There can be little doubt that in 1914 Germany was a major European power. Any measured aspect of power would have seen Germany in the positive. Some such as steel and pig iron production would have been welcomed by the nation’s leaders. Others would have made them wary – such as the huge rise in trade union membership in just 15 years. The nation’s leaders would have been very aware of what had happened in Russia in 1905 and the rise in the power of the working class. Conservative elements within Germany would have been alarmed by this whereas it was the working class that was driving the industrial growth Germany was experiencing. Without the expanding working class, Germany would have not had such an industrial revolution as she experienced. Urban population growth was welcomed while the growth of trade unions was not.


Urban population growth:




1820: 99,887

1870: 290,208

1900: 410,392




1820: 127,985

1870: 308,446

1900: 721,744

1910: 953,103




1820: 199,510

1870: 774,498

1900: 1,888,313

1910: 2,071,907




1881-1890: 1,342,000

1890-1900: 528,000

1901-1910: 220,000

1912: 18,500


Rate of economic growth:


Coal: 31.8 million tons in 1880 to 110.7 million tons by 1900

Steel: 1.7 million tons in 1880 to 7.3 million tons by 1900

Pig Iron: 3.3 million tons in 1880 to 12 million tons by 1900

Merchant shipping: 1.5 million tons in 1880 to 2.6 million tons by 1900

Railways: 29,270 miles in 1880 to 34,480 miles by 1900


Trade Union membership:


1891: 344,000

1896: 409,000

1900: 851,000

1905: 1,650,000

1910: 2,435,000

1913: 3,024,000


Germany had become mainland Europe’s foremost industrial power by 1914. This brought prestige and, of course, power. The only mainland European country that might have come near to Germany was France and in an industrial sense she was lacking someway behind Germany. The growth in mileage in Germany’s rail network was not a coincidence so some believe. It is thought that Germany already had plans to use railways as the major way of moving troops around during a conflict and so the building of so many miles of track was no coincidence and helped to stimulate the steel industry which, in turn, helped to stimulate the pig iron and coal industries.


By 1900, Germany had split into two cultures. One was a conservative, authoritarian, business-driven group that was very wary of the working class while the other was the working class that greatly benefitted in the time in Germany known as the Grűnderzeit – the good times. The tensions that could have existed were disguised because German was doing so well. However, when the good times started to unravel, these tensions came to the surface. A not uncommon practice when this occurred was to rally your people around a state leader by having a successful foreign policy. In an imperial sense German was well behind the UK – German South West Africa did not have the same cache as South Africa, India or Canada for example. What better way to express your new found power than by having an arms building programme so that you at least rivalled your nearest opponent. Great Britain was proud of its navy, which no other power could rival. Therefore Germany started a naval building programme that would bring her into the C20th –whether it angered the UK or not.


October 2012