~~~~p~or sources are scarce and assessments
on workers IS much more .
'
l ctive far three years before the
contradictory. Moreover, D1nta ~as on yta training and social policy, and
Depression wreaked havoc_on emp oyme~t'. eviden't that Din ta' s attempt
seven years before the Nazis took poAwer ... is. 'ng the worker hada signifi
.
. h
without mencan1z1
toratlonahzet eeconomy
d. d
. 1 t 'ntheWeimarRepublicand,
.
eers an In ustna is s
.
d
cant influence
an
eng1n
.
d
.
1
1
t'
.11
t r on 10 ustna re a 10 ns and worker educat1on un er
as
we wtSocialism.
see a e Canclus1ons

.
Natianal
a bout D.Int as 1mpact on workers, hawever,

'

must remain tentati~e.


shorta e of skilled workers, restare
Din ta had promISed to preemp~ a 'd 1 goductivity. The muchfeared
joy in work, and above all 1ncrease in IVI ua pr . was a consequence of the
~hartage of skilled warkers was averted, btu~~~~:' s educatianal efforts.177
Depression and mass une~ploymert, ~~20s but technology and factory
Productivity did indeed rise~n t~e ate than did individual effort, and any
duct of the fear of unemploy
organization probably contn ute more
increase in workers' efforts was mo~e a r~hefirm DebatesonDintacen
ment than their commitme~t tohwor dar od tivit; than whether it influ
tered less around whether It en anee pro uc . '
enced workers' attitudes toward wark and the firm.

n
: ,

204

Modenlizing Germany

Engineering the ]\{ew Worker

Dinta repeatedly proclaimed the success of its progi-ams in 'speeches


articles, and glowing reports, accompanied by glossy photos of smiling ap:
prentices at work and p1ay.178(Dinta seldom Jet these youths speak far them.
sel ves, however.) Those who downplayed Din ta' s impact on Workers-and
it was not only Social Democrats and Communists wh did sb-spoke in
equally unequivocal terms. Sorne, like the scientists of work Alexander
Hellwig and Frank Mackbach, resorted to abstract arguments, insisting that
workers vaJued wages, job security, and independence above all, and Would
not be bought off with token welfare measures. 79 Heinz Marr of the Socia
Musuem agreed with the Social Democratic view that Dinta Was.doomed,
beca use "one should not expeCt from the factory more than it can give: wellordered productive work with the best possible wages and secure work for
as rnany as possible." Even such a factory would not be a Heimat or a
180
Gemeinschaft. Many Social Democrats and Communists ali too glibly
assurned that Dinta was sirnply providing the workers' movement with weU.
trained skilled workers. They felt certain that the realities of class conflict
would become evident to Dinta apprentices once they were on the shop
floor .181
When education programs were scrutinized in detail, Dinta became less
sure of its efficacy; its critics, less sanguine about its irrelevance. No one
felt confident to speak with certainty. The GewerkschaftsArchiv expressed
concern that Dinta apprentices were, in fact, developing procapitalist sen
timents, narrow occupational pride, and disdain for the unskilled. 182 Later
in the decade, the Communist Ruhr Echo complained that Dinta appren
tices were controlled at work and play by engineers who were members of
183
the Stahlhelm or fascists. Occasiona] worker statements seemed to sub
stantiate the left's worst fears. The Thyssen paper, for example, printed
the enthusiastic report of the apprentice Goy about bis trip on board the
sailing ship Glackauf.1" For a youth who had never been out ofHamborn,
this trip to Hamburg1 Kiel, and Denmark was the experience of a lifetime.
Yet sorne ofDinta' s own personnel doubted their popularity and irifluence.
Mr. Dellweg, the instructor in the factory school at the Friedrich Wilhelms
Htte, cornplained repeatedly that students arrived late or skipped class,
smoked, chewed gum, threw paper, and talked among themselves. He de,
manded1 more support from the firm in enforcing attendance and good be,.
havior . ss In 1931 the Din ta mine apprentices in Essen even participated in
a miners' strike.186
Assessments of the influence of company newspapers were equaJly
di verse. Dinta publicly cited circulation figures asan indication of work
ers' convictions, and companies considered the publications sufficiently
useful to continue funding them throughout the Depression. The editors
of the Dinta papers 1 however, were divided about their efficacy, and sorne
midlevel managers sided with the skeptics. According to Friedrich of
Vestag's Hamborn mines, it was foolish to think that the Zechen Zeitung
could influence Ruhr miners, for it printed economic and political news in
an untime]y manner, refused to attack the Jeft, and faiJed to offer heroic

20S

1 . and creativity. It was, in short, an utter waste of


images 187
of Sorne
techno
. . ts d en1'ed that workers. read such papers;
traodgy
e un1on1s
D,
others,
moneyd.
, te t h at, even 1'f they did conditions in the f1rm and not tnta s pre
1ns1s .
f. h d workers' attitudes.188

sent;~:f(o~h::,:~~~ade~, -~;'e~::r~;::;~~~~e~~ ~~~~;r~~~::c:i'::~~

of company
nel~spape~s: rt kers threw out the first issues
. dof the com
A h ld's ear 1est acttv1sm, wor
rn oPaper in
. d"JSgus t A f,ew years la ter ' however, they ptcke
upa copy
h
d
pany
.
f
and ut it in their pocket w1t out a secan
upo.n
may
have been exceptionaL Jf the reports of
thoug t.
n
r
t be believed workers actu
the Gutehoffoungshtte compa_nri::~::~: c~ntained th." youth supple
ally asked far the ~ape',,e~r~a me was not alone in worrying that the
ment.190 The Du1s urg
~s
ealin to the unorganized and Iess

hlea,~:1 t;~~~I~::

n~t

o ;m

~~~~~~:~;f
i~J:f~::1:~:is~:~~:i~~~~~~yi~dt::~~:f~:~
~::
~

t~~
0
1
reg~~ ~he
ce_rt~in

w1t
world of the mind with the development of a
1rm
naltdure
. "191 The DMV paper struck
alarmist note, cla1m1ng that
so
1 arity.
. a more
"192
d 'political po1Son.

company papers ~~rea .


t how contradictory responses could
These tantahz1ng v1gnettes sugges
ated with being
. ,
h D" ta
ided thestatusassoc1
be. The skills tra1n1ng t at in prov
~ 1 orts activities and travel all
a Dinta apprentice, and the access to spec1a. sp to man adolescents. Dinta
had real value and wer~ undou~tedy app::.!'~~ skills a:d productivity that
spoke a lan.guage of qual ity wo~ ~,, ~~fone could enjoy the fringe benefits
l"t work was as compat
resonated in work1ngc assc1rc es.
without endorsing the whole ideology,;nd qua 1 y
"ty Whether most
ible with class ~ns~iousness as with the f actod:,~~~~~:t a.nd Communist
Dinta apprent1ces in fact.sta:~:i:::Tni~;~s unclear; that most faced sev~
movements after completing
. 194 S ch an ex erience may
eral years of unemployment se~ms almost certa~~he sa~e kind unpolitical
have radicalized. the~ or mday ~ve ~n~o~~=n they returned to stable em
passivity as the1r D1nta e ucat1on a .
'
"oin but
1,
, h
"d 1930s there was no workers movement to J ,
p oyment In t e mt ~
'
.
f Menschen
Dinta still existed, and the Nazis were ~eachmg t~i:e:;:i~ :ay not have
fahrung the factorycommumty, and pr uct1v1ty.
,
h
seemed
been en;irely appealing to Dintatrained worke'.s, but it wo:~d ri~:ein one' s
r
'I' D" ta's emphasis on quality work, ach1evement, a P
1am1 1ar. 1n
.
.
h
l
f
the more
job may have aided sorne worker~ in ~1stanc1ng t em~:~=~e~;d workers
explicitly political aspects ofNaz1 soctety. ,They may oliticatterms, even
understand their experiences in 1nd1v1~u~hft1~andb~I~p the Nazi regime.195
as such priva te retreat to work and famtly e pe sta 1 ize

:f

iiTT7
f':/';'?
1'' " ' 1'
1 .. 1

1'

'

Housewor~ Mad~ Easy

'

207

~,

10

f.

Housework Made Easy

Those who tirelessly preached th


1 f .
form not only machines f; t . e gospe o rat10.nalization sought to trans,
the households and famil~ ~~e~n;s, .~~~ v~st bu~ness enterprises, but also
Germans. Women were centr o m1 . e,c ~ss an 'especially, working--cJass
tors, and social workers orch a~ to t~1s proJect. Bourgeois feminists, educa,
nalize the working.-class hornees ~a:~ a v~st propaganda campaign to ratiowomen were both the inte da~ d ~pro eta~ian housewife. Working,class
desired changes. The antic7 et ;~ 1e7e
the designated agents of the
however, were to go first a~ fi e ene 1ts r~m household rationalization,
industry and the national e
oremostl~~ ot ers-:-husbands and children,
Th .
. conomy, po 1t1cal parties and the state
e Impetus to rat1onaJize house
k
f
_.

shared a commitment to
d
hwor carne rom d1verse groups who
There were of course We:~r ~n tec n?logy and productivis~ ideoJogies.
Bauhaus and the Neue B
ermany s famous modern arch1tects of the
Wagner, who regardeds fu~~~~:ovement, such_as Bruno Taut and Martin
forming working-class housin a~~~;:~rn a7h1teau:e as the hy to trans1n this campaign were indust ~ 1
Soc~ves ed w1th1n It.1 The1r partners
I~I Democrats, and bourgeois femi,
nists. All accepted aid fro ~~a ists,
socioJogists and vocat1'onalmd e s~me soc1hal workers, engineers, industrial
ersa nd coord.inated th.
through the' Home Econ e . ucat1onteac
G
e1r efforts
whether or not modern p~~lcsh roup of the RKW.' Each believed that
wife could be Taylorized th Je o~smg was bmlt, the workingclass house
vision of a "new person" h e proldetbari.~n home rationalized. Each shared a
e modero cJea n, rat1ona
l, d1sc1phned,

as wel1as family orientedw. .,3owou

206

. Despite their share~ con_imi~ments and c~rdin.ated efforts, the pro,


,(noters of household rat1onahzat1on pursued d1fferent, frequently contra,
'dictory political agendas. By preaching the gospel of efficiency, productiv'ey, and austerity in the home and family, industry sought to promote that
"< ideology in the workplace and society at large. Whereas industty sought to
. use the ideology of household rationalization to legitimate rationalization
Lmore generally, bourgeois feminists adopted it to gain legitimacy for house,
( Work, as well as to free housewives from the most onerous burdeos of
domestic drudgery. Social Democrats, or at any rate the movement's lead
ership, assumed that rationalization in the private sphere would promete a
progressive form of modernity, which they envisioned in terms of a healthy
and efficient home that preserved the traditional sexual division of labor,
while freeing women to be more active in the workers' movement, albeit
only in supportive roles. As a concept andas a movement, household rationalization was highly ambiguous, at once progressive and reactionary, em
powering and controlling, modern and traditional.
The Weimar campaign to rationalize housework was part of an inter,
national effort to crea te modern, scientific homes and efficient homemakers. 4
Despite German critiques of the American home as steri1e and soulless and
of the American woman as liberated and materialistic, America was the
country that shaped both the German and European home economics movements most strongly. Yet here, as in other areas, German borrowing from
the American model was selective, eclectic, and undertaken with ambiva,
lence. The German campaign to rationali.ze housework, for example, was
aimed primarily at working,class women, not middle-class ones. It envisioned
a workingclass "new woman" who was not to be defined by a commitment
to waged work or career (although she might well be employed), nor by
personal independence and sexual liberation. Rather, her newness was to
derive from her scientific and rational organization of home and family, each
defined in traditional terms. She was to be as efficient, as Taylorized as her
American counterpart ostensibly was, but she was to enjoy neither new
household technology nor the standard of consumption that prevailed in
the United States. This was an austere vision of modernity in which the
new, Americanized woman was safely domesticated.
Let us turn first to the campaign to rationalize housework, reconstruct,
ing its origins, organization, and activities. We will examine the complex
images it projected, the contradictory political goals its supporters pursued,
and the ambivalent responses of working-class women and men.

f;

1
1

'

1
1

_I

The RKW and Housework


A concern with the quality of housework, mothering, and family was hardly
new to Germany in the 1920s, even if the economic, social, and cultural
effects of war, revolution, and inflation had heightened anxieties abot these
issues. The German bourgeois women' s movement had long stessed mother,
hood, housewifery, and the cultivation of women' s separate sphere. The

Housewor~ Made Easy

208

209

Modernizing Germany

~. _
b h d
aign to reform housework met with a positive
, . _ d commerce e in a camp

pre-World War I Socialist women 's movement, for all its c;iti9ue ~bour ---,!

an

geois feminism, also emphasized women' s duties as wives a_nd mothers, albeit . ~~

work did not arise from changes in the household or the practices of the
housewife. In the 1920s, as in earlier decades, housework was physically--

. arduous and time consuming, appliances were few, and, among the working
class, overcrowding was common. 6 What was new in the 1920s was the tone
and substance of the campaign to reform housework, its highJy organized
character, and the breadth of support for it among industrialists and engineers, conservative housewives' organizations and Social Democratic trade
unions, government officials, and educators.
.
The first intimations of the new cancero about and conceptualization
.of housework carne in the wake of World War I. As severa! authors noted,
the war had graphically illustrated the importance of housework, not only
to the individual household, but also to the economy. In 1921, for example,
Heinz Potthof, an ardent proponent of rationalization, wrote a brochure
entitled 'The lmportance of the Household in the }l(ational Economy, and this
theme featured prominently in every subsequent publication.7 The infatuation with America also emerged early in the decade. In 1921 Irene Witte,
a champion ofTaylorism, translated Christine Frederick' s 'The }l(ew House
keeping, changing the German title toDierationelle Haushaltfahrnng. Fred
erick, a prominent personality in the pre-World War 1 home economics
movement in the United States, systematically applied Taylor' s principies
of scientific management to thehome. 8 As Witte argued in her subsequent
book, Home: and Te:chnology in Ame:rica, the United States was far more
advanced in household rationalization, both because industry had produced
more household equipment and beca use Americans adjusted to new cir:cumstances and ideas more readily and broke with tradition more easily. 9
In 1922 Erna Meyer added yet another new element to the emerging
discourse on household rationalization. In an article on "The Rationalization of Consumption in the Household," published in the VDJ' s 'Technik
und Wirtschaft, Meyer insisted that "the household, exactly like the work
shop and the factory, must be understood as a manufacturing enterprise
(Betrieb]". Every aspect of household production, consumption, technoJogy
and sociability needed to be systematically rethought and reformed-1
These early advocates of household rationalization spoke a more opti,
mistic, a more American language than their successors were to. Household
rationaJization, they argued, would not only save resources, time, money
and energy; it would also promete a new kind of consumption of household
utensi]s and appJiances and would, by minimizing household drudgery, free
the housewife to develop her personality. Man y of these claims were to be
moderated substantially la ter in the 1920s, but the pleas ofMeyer and others
for an organization that would unite housewives and engineers, industry

response.
th H meEconomicsGroupoftheRKW, which
That ~rgani~tio~
a s:iatt advisory group of represen ta ti ves of the
s establtshed In 19 6. , oc tions 11 Ayear later both its scope and
' wa
Housework was singled out,
rural and ur ban h ous_ew1ves
. . ass
1 ia ded
memb~rship were s1gn1_fic:~~r9el:~~~ of RKW N_achrichten, beca use the
aceord1ng to ~n arttc~e in
ce of the household for the national economy.
,U::W recogn1zed the 1mpo~tan ht t that recogniuon by the active lobby' Jn reality, the RKW was ~ug th o f the Central Off1ce of the House
,_, ing of Charlotte Muhsam er Mer, .El- beth Lders a German Demo
A ssoc1a
. t.10n and by Dr ane
isa

d
12
. wives
d r
r social worker ande ucator.
'
. p
berofparltamentan ararme
. h
k
crat1c arty mem
.
f idespread interest in ousewor
Moreover, the mid,1920s was; ttmeho Ew Meyer's detailed manual for
. - d ted by the iact t at rna
d
" reform, as IS In tea
. 1
titled 'The N_ew Househol went
. rationalizmg housework, appropnatebly ent1on in early 1926 and mid-1927.1'
'
. t"ngs between its pu ica
h
'. through 23 pnn
I
.
rke the RKW generally, wasas mue a coor
- The Home Econom1cs Group, 11 d ctive in rationaliz1ng housework as
dinator of the ~ork of groups a rea yda cational endeavors.
an initiator of its own research and e u t d to create the kind of broadThe Home Economics Group attemp ~ household rationalization had
based alliance for which early advocaf thesHo
&onomics Group had one
t" e commtttee o t e orne
argued. Th e execu IV
.
tr trade the artisan sector the consumer
representative each from 1nts.
~ratic trade union movement, and
cooperative movement, the f ~ta emH u ewives' Associations (RDH).
the National Assoc1ation o erman fi o t s ne and twenty,five, respecAlthough men outnumbered ~ornen ( or th: female bastion in the other
tivelyJ . the Home Econ~m1cs le ~;{'ww~nd the affiliations of the wo~en
wtse virtually exclusive y maf
. t"
concerned with rationaliz1ng
.
t the range 0 organiza 1ons
mem b ers sugges
. RDH had five members, the rural housew1ves
fh
mies schools two. The trade
housework. The conservat1ve
. .
r
d the league 0 orne econo
'
dp
assoc1at1on, iour, an
1 hree men), while the Catholic an rot'
unions sent f1ve women (as wel ads t
tative each The overwhelm'

zaticos ha one represen

. .
estant women s organ1
f
. d stry commerce or cap1ta 1tst
ing majority of male members carne rom tn u
'
'

w::

as Social Demacra tic ones. The state, through such educacional -institutions as adolescent continuing education courses, as weH as various chatity orga
nizations, sought to improve the quality of working-class homemaking by
offermg cooking, sewmg, and child care classes.5 The new attent1on to house-

ro

Jt
j
1
1

1
1

!
1

'

f he RKW engaged in three main areas


economic interest grou~s.14
The Home Econom1cs Gro u p o t d (
tudies of methods of houseof activity: establishing an arch1~e, co? u~:nJ~RKW proudly noted, these
work, and running an educatton: se~~1~~reau of Home Economics, and bo.th
( n of housewives, teachers, m
programs paralleled those of th ~organizations sought to secure t e cc:'p~ra t? theseendeavors I5TheHome
.

d esearch inst1tut1ons in

d
dustry, un1vers1t1es, an r
.h
the archive which collecte
Economics Group's first accomphs men~ was. tionofho~sework. By 1931
domestic and foreign literature oochnthe rat1onaltza per articles and books. It
it had amassed over 44,000 ~r
ure.s, ne! wchspa l teachers ;nd members of
t
primanly vocat1ona s oo
16
received 672 v1s1 ors,
dI
2 OCO pieces of literature.
housewives organizations, an ent out over '

210

:' 1
!

Modernizing Germany

Housewor~

Not content to pub!icize the work of others, the ,Home conomics


Group brought together "outstanding experts ... to assess the efficiency
of the labor processes in volved in housework. " 17 The goal was to establish
"rules that were simple, practical, useful, and scientifically ba~ed. " 18 With
an eye far tru1y onerous household tasks, as well as far the culture in which
they lived, the members of the Home Ecnomics Group studled floor
mopping, clothes washing, and potato peeling. The RKW justified these
elabora te studies, conducted in laboratories or home economics schools, in
terms of their value to both the household and the national economy. At
least 10 percent of the work load of the household was taken up with floor
mopping, it was noted, and another 10 percent with washing clothes and
bed linen. Every year 300-500 million marks' worth of clothing and bedding
were lost because they were wrongly washed. 19

Des pite the Home Economics Group' s attempts at scient~fic accuracy


and definitiveness in its studies, the results were disappointing. The laundry study found no correlation between the method of washing clothes and
their durability, but it did support previous conclusions about the proper
detergent to use for different materials. The search for the ideal pota to peeler
preved inconclusjve, its authors compJained, because the subjective views
of the women
who were polled impeded their scientific judgment of the best
design. 20
The limits of such research emerge most clearly in the floor-mopping
study, which was conducted with painstaking thoroughness overa twoyear period. Research determined that the mopandpai] method was
the cheapest (5.37 marks per year per 25 square meters) but required the
most time (95 hours, 41 minutes, and 40 seconds per year). The least timeconsuming mop-and-oil method (52 hours, 21 minutes, and 40 seconds) cost
21
three times as much. These results were widely disseminated in RKW publications, the daiJy press, and women' s periodicals, as well as by the Home
Economics Group' s educational service. What lesson the housewife was to
learn from them is unclear. The study failed to deal with the vitalquestion
of which method required the greatest expenditure of energy, and its authors
admitted in a resigned tone that the results, arrived at under controlled laboratory conditions, could only approximate those in actual households.
Moreover each floor had its pecuiiarities and no one method could be used
continually. The floor,mopping study was more a testament to the Home
Economics Group' s infatuatjon with time,and,motion studies and to its
ability to speak the then fashionable language of scientific management than
a practicai guide for the beieaguered housewife.
The educational service of the Home EcOnomics Group was its most
influential endeavor, for it was the means by which the RKW sought to
spread the theory of rationalized housework beyond educated middie-class
circles and shape the practice of working,class and lower middJe,class house,
wives. The Home Economics Group believed that the rationaiization of
housework was
first and foremost "an educational problem," and "a peda,
22
gagical task. " The group initially produced a series of teaching placards

Made Easy

211

. courses, Iec tures and traveling exhibits.


which
b used m
d r kThe placards,
k

to e
ff t forms of knives an 1or s, coo 1ng utens1 s,
ex:plained the most e ic~enh
med to educate women and girls about
b
l
t and water pite ers, a1
coffee
po
s,
f
h
.

d
househoid
and encourage them to uy on Y
d t 1 0 t e rat1ona 1ze
the e a1. s d f
. al household essentials. Such purchases were not seen
standard1ze ' uoctton , . . 1 nd qualitatively new kind of mass con,
as the advent of a quant1tladtt~e y a hoped promete standardization and
umption, but they wou ' lt was
'
s
''''dtry"
rationaltzat1on tn in ush H.
Ec omics Group went on to produce pam,
B the late 1920s t e orne on

dd

tgoaanc:::~:u:~~:~~~;;~asy,'::~

;:,f,

'}: ?r.---~!."
-,__,

. phlet:that could be ulsed as lecturesb


.
Th
phlet/ ecture senes e
. . . h
mgs.
e pam
fi S 1 d Coo~ing Utensils Standard1zat1on in t e
continued with Advice ;
e ~~e to cook and hea~ most efficiently with
Household, and two stu ies ? ow l d d with the popularized results of
a variety of stoves. The senes col~c uHe e Washing and &onomical Floor
d. cussed ear 1er om
.
h
the researc. stu ie~ isd.
. clud~d adolescent girls in home econom1cs
Care. The intend~ au ience ~:d members of the urban and rural house
courses, trad_e ~n1a~ ~ornen, h th se groups the pamphlet/lectures prorn
wives assoc1at1ons.
o reac
~.t. n and, assumed no special technical
ised to "avoid all superfluous eru 1~o 1 listeners. "25 The text and pie,

~~r~7~~~~~h~~ ;~~~~:~! {.~~~!: :~at ':'a: "ready to be spoken" and thus

required no tim~consumi?g p;~ar~1:; Ecanomics Group seems to ha ve


The educational service o
e o
d'
1 1926 i"t produced and

h' t intended au 1ence. n


teaching placards and used the proceeds to
made progress m Jeac .mg0
d ~ their production.26 The placards
sold two thousan copies . ~
men's ournals and Social
repay the RKW the money it oane . oc
were also widely reproduce~(? th.e d:ilib:e;~m~~lets, ~hich so'id for only
ble scale Home Washing, far
Democrat1c trade untan pu 1cat1on .

ted on a compara

~ :h

!~a~~~~:~d:~~e,~;~r0
e~~io~ ~~:~:n~~=.~;~;s: ~~~~%::~~~i~~:~
;~e pn~te

sand copies
t ;;,ie 1;30s.,. Beca use these materials were so widely
tobep'.mte t rnug. ou rtant to examine more closely the vision of the
d1ssem1nated, lt ts impo d
.
1. d h usewife theycontained, a v1s1on
rationalized hou'.ehold an ' rabtion"ize 'T~ )l!ew Household, and in Witte' s
that was echoed in Meyer s estse er, e
Home and Technology in America.
The New Woman in the New Home

~~ec~~~~~;~~~s:!:ii~=
~~~l:~~~:~~i~;~~~hho~
~h~~a~;~a~s:e peafra;t~e~:p~!:~'
.
Id'
soft e orneas

5 0
0

There were no sent1ment~ 1scuss1on t fhousehold ratianalization saw


obeyingitsownrules. Rat er1prapanen so
d e ciselybecause
the home asan integral p~rt olf the nationa~e~:~:;;:~le ~~d possible. In
of this, argued that rat1ona izat1on was o
Witte's words,

~;/
..

212

Moder11izing Germany

Housewor~

lf one looks at the work of the individual housewife in her home,' if one sees with
what lave she carries out the individual tasks and how during her work she
occasionally pauses far a minute to gaze out the window or Jook at ~erseJf in the
mfrror, the thought of applying a systematicanalysis of work seems alm9st laugh-

able, ...

[l]f we view the housewife in her totality, or in other words, if we

:(

as

con~

sider housework notas an individual activity but a social function .... we get
a very different picture. Then we see that an hour of previously wasted energy
saved in every household amounts to man y days arid years. The meaning of waste

in the household becomes clear.29

If the household was part of the national economy, it was subject to


the same kinds of anaJysis. Article after article insisted, "Every household
must be seen asan individual enterprise .... "Only then, according to Erna
Meyer, could "the specialJy constructed small enterprise of the cnsumer
economy," namely, the home, be properly and thoroughly analyzed. 30 Cooking, cleaning, and washing were reduced to "labor processes" and analyzed
in terms of the expenditures of money, time, material, and energy they required. Witte insisted that industry had developed laws for the efficient
use of energy which were equally applicab!e to the household. Work must
be analyzed and planned, then written instructions developed (so as to follow
the indust~iaJ principie of separating planning and execution) and, finally,
an uninterrupted and efficient labor process executed. 31 The goals of household rationalization were described in terms identical to those used for
industrial rationalization: maximum output for minimum input and the elimination of all waste.
The Germans were hard!y alone in applying the language of production and the laws of Taylorism to the home, as the minutes of the home
economics section of the International Congress of Scientific Management
revea!. Yet the congress' debates suggest that they did so more rigorously
than their counterparts elsewhere. The home was an enterprise that could
be rationalized just lilce any factory; it was nota peculiar sort of workplace,
whose small size and frequent poverty made total rationalization an elusive
goal, as the British argued. 32 The American scientific manager LiJlian
Gi!breth spoke enthusiastically of applying engineering principies and time,
motion, and fatigue studies to the home, but she never caHed the home a
factory. She talked about eliminating waste from the home but also about
making ita place that "satisfied individual needs ... and created a psychologically healthy atmosphere for children. "33 Italian women favored ratio
nalizing the home, not merely in the interests of the national economy but,
equally important, in the interests of women doing waged work. 34
Beneath a common aHegiance to househoid rationalization, then, lay
subtle differences. The more nuanced discussions among Americans and
other Europeans acknowledged that there were at best imperfect parallels
between the household and the factory; the Germans asserted an identity.
Whereas American, Italian, and British analysts reflected the tensions between the needs and goals of the economy and the more complex ones of

Made Easy

2D

.
h German delegates discussed the home in the
women and the household~ t e
om and scientific management. This
abstract categories of nattonafl econ ! ff1c1'ency as the highest goal and
. .
d
ent o econom1c e
.
unquest1on1ng en orsem h b t eans gave the German d1scourse on
f'
nagement as t e es m
f
f'd
scientl te ma
. .
k ble consistency and sel .-con I ence:, even
household rationahzat1on a remar~
tere and almost dehumanized.
though it strikes later readers as a sdtract, a usa! o the way work and home
.
1
represente a revers
G
Th1s new angua~e
. l . 11 In late nineteenth-century erhad previously been _ltnked i~eo1og1canc~ to endorse women' s waged work
roan y, there was a w1despre.a 1re ~t~tabetween women s paid work-espe
'd h h
and the stm1 ari 1es
d

. d
d fi d processing-an women s
outsf et e orne,
cially in textiles, the garme~t I~ ustrh an ~re emphasized. Homework,
unpaid traditional ta~ks w1thml ~e ~~e :d offered employment {espe
which was prevalent In Impena ermd Y.d l 1'n ths discourse.35 In the
d
n) represente an t ea

cially to marne wome '


b' 1
'fnotopposition, towomen s
. k
ed Am ivaence,1
h
1920s the hn age ~as revers .
. d Nonetheless the factory-t e
waged work outstde the homehpers1dstel ; r everyday life. The organized,
l. d r
became t e mo e io

rationa ize iactory.


'd d th criteria by which to organ1ze
capitalist world of product1on prohv1 . e E eeryday life was no longer the
and evaluate housework and mot er1ng. v
model for women' s wage~ ;:'ork.h Id rationalization insisted that the new
Many who advocate ouse o. ated b the proper spirit (Geist). For
home would only be successfubl f amhm h
for the traditional womanly
.. . . ..
s to ha ve een s ort an
F
h
sorne, sp1nt seem
..
lf
'f and nurturance. or ot ers
virtues of moral rectitude, dthgence, se :sacr11 ice)6 For still others this spirit
dd
tuesplusnat1ona 1sm.
'
d'
it represente omest1c .v1r l 1
f the science of work. Accor
ing
was defined in the fash1onab eda~gua~e o lop respect for herself and her
to Meyer' the hou~ew1fe nee e. htoh eve sciousness of her responsibility
activities: "With th1s respect, w1t .ti! e chonveJ'oy in work for herself." Her
b 'li the woman w1 ac te
and her own a t ttes, ..
f "l7 F ll rationalization and spirit were seen
work would becomea Beru .
or_a 'lization athomeand in theeconomy
to be complementary. Support for ~t1ona Ita ously aided the fu!fillment of
became a new domestic virt~~~ s1n;,u k~~or home economics education
etmar oo
old ones, as a recent study o
38
reveals.

.
atibility of Geist and rationalNo one articulated the.perce1ved cok'mph
rk "soulless, mechani
1
h W'tt
Far from ma mg ousewo
Id
ization better t en
e. .
. ,. ti'onalization she insisted, wou
d.
1 and unmterestmg, ra
'
h
k
cal, one- 1mens1ona '
.
hou ework "In arder to analyze er wor
add new depth and meanmg to
s
't . he [the housewife] must pene
in the app~opri~te way a~~ec~~s~~~~u~:observe the people with whom
trate deep tnto its essence
esle .
loy the materia Is, tools, and per.
ta t She must earn to emp
. b] "l9
she comes 1n con1 e
ff' .
'n her enterprise [Betne
th most e 1c1ent way
. .
haps even peop e in.. e
. li tion but the soulless matena 1ism
The antithesis of sp1r1t was not ratd1onha zat' nal1.zed American home, fam
b 1. d h d permeate t e ra to
that many
e ieve a
h
r 1ke the Dinta engineer, was supd

t 1 e "'The ousewi.e, 1
. .
h
ily,an
soc1etya
a~g.
f.
d
t.
posed to adopt the tdeology o in us na 1efficiency while elim1nat1ng te

lf''9

w. :,1:

(
1 ..
'1

'

'

.1

214

Hou.u:wor~

Moden1izi11g Germany

inhumane aspects of modern work. 41 Geist helped define ~he Ger.man


.
.
. .
d
.
.
Var.
an.t of rat1ona 11zat1on an , as we wdl see, also helped to justify dispensin
w1th technology and consumption.

g
. The ideas of duty and servic~ accomplished the same end._ Household
rat1onahzation was not advocated 1n arder to promete consumption I
'bl
.~~
or.a~y ostensJ Y selfis? ver~ion of women' s emancipation. Rat.her, indus:
tr1ahsts
. wanted the rattonahzed home to serve the intereses of Germa n eco-
nomic r'.'ove~r_and devdopment; Social Democrats hoped it wou!d further
women s pohtical act1v1sm and social reform and bourgeois fe
. .
d h .
'
mrn1Sts
ant~ctpate t at 1t would free women to participate in highercultural and
na.t1onal tasks. Common to al! was a conviction that the Taylorized house~
w1fe would be a ble not ~nly to serve her own family better but also to fulfil!
~ew econo~1c and poht1cal duties effectively. As Meyer succinctly stated,
. Unburden1ng women ... meaos winning time and energy f9r the more
1mpo~tant and more difficult wor~ on ourselves and for others. Work thus
rema1ns our battlecry. "42
. Although the Home Ec_ono'."_ics Group' s studies of floor mopping con-

tatn~d much superfluous sc1ent1f1c Jargon and relatively little useful infor
mat1on, the same cannot be said of the bulk of RKW publications on ratio-

nahzed housework. The ad vice offered was simple, practical, and inexpensive

to fo!low. _As ~he authors of the Handboo~ of Rationalization argued, there


was no obJect1ve way to measure energy expenditure in household tasksenergy exp~nditure was a particular cancero of the German science of work.
Those seek1ng to rationalize housework shouJd concentra te instead 00 the
~ore modest but practical goal of exposing the worst abuses stemming from
1ncorrect posture and inefficient working conditions. "43
In ~amphlets, lectures, and teaching placards, the Home &onomics Group
took th1s admon1t1on ser1ously. Numerous stick figure drawings filled such
pamphlets as Housework Made Easy, each illustrating incorrect and correct
~ostures and movements for such mundane tasks as ironing, ~indow washmg and-yes-potato peeling. If broom handles were the correct length and
wash tubs the proper herght, energycould be saved and exhaustion avoided.
And ~1tt1~g whenever possib.Je ~as strongly recommended. After reassuring
cons~1ent1ous readers that s1tt1ng was not a sign of laziness or decadence,
desp1te what mothe:s and grandmothers might say, various authors explained
~ow to arrange equ1~ment so that ironing, dish washing, and vegetable peelmg could be done w1thout standing and bending. 44
The advice on household utensils was similarly simple and practica!.
Pamph~ets and placards discussed only the most necessary equipment, such
as coo~1n~ pans and coffee pots, and iJlustrated efficient and inefficient features 1n. simple, readily understandable drawings. Time and again home
econom1sts argued that the standardization of basic household goods was
the key toan orderly and efficient household. Standardization would enable
t?e housew1.fe to save time, money, and annoyance and get by with fewer
d1Shes: cookmg ware and bedding. It would improve quality while decreas
1ng pr1ces.4J

Made Ea5y

21'

-.
The tone of HousewDY~ Made Easy and other books and pamphlets was
~:-. I ys encouraging and egalitarian rather than authoritarian. Readers were
awa
'dby compar1ng
1t to
t: addressed as "Meine Damen, '' housework was pra1se
beavy male labor, and housewives were informed. that th~y, too, could and
t d rved to save energy justas factory workers dtd. Adv1ce was presented
f1 . ~~e form of suggestions, not orders. Indeed, authors repeatedly assured
'.,:_: ;:tener~ and readers that recommendations di~ n~t.amount to a "ri?id and
unalterable recipe for housework." Rather, 11;~1v1duals should p1ck and
choose what seemed most useful or affordable.
.
The rationalized housewife thus was one who Taylonzed her work routines. The centerofher home life was the kitchen, which, ideally, wassmall,
functional, isolated from the rest of the apartmen~. and ~s.e~ by the hous~-
wife alone, rather than being the locus of ali fam1ly act1v1t1es as the trad1tional large working-class ''living kitchen" had been. There she was. to move
with efficiency and economy, perform tasks sitting wh.enever poss1ble, and
use simple, functional utensils. If she mastered the s1mpler forms of selfrationalization, she might devise a time schedule far her day. and week,

>

-.' ~.

organize her daily shopping in to one or two heffi~ient weekldy tnpths, or keep
1
accurate household accounts. Much less emp as1s was pace
on ese. more
:J-:1:; comprehensive activities than on the organized and e:ficient executionkof
,,;~:_ individual tasks. The rationalized proletarian housewi e was more a wor er
- ~:.;- '
than a manager.
.
.,.'-'. '"
According to both household rationalizers and modern arch1~ects, the
. '. .. ,,
methodical Jife of the rationalized housewife ideally was to be led m a m_od
ern, uncluttered, welllit and carefully arranged home. Th1s was 1mposS1ble
> _--- far the vast majority of working-class women, however, as the funct1onal
apartments in the new state housing projects built during W~imar were too
expensive for any but white-collar workers and a small po~t1on of the best
paid skilled workers.'17 Most workin~-clas~ wome~ were adv1sed to re~rrange
'j .'
existing quarters. Furniture, espec1ally 10 the k1tch:n, was t~ be s1tua.ted
1
so as to elimina te supertluous motions, andas much hghtand arras poss1ble
_j
were to be let in. Above all, knickknacks,excessive furniture, and nonfuncI
tional decorations which merely collected dust and were ugly, were to be
48
ruthlessly purged: Only a few tasteful pictures were permitted. _

This was a stark image of modernity. It subjected the domest1c taste of


,.
the working-class woman to ruthless critique and ksou ghth t? st rip the
working-class home of its clutter and prized knickknac s. 1n t m p1ace was
offered only an austere functionalism. No one who has seen ?tctures of
impoverished working-class apartments in Berlin and other maJor German
1
industrial cities can doubt that the new housing or rearranged old apart-
ments were both more efficient and healthier. The squalor and hardship of
1
much of early twentieth-century proletarian life should not be rom~ntic~zed
-but neither should the proposals far modero housing and rat1onali~ed
housework. They represented an improved, albeit rather bleak, alternat1ve
1
rather than a utopian vision.
1
The discourse on rationalized housing and housework was as notable
1
'.:,"._'i.'_-.'..

__

.J-:

216

Modernizi71g Germa71)'

:,

.' i

.1

']
i

Housewor~

for what it excluded as for what it emphasized, for wha.t it ~acitly assurned .
as for what it consciously chalJenged. Few authors hnked the need for
rationalization to the growth of women' s paid work or specifically addressec1
the double burden.49 More broadly, no one questioned the existing sexual
division of labor, which assigned aH housework to women. (Women Viere
also assumed to be responsible for childrearirig, although surpr~singly little ;,(
attention was paid to that subject.) To be sure, Meyer mentioned that ln -,'
"faraway" and "much praised" America, men were rumored to do heavyc.,.L
household tasks and even prepare breakfast and get children ready for school,
For Germany, however, Meyer suggested briefly and in the mosttentative
terms that al! family members should be encouraged to help at home. Even
that suggestion was missing from most other works. 50
Nor did anyone argue that certain household tasks be socialized or communalized. Each household was to be rationalized, but, unlike.in industry,
where jobs were specialized, each housewife would perform ali tasks.SI
Neither architects, nor Social Democrats, nor feminists talked of the "onekitchen" apartment house or debated the kinds of collective facilities and
social services that the Austrian Socialists built in Vienna. 52 MarieJuchacz,
a leader in the SPD, was among the few who saw the rationalization of the
individual household as a step toward socialization in the private sphere;
but this remained a subordinate and iJl-defined theme in a discourse that
stressed the short-term transformation of the individual housewife. 53 Charlotte MhsamWerther may have spoken for many when she told the Inter
national Congress of Scientific Management that the German rationalization movement rejected any forro of coHectivization beca use "it contradicts
the true meaning of the family household. ""Women and gender illuminate
the traditionalism of the modernist vision.
Consumption and household technology played a distinctly subordi
nate role in the German vision of rationalization. Sorne historians of the
American home economics movement ha ve argued that it consciqusly promoted new kinds of consumption to benefit industry, Buying replaced frugality as the virtue taught in home economics courses.55 A comparable
argument cannot be made for Germany. To be sure, companies such as
Siemens, the giant electotechnical concern, produced vacuum cleaners and
other appliances, buc'a Siemens Mitteilungen story/ad, "How the BuschmUers Gota Vacuum," clearly indica tes the audience for whom such consumer durables were intended: a comfortable white-collar family is depicted
choosing between the relative costs of a cleaning woman anda vacuum. 56
In so far as working-class consumption was discussed, it in volved household essentials. Women should purchase standardized pots, pans, silverware,
and pitchers. lndeed, they were "called" (berufen) to promote standardiza
tion and rationalization in both production and their homes by such purchases.57 No one was expJicitly urged to throw out aU existing utensils and
begin anew, but the advantages of rationalized goods were continually
stressed. In the judgment of the MetallarbeiterZeitung, even this modest
leve! of consumption was unrealistic:

'

_ _j_,_

Made Easy

217

. . 1ass woman, the overburdened


housewife .and mother
. .
.
!y the worktngc
.
Jtts precise
f
to whom the possibility of rat1ona 11z.at1on
with the smal.lest a~oun~~t :c~:~~he cannot follow the well-meaning advice.
firstd nd useful cooking equipment, we must use
up
should be
we sttll hav.e gool da 't ha e the meaos to clean out the old radtcally,
fi...t Ifbecause
we s1mp Y on
V

l ,.
irs
however
muenL we would Iike to see the new in tts Pace.

av~dable

t~at

h h
er durables were desirable in
Opinions vari~d abo.~~:o~~l ~oc:s:~~ Management" in theGewer~
principle. In an art1cle.on
Elfnede Behne praised the new household
schaftliche Frauenzeh1tunhgd,
th wonders of American household tech
h
od
h. 59Witte w o a seen e
mac ines.
' . . ed that the efficient American home was t e pr ,
ha~d, 1ns1stk
,~ nologyat
f .. 6rst priate
wor proced ures " and not "expensive labor-saving
d
~ uct o appro
hl
h
lavish descriptions of m1x-masters an
~ applianches." Nonet e e~s, s e;sg::~ washing machines, and staunchly dedishwas ers, vacuum e ean.
f
hasing such items on credit.M The
fended the _A~erican pract~c~~d ~~tr~ven give a passing nod to expensive
RKW pubhcat1ons, howeve d. t the Handboo~ of Rationalization:
household technology. Accor ing o
.
h h
hold rationalization is identical with
One often encount_ers .the v1ew t at :~~e rationalization is only possible with
household mechanu,at1on, that hou~e. o {; ' 1
A Lousehold that is tech
L
l' es Th1s1sa ate1u error. 11
.
the help of tecun1ca app ianc
worthless if the spirit {Geist] that
nically equipped in the most comp1et~ ~y is
.
e households would be
rules it fails. Jn addition, t~e gre:it maJor~y ~~~:~~se: expensive for them.61
excluded from rationalizat1on, s1nce mee an1

.
. . d th t the housewife could only
The MetallarbeiterZeitung ms1Ste da h val" and that this might
rationalize "with~ut ex~en~I~~:~~;:~~= m~~e ~virtue out of the neces
sorriehoy-r ."~ear etter r~tt. and household technology. If women reformed
d h . h uses ofknickknacks and nonfunc
sityofhm1t1ng consumptto~
uote her most memo
their work methods and strtppe t etr. o
tional furniture, machines woluld havelll1t~le t~ ~~fl~~Js in the home which
rabie claim, "The vacuum e eaner w1 e s ? "63
does not allow dust the possibility of collecting.
The Ambiguities of Household Rationalization
. ]' d h
'fe and the reformed
Howev~r bleak these imageshof t~e radt1on~d:pre~~::wp1port
among di verse

d Soc' 1

ight appear to us t ey wun w1

~~~~~t~~1:e::~~!:a~~~~~~:1~::~1~:~:!~i~~~i~::E~~~~:~~=tt

to instrumentalize the moveme~t for itsdarrert P. 1 oods household ratioFor such industries as furn1ture an e ec rica g
'ddle classes
nalization promis~d to incr~asefzem;nd, ::~~;; ~:~~~gt t~emr~putedly ex:
Por all sectors of industry tt o er~ a m . f the workin class and thus,
travagant and irresponsible spend1ng ~ab1t~ ~
ta e ~f working-class
presumably, limiting wage demands. A h1g perc~I~ "~omplained Alfred
women can neither buy correctly nor manage rationa '

J
218

1
.
'
.
!

Modernizing Germany

HousewoT~

Striemer in the Bosch Zander. Working-class consumers sp,ent far

~ 00

219

Industrial sociologists, factory social workers, and Dinta afficials ali agreed

~~fune~a~s and frequently tried to imitate their more prosperous neigh:~h

> .that nursery schools performed the important function of freeing the har,

ose. hving near subsistance were accused of wasting money on ..


s.
less tnfles and the ~atisfa~tion of whims and impulses." The ~Orkinw~f:h
mu~t be educated 1n_rat1onaJ consumption and household manage~en~s
Stnemer argued, for In Germany this would determine "whether w '
gather the forces for a new ascent. "64

e can
Erich Lilienthal, writing on "The Rationalization of Private Lif. ..
Der Arbeitgeber, published by the VDA echoed these sentiments "If e 1
about rationalizing the economy can be, taken from Amer1ca "h.. mued
"h"
1
, eargue
t ~sis certa1n Y not the ~se with respect to priva te life." Germans had t~
avo1d the extravagant le1sure activities of the Americans epitomized b
Luna Park, the Coney lsland amusement park. Germans co~ld not aspire ty
th.e fancie.r cooking and kitchen technology that American housewive~
widely ~~oyed. Rather, German working-class women needed to be educated in the reasonable use and preparation of such food as can be purchased
by wages that are pegged to productivity." Similarly, the purchase of clothl~l and ho~sehol_d goods should be directly tied to the leve! of industrial
e tcie~cy. Ali s1des must engage in detailed educational work whose suc
cess wil_I be decisive for Germany's economic development."65
. T?1s stre~s on edu~tion was not idle rhetoric. During the 1920s such
::~ 1ndust~1al enterprises as Thyssen, Krupp, Gutehoffnungshtte and
estabhshed an impressive array of home economics courses Kr~pp
far e.amhl~ offered two year-long programs far adolescent girls ~ha had
JUst inis e . schooJ, two 8-12 week courses for adult women, and five 2-3
month even1ng courses for working women. These were supplernented b
a re~ular lecture series for wives and daughters of employees covering sucb
top1cs as "proper nutrition" and "Sundays and holidays with the farnil "6S
In Oberhausen, Gutehoffnungshtte established a home economics sc{~I
wh1ch approximately 30 students attended foil time far half ayear. Ther~
were al~o two ~o-ca~Jed needlework schools, where married women and
s~h00Jg1r_ls rece1ved 1nstruction in sewing, cooking and cleaning on a parttime basis. The T_hyssen works had a similar course plus an ambitious
12-month program in home economics andan 18-month caurse an child care
1
togeth~r 150-160 girls attended. 67 Sorne of these courses were offered unde;
t~e au;;icesdof Dmta; others . directly by the firm. Regardless of sponsors lp, t e un erly1ng assumpt1ons were similar. Whereas men 's education
programs empbasized the mastery of technology, women's education
a~su;.'ed that technology had not entered the home and would not do so in
t e_ orese_eable future. The ideal was to ha ve working-class wornen ratianah1z: their housework without increased consumption electrification or
app iances.
'
'

., ried working-class housewife from the burdens of a young child ar children.


was to use her few free hours not for relaxation ar self,development
but rather far ge~ting her house in arder and tending to the needs of her
busband and older children. 69 Nursery schools also provided the adolescent
daughters of employees "training for their future vocation as mothers."
-Finally, they were useful far socializing boys and girls. As Miss G. Wenneker tolda meeting ofDinta engineers, "It is important that one preserve
the child' s inborn joy in work. One should lea ve the child time and quiet
for its activity so that the child can develop the necessary cancentration in
arder to do faultless work later in life. "7 Peter fumer put it more succinctly: "education far the economy" should begin in nursery school.7 1
Firms such as Gutehoffnungshtte and Siemens also provided sorne pre,
and postnatal care, home helpers to aid families during a mother' s illness,
and classes in proper childrearing. In addition, there were canvalescent
homes far women and vacation homes far children that gave preference to
undernourished youngsters. The emphasis was on providing services and
advice, or occasionally goods, but almost never money that could be spent
at the discretion of the housewife. The aim was to keep the home function,
ing in times of crisis and improve the health and efficiency of the next generation of workers.72
Many industrialists and engineers were convinced that behind every
happy and productive rationalized worker was a rationalized working-class
housewife. In a study of factory social workers, Carola Sachse found that
companies sought to create housewives who not only accomplished their
work efficiently but also created a happy home environment. The companies
thereby hoped to reap economic benefits from the the man's higher productivity.7l Erna lv.feyer insisted that the worker who enJoyed a comfortable, well functioning, and efficient home life "will not only be more
refreshed physically but also be quieter spiritually in arder to accomplish
his daily work and be more productive. "74

But diminishing labor costs was not the only goal. Karl Arnhold, who
designed a variety of educational pragrams for the wives and daughters of
workers in majar Ruhr firms, stressed joy in work as well as productivity. HiS
aim was tocreatea new typeof workerand not merely to squeeze moreoutof
the old one. Arnhold believed that improved housekeeping was a way tocreate "healthy and happy families" that are "the source from which new, healthy
and strong forces continually stream into our industria~ enterprises. "7 5 For
Arnhold, as far others, healthy and strong were code words for antisocialist
and nationalist. The industrial sociologist Rudolf Schwenger described
the emphasis Ruhr firms placed on housework education as "preventative
work .... &onomic distress, illness, demoralization, despair, and radicalism
will be fought against at their source, principally in the family. "76
Housework education, like apprenticeShip training, was to be both practica! and moral. Girls and women were to Iearn how to run the home effi,
_--~ .But she

h. ~rms also ran kindergartens and provided health and maternity care
w te prov1ded education as well as concrete services. In 1927-1928 fo;
exa~Je, Gutehof~nungshtte r~n seven nursery schools ata cast of ne~rly
90,
marks, mak1ng them the single most expensive program far fami1ies.6S

Made Easy

!1
1

_,

Housewor~ Made Easy

220

Moder11izir1g Germany

ciently and keep their families healthy. These skills would be useful not only
in their own homes, but as a means of earning a living before ~arriage, ar if
necessary after. This was especially important in the Ruhr, where few fac.
tory jobs were available far women.77 According to Mis.s M. Grundels, girls
were to ?e taug?t that a home req~i~ed great nurturance and t~~t "strong
connect1ons exist between the dihgent performance of one s voation
[Beruf] and the growth of one' s moral personality. " 78 As stated in the
Gutehoffnungshtte Wer~szeitung, girls must be educated "so that they
eventually.establish an ordered home for their husband and children and
thereby create far stable workers a true German Heimat in their home
'
whose happiness will acconipany them to their workplace. "79
Probably the least significant function served by these programs to
rationalize housework was to provide concrete advice and material aid to
the workingclass housewife, although sorne women and families definitely
did receive benefits. A more important-purpose of the programs was to
enable the worker's support network to function and aid him in properJy
performing his paid job. In theory these education programs would enable
the working..class housewife to sol ve her problems on an individua! basis in
her own house just as the firm soJved its problems on an individual basis
within the factory.80
One suspects, however, that industry preached the gospel of household
rationalization primarily for ideo!ogicalreasons. lt was, after aJI, impossible
to measure .or control women' s unpaid domes tic labor or to assess the con ..
crete economic effects of self.-Taylorization on her own work or on industrial productivity. Benefits might well result, but they were not subject to
the new rationalized cost.-accounting measures of the 1920s. The political
value of the campaign to rationalize housework was clearer. lt taught the
significance of efficiency, the virtues of a minute division of labor, the
importance of saving time and materials. Company programs to rationalize
housework attempted to legitima te an austere, productivist vision of ratio..
nalization, emphasizing the individual's principal role as worker, whether
in the factory or at home. They fit nicely with industry' s vision of rational.ization, which stressed producers' goods and export markets, and rejected
the notion that Germany could afford mass consumption of the American
kind. Rather, the working class, whether occupied in the home or the fac..
tory, must be encouraged or forced to increase productivity, limit its wage
demands, and forego mass consumption in order to restare the German
econorny. No immediate rewards would be forthcomng far such sacrifices.
The rationalized factory worker would find understandingand support
from the rationalized housewife; they would speak the same language and
share the same values. Both would transform their work practices in a dis
tinctly modern but only partially Americanized way. His devotion to the
firm would be paralleled by her devotion to the family. Both would develop
a vocational ethos and experience joy in work, regardless of whether their
work was genuinely meaningful. Both would be sympathetic to the priw
ciples of economic and social rationa1ization and restructure their lives

221

'

.
.
k 'n the benefits of mass consumption and _mass
ccordingly, w1thout see ' hg
h would combine American techmques
a Itureascompensa t1'on In s ort ' eac .d h soullessness an d materia
. 11sm
cu_th a German Geist and thereby av_ol1 t_ ~ ociety in the United States.
w1
bl
ted home fam1 y, an s
1 d
fth
that ostensi y permea
'. 1ed cation teachers and ea ers o e
Women social workers, vocat1onda
ud household rationalization, foras

t ns eagerly en orse
k dd
ti,
. d b th to elevate housewor an
rama
housewives assoc1a I~
deology and p~actice it promtse 'fe oB s eaking the pervasive language of
callY alter the hfe of the _houshewl1 k. byet~een the home' s economy and the
by showmgt
e m
prod uceiv ity
.
rationa lizat1on,
.
d s t. n studies and urg1ng
nation' s, by conducting t1mea?
~~w status for housework and denied
andefficiency, thesewomenclatm ~ tivities They draped housework
f
other econom1c ac

k .
d
d
'ty hoping thereby toma e ita prO'
its separateness rom_
- ith the mande of sc1ence an 1:11 ern1 ' 81
w
f) d . e unpaid character.
ll b .
espite I s
1
tral to the economic we .. e1ng
fession {Beru
Rationalized housework was notl on y ceonthers and citizens. Irene Witte
women'sroesasm
d .
.
od ! he performed her ut1es as
ofGermany b utalso t o

housew1fe
as
a
m
e

s
d h
. .
. d and efficient manner an t us
held up the A mer1can
.,
h
nd wife m a rat1ona 1ze
k

d "
housew11e, mot er, a
lity interests and now e ge.

op
her
0 wn persona
l
d
e between rationa 1zatton an d
had time to eve
t sed the connec ion
M
Most commentators s re~
.
onsibilities. According to arga'
the fulfillment of women s muhlupledresp political rights but with them
men had ac ieve new
'
t do
rethe Ru dorff ' wo
' economic recovery; one way o
carne the "duty" to p~omo~e~erm~~~~ndardization in thehome.83' Marie..
so was to support rattonah~t1on ~ .
d olitics somewhat differently
Elisabeth Lders linked rat1onahza~on ';;' 'Techni~ und Wirtschaft and
in an eloquent article that appeare tn o
the Metallarbeiter-Zeimng:

::;o

t:

h
b bucket and dust cloth because they
Women should not be freed from t e s~rub d ns o the household in arder to
are lazy. They should be freed from t e 1url e and to enhance the ulfillment
. 't 1 d cultura va ues
develop intellectua , sp1Cl ua ..
We do not want to rush out o the h_ouse
o their duties as mothers and c1ttzens.
. R ther we think it is a m1suse
a
d
home
econom1cs.
a

b
out o aversion to t he house 0
'f
n within our four walls, scru '
e Cmily and state t we rema1
Id "
ofwomen's power ior a .
.
toad ride think "my home, my wor .
bing and polishing and w1th m1su?de~s wor<l But in arder to do that we must
Instead, we should s~e ou~ hfome inu~ ~ouse th~n we are today.
be much more emanc1pate romo

thus "a state-political task of the greatest


Rationalizing housewor k was
ld
....
importance, a cultura uty.
1 ed claims to the mundane recomm~nIt is a long way from these exa t
g What links them "a
e and potato pee m
dations of the RK W ior ironing
. 1 tion to the nation more than
.
the benefits of rat1ona iza
lf'll
t
h than rights or se!Hu 1 men .
shared inSistence on
d .
d
hasis on ut1es rat er
d .
for women, an an emp
. f inisrn in a rationalize guise.
It was traditiona~ Ger~a~ bo~rgeo1~ol~mrationalization promised not only
ornan but also to alter dra~
For bourgeo1s fem1n1sts, ous~ddl 1
to improve the situation of the mi e.-c ass w

fJ

! . .';
;

!
!

222
Moden1izing GerTany

'; i

Housewor~

ma~1caHy the proletar1an home. The middleciass r

.
rat1ona1Jzed proletarian household confhcted with efor~ers v1sion of the
bourgeo1s femin1sts, social workers and d
wor ing..class reahties
mg..cl
.
'
e ucators promised to
'

ass Women s hves, but at the expense of th .

223

~;~:woman, who feeling herself to be the director of a firm, consciously applies

ease Work.

t1~s: The ideology of household rationalization e~~r cu ture and commun.


c;1t1que :vorkingclass culture in the language f" ~led ~?ese reformers to
o morahty, politics, or class pretent1ons D' o sc1en_ce ratherthan that

were no Ionger insults to middleclass valu~s b~~r~~r, ~1rt], and inefficiency


o ~ect1ve y measurable dan.
gers to the national economy and olit
~uent trips to the comer store or :,,,o/~~7:hwor~~class lousewife' s freor~ of social contact, and her Iove for kn1c
pro a y rel_'resented a majar
rat1ve furniture no longer symboli ed
~nack~, cheap p1ctures, and deeoof the middle classes. They were f~rmme~e{: d1ffe~:nt lifestyle than that
to waste money time and ene
d so e av1or sc1ent1fically" shown
class profession~I wo~an and rf~ an t.o e~danger health.&S Por the middJe,
en.gineer, rationalization prom1sedu;~;~: JUSt ~~ ~or the indus'trialist and
W1th one wave of the scientific w d
ove po 1t1cal and cultural conflict
W
an.
ornen vocationaJ education teach
.
the urban and rural housewives' a
. e~s, social workers, and activista in
nalized housewifery in a variety of~soct~at1~ns taught the principles o( ratio

Jns 1tut1onal sett


Th
mg proJects of the 1920s offered lect
d f'I
mgs.
e modern housin th
'
.
uresan imsonho to]'
ff'.
enew1unct1onalapartments wh'I . . .
w
ivee 1c1ently
of Housing Maintenance sponSo~ed I e 1? ~1t1es such as Hamburg the Office
rational household in unrational1'zed exh1b1tshand Jectures on how to run a

.
prewar ousing 86 Co
.
sew1ng, e ean1ng, and child care a
.
. . urses in cooking,
hold rationalization were the '. p ckaged m the new ideoJogy of house.
'
mainstay of conti
d
.
cent girls, whereas the curriculum for
nu1ng e uca_t1on far adolesand preparation for paid work. 87 Labor~~;. stres;~ed technica.J knowledge
b
ices o ered techn1cal and general education for unemployed
that is, child ca re and housewormk e~ ut can c"ourses on "women s work "
'
o fG erman Housewives' Assoc. ,10rwomen
t"
. TheNa t'iona JAssociation
~rban lower-cJass housewives a~~ ~:~r~moted education far rufal and
ing far the women who would teaCh the:1~9 servants and advanced trainThe Women who taught th

advised individual housewive ese courses, arr~nged the exhibits, and


Social Democratic leaders-w:m::r:n~verwheJm1ngly middle class. Yet,
~he~ embraced ratianalizatian in the h men-endor~ed _these efforts, for
~zat1on in the factory. Far exam Je the ~~~as e~thus1as_t1cal1y as rational1ts supplement far women disJu ' d
nat1onal dady, Vorwarts, and
ment and sought to eleva te the st:::se of~omen from seeking paid employwere considered Women'
. . lB
ousework and mothering, which
that "her work is not w;r~~~~~IP.~ eruf The housewife must recognize
lndeed, she should analyze her ;~r:,rt~:~t:rty Jeader Marie Juchacz.'
educate herself in the new . . 1 f
.
eng1neer in the factory and
Soc 1
prmc1p es o rat1onal' d h
'
ia Democraticspokeswomen 9IA
d" ize ousework,arguedother
German working-class housewife shcco]rd i.ng to El~e Loewecke-Mobus the
ou Imttate the modern American

Made Easy

'.

/ such scientific knowledge. " 92


f,' .- The Gewer~schaftliche Frauenzeitung frequently exposed the detrimen~i:tal effects of rationalization in the workplace but ran no comparable criti
,.:,-. cal pieces on rationalization at home. 9l The MetallarbeiterZeitung stressed
J: the importance of housework to the national economy and praised the work
";> 0 { the RKW. On its "Family and Home" page, it reprinted excerpts from
,/- the littrature of the Home Economics Group, as well as essays by such
women as Marie-Elisabeth LUders. The ADGB yearbook argued for the
importance of giving all girls formal home economics training in addition to
whatever vocational education they might receive.9i
Words were followed by deeds. Arbeiterwohlfahrt, the Social Democratic welfare and selfhelp organization and the main area of activism far
female party members, taught its own housework courses in many towns
and cities. 95 Since the SPD was prominent in many local and national gov
ernments, it was a ble to sponsor the construction of precisely those modern
public housing projects which were considered the ideal locus of rational
ized proletarian family life.
Social Demacra tic support far household rationalization was a feature
of its support far rationalization of the economy as a whole. In the home, as
on the shop floor, Social Democratic leaders and writers viewed rational
ized work as scientifically determined, technologically necessary, and,
despite ali its possible problems, indubitably and appealingly modern. But
there were additional reasons far Social Democratic leaders' endorsement
of Taylorism in the home.
The rationalization of housework promised to improve the quality of
home life and lessen the woman' s burden without demanding any alteration
in the domes tic division of labor. This appealed to the traditional attitudes
about women' s and men' s spheres that were prevalent among Social
Democrats-women as well as men, members as well as leaders. 96 Eric
Fromm' s late 1920s survey of working-class and white-collar attitudes, for
example, revealed that while 66 percent of the Social Democrats interviewed
and 73 percent of the Communists thought women should work, these figures fell to 12 and 36 percent, respectively, when the question involved married women's work.97 The left-wing Betriebsrilte-l':eitschrift of the DMV
printed articles arguing, "The well-being and spirit of the living community depends on the total personality of the housewife .... Homework or
parttime work are a burden on her health; seasonal work creates nervous
ness; anda job takes reponsibility and time away from housewifely activ
ity. " 98 The idealized vision of domesticity to which the Metalworkers'
Union-and, one suspects, the Social Demacra tic movement more broadlyaspired is suggested by the drawings that headed the "Family and Home"
page of the union's paper. Inane, husband and wife sit on a swing in front
of a rural home, he smoking and she minding the baby. In the other, hus
band and wife gather around the table in a comfortable and cosy room. While
he reads the paper (the MetallarbeiterZeicung, no doubt), she sews and minds

224
Modernizing Germany
Housewor~

the two children, who play quietly. Rationalization peihaps w'as seen"" "_;
the modern way to attain this old fashioned ideal of home and family.
;y
Household rationalization also was viewed positively. bei:ause Socia-!;!
Democrats thought it would help solve the long-standing problem of Iow
participation by women in the trade union movement and the party. Ac- ti
cording to theMetallarbeiterZeitung, the key.reason why women were not '
active in movement affairs was that they lacked free time. Day and night
the housewife cooked, sewed, cleaned, and cared for the children. Although
an eighthour day, such as men had, was inconceivable for women, rationalization could crea te a few free hours here and there that could bedevoted
to political work. This was essential, the paper stressed, because women
were "the educators of youth" and "the men of toda y need you, the Women
as comrades and co-fighters. "99 The need to rationalize housework so tha~
women could manage a job outside the home as well was mentioned only in
passing.

,~

In promoting household rationalization, the spokesmen, and more rarely


spokeswomen, for the Social Democratic movement reflected the values and
life styles of the more skilled, prosperous, and respectable elements of the
working class. Their endorsement of rationalization was a critique of the
rougher elements of the working class and of aH workingclass women who
failed to conform to the norms of order, discipline, organization, and pro
ductivity. In an article entitled "More Free Time for the Woman" the
MetallarbeiterZeitung revealed these biases in a discussion of proper
neighorhood behavior: "Certainly, one should have good relations with
one's neighbors. One should be pleasant and helpful-but with modera
tion and purpose. When the neighbor woman asks you to watch her little
ones far an hour, because she has to do something immediately, fulfiU her
request if you can, if you are certain that your willingness will not be mis
used." After further admonishing the housewife to lend food or pots and
dishes sparingly, if at all, the article launched its final attack on proletarian
women's culture: "Above all, dear housewife, avoid those beloved little
'chats,' on the celler stairs, in the front hall, before the apartment door, or
out of the window, since they are true time robbers!"JOO
In another acticle on "Planned Shopping," a woman functionary of a
socialist consumer cooperative complains bitterly about housewives who
shop too late in the day, or severa! times per week, or even per day. She
their Iack of foresight, their wastefulness, their inefficiency in tones
scarcely different from that of middle-class social workers and home economics teachers. Only her solution to the problem has a slightly Social
Demacra tic twist. She organizes the other functionaries of the cooperativebut not the housewives themselves'-in support of a plan to make coop mem
bers arder supplies a week in advance. 1 1

~aments

As we have seen, the Social Democrats emphasized the possibility and


necessity of mass consumption in Germany. Again and again they argued
that industry should switch from the export of producers' goods to the
domestic sale of consumer products in arder to initiate the happy Fordist

Made Easy

225

.
. . n increased production, lower prices, and
this consumption-oriented vision of
. e ele of increased rat1onalizat1_0.
'\ i:creased
on the rationalization of house
tionahzation foun no ec o in
Id talk concretely about how a Gerro.
rea where one cou
. d h
- work. Here was an a
.
Id look far everyone adm1tte t at
~'roan version of mass consump~1on wou car culture like the United States;
f Germany could not hope .to a~~~~~e mass production and consumption
~ yettherewasnospeculat1on f hu ingandhouseholdgoodstobecome
,::.ofhousehold appliances, nod pTleahsSoc
or
vision of consumption
'
f deman
e
13
,., the key sources o
f usehold rationalization austere.
remained abstract that o ho
h Id appliances wasdue, in part, toa sober
tion According to one survey,
This refusal to promete ouse ho
recognit1on of the obstacles to suc fc~nsue~bad eiectricity; of those homes,
in Berlin in 1928 only_45 perc:n~~cen~~ad electric irons, but only 28 per44 percent only had hghts;o; p the new fully electrified housing projects,
h d to scimp on household furn1sh1ngs
cent had vacuum cleaners. l~
those who could afford rents o ~en a.
. e the role of the home in mass
and appliances.103 But the inab1hty ~~~~gin Social Democrats traveled to
~nthey studied automobiles, not
consumption had other root~ as we
America, they visited factor1es, not ornes, And their selective v1sion of
.
h
ke with men, not women.
h
Th
apphances; t ey spo .
d
d
f gender relations at orne.
e
as a whole but it was not
America reinforced the1r un erstanh ing o
d . h b
ortant to t e economy

.
d
m1g t e imp re olitically significant but in support1ng an
central, JUst as women we . p
d d but it was tacitly assumed that
subordina te roles. Consumpt1on was nee eT,h Social Democrats remained
d b h
ipal consumers.
e
h
et e prmc f the ublic and private spheres,_even as t ey
men woul
p t" that blurred those !mes.
trapped m the dual1Sm o
at whom this propaganda barabstractly argued far mass cons~mp ion
And what of the work~ng-chass women
ressive or liberating? lnfor. d7 D"d th y fmd t e message opp
.
e
.
d "ded responses. In a collect1on
rage was a1me 1
b t it suggests 1v1
.d
. I d M W: da My Wee~end, mame
mation is very scanty, u
h.
s ent1t e
Y or~ ,,
b
of autobiograp ica essay '
1
f eff1ciency experts to descr1 e
women textile workers used the an:;;age . and evening routines were
how they performed hou_s~work. "tho;~:~i~ion and discipline, so that the
work could be mastered. While
planned minutely and carr1e ~ut
double burden of waged wor an douse l harried and complained about
ded extraer 1nan Y
some of these women soun . 1 d
k t home as well as in the factory'
the oppressive nature of rat1ona ize 'dw~r : v1ng organized their time and
others seemed to take a certa1n pn e Ibnl ai1c and austere rationalizing
ff. tl 104 However pro em
r
h
d h
fe somewhat easier ror t e
efforts so ke 1c1en Y
"t
y have ma e orne '
"d h
housewor
1 ma
ec1all if she was employed outs1 e t e
working-class w1fe and mother ~sp
d ~he possib1lity of either consump
home. In a pe~iod w?en ~o one isc~s~~housework or childrearing, it would
ine other solut1ons.
tion or the soc1ahzat1on o any aspe~
ha ve been difficult far women to im~g
h
as under somewhat differThe nonemployed house:'ife an mofth eurswehold tasks. Adolescent girls
ent pressures to re1orm
r
her perrormance o o

consump~on. S~rpn:~;/Tt~rature

~emocratic

househo~

;1h

was~

r:
,,,,

'

226

Modernizing Germany

i,

'

were educated in the new theory and practices, while older women were
bombarded with lectures, pamphlets, and newspaper articles, no matter
which newspaper they read. Given the precariousness of proletarian Jife
many housewives probably read aH tips on saving time, money, a~d mate:
rials. 1 Those whose husbands worked in firms with company social and
welfare policies were offered more information aOd advice and subjected to
more active intervention and criticism, as were inhabitants of the new hous-ing projects. A 1920s study of workingclass families in Berlin found that
most housewives were diligent and orderly, although it is unclear if they
practiced the precepts of rationalized housework. 106

Since working-class homes generally lacked electricity and wages were


low in comparison to American ones, the proletarian household did not
benefitfrom technology. Workingclass womennevertheless may have pur
chased the new standardized pots and pans and simpler dishes, especially if
their husbands were skilled workers. Such industries as ceramics targeted a
proletarian audience by rationalizing production and mass,producing a
variety of modern styles sold at modera te prices.101
Many workingclass women probably did rationalize their performance
of household tasks, but whether they embraced the ideology of household
rationalization or only adopted sorne of its techniques is another question.
Architects complained that workingclass families would not or could not
transform their Jifestyles to fit the new modern housing. Despite the efforts
of feminists, ttade unionists, and architects at "education for the new liv
ing culture," workers clung to their nonfunctional furniture, old knick
knacks, and "irrational" habits. A recent study argues that the rationalized
home seemed to man y workers to be rooted in "austerity, in forced asee ti
cism, in renunciation. " 108 Far workingmen, there seems to have been little
reason for bringing the alienated world of work into what meager priva te
life they had.
Por workingclass women 1 whether employed or not1 the situation was
more complex. In her recent study fWeimar housing projects, Adelheid
von Saldern argues that, despite their complaints, the inhabitants adjusted
to them and adopted the new ethos. 109 In her history of workingclass women
in Hamburg, Karen Hagemann delivers a more mixed verdict. Man y of the
women she interviewed disliked functional kitchens and furniture and found
most rationalization precepts too expensive to adopt. Others, however, who
were part of the young, skilled elite of the working-class, regarded the new
housing and the rationalization of home and family as "the embodiment of
modernity and social progress. " 11 Por many, household rationalization may
ha ve been both alienating and appealing. It gave women a measure of con
trol over their home and world, even if this was achieved at the price of a
rnechanical selfcontrol. lt provided one way to be modern, even if that
meant the modern management of a traditionalJy defined home and family.
lt enabled them to be new women, even if the rationalized housewife con
veyed little of the glamour usua!Jy associated with that term.

'

Epilogue

1 ..

erated hopes and illusions that the slogan


"L t' s think about all the exagg
.
n clase inspect1on? Basl
e
. d
h
1 A d what rema1ns o
of rationalization sture up. hn
1'm1'st1'c assessment, written by t e
.
1
"! T IS pess
. . d t .1
ly precious 11tt e.
_
-dely shared tn 1n us ria
ca l ,
W , "'h r 10 930 was w1
F
. ~ ne
. l once the Depression began.___ -r~m
doctoral student
engineering, and labor roo.veme?~ ~1rc esnd trade union le~ders_ spoke wi~h
poht1c1ans a t1'on while the rank and file
1929 On Social---Democratic
'tal t rationa iza

d
growing anger about ~a 1s~ cap1 1.!i
1
nt from which unpre~edente
equated rationalizatio_n w1th the ~~ei~~~;.;1rferent Jine, industrialists and
numbers suffered. Adoptmg a p d b t ver;Americanizauon, forced on
iightwing engineers ~o~plaine_ ~it~~t ~emands. But neither the forrnerly
liusiness by labor' s ostens1bly exor . .
the Nacional Socialists who
.
t f rat1onahzat1on, nor
.
ta
enthusiastlc proponen.so udiated ali the assumpt1ons, expec
were to bene~i~ from t~s failu~eh r~~ rationalization movement of the 1920s.
'e Americanism, they sought to
tions and pohc1esassoc1ated w1t ~
.
t
'
.
h m for econom
Abandoning the1r ent_ :1~_1a~ - .- 1 . - nd combine its dtscrete par s
deolog1ca gu1ses a
- -- . . 1
cloak ratiorializa_t1~~_1n !le":'
iii. new way-s_.
. .
had its roots in the incomplete rec~very
. The DepresS1on m Germany
. h d tabilizing effects of rat10nal
6f the mid and late 1920s, as ~ell la_s 1n.t e_ e;eased productivity without
rat1ona 1zat1on tnc
d'd
d e
ization itsel_f. A s we saw, . b ---d Prices held steadyas l wa~es, u
expanding ma~k-~t~ a~ h_~me or. a r~a . b t rowth was slow' prof1ts were
to carteliiatlon and_s~ate_ ar~1tration~ ~ ~ent was high. Prosperity ':s
low,_ anc!__~tru~tur~l and c~chca~~:= i~al ;nd labor each delivered runn1ng
limitid,-stabiltzat1on relatt:e, r
- p 1 tion in its current form.
critiques of the inadequac1es o rat1ona 1za

227

'