Germany launched an era of prosperity in 1871 when almost all German states merged into one new nation. The synergy that was unleashed… plus 47 years of peace in Europe…lead to a German Empire that was an industrial, technological, and scientific giant. For example, Germany received more Nobel Prizes in science than any other country in the world …in fact, more science prizes than Britain, France, Russia, and the United States combined…a matter of pride for everyone of German heritage.
As a matter of fact, even after the Kaiser Era, Germany continued to lead the world in Nobel Prizes… in science until 1964 and chemistry until 1984, when the US was able to take over the lead. Germany was also number one in medicine until 1953 and in physics until 1950.
After the 1871 unification of northern and southern German states, the new German Empire immediately became a great power, boasting a rapidly growing rail network, the world’s strongest army, and a fast-growing industrial base.
The social, economic, and scientific successes of this era were extraordinary. In the field of economics, the “Kaiserzeit” laid the foundation of Germany’s status as one of the world’s leading economic powers. The iron and coal industries of the Ruhr, the Saar and Upper Silesia especially contributed to that process. The enormous growth of industrial production and industrial potential also led to a rapid urbanization of Germany, which turned the Germans into a nation of city dwellers.
An example of Germany’s industry was the steel giant Krupp in Essen. In 1887 the company had 75,000 employees and the factory alone became a great city with its own streets, its own police force, fire department and traffic laws. Krupp was the largest company in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century.
Another example is the world’s first motorcar, built by Karl Benz in 1886, and the birth of Germany’s auto industry.
Germany invested more heavily than the British in research, especially in chemistry, motors and electricity. Germany’s dominance in physics and chemistry was such that one-third of all Nobel Prizes went to German inventors and researchers.
Technological progress during German industrialization occurred in four waves: the railway wave (1877–86), the dye wave (1887–96), the chemical wave (1897–1902), and the wave of electrical engineering (1903–18).
By 1900, the German chemical industry dominated the world market for synthetic dyes… mainly by three major firms BASF, Bayer and Hoechst.
In 1913, German firms produced almost 90% of the world supply of dyestuffs and sold about 80% of their production abroad. The three major firms also began to expand into other areas of chemistry such as pharmaceuticals, photographic film, agricultural chemicals and electrochemicals. They were the world’s first truly managerial industrial enterprises… with many spinoffs from research—such as the pharmaceutical industry, which emerged from chemical research.
Under Bismarck, Germany was a world innovator in building a conservative welfare state. In the 1880s he introduced old-age pensions, accident insurance, medical care and unemployment insurance…changes that formed the basis of the modern European welfare state. He came to realize that this sort of policy was very appealing, since it bound workers to the state, and also fit in very well with his authoritarian nature. The social systems installed by Bismarck… health care in 1883, accident insurance in 1884, invalid and old-age insurance in 1889… at the time were the largest in the world and, to a degree, still exist in Germany today.
Bismarck’s paternalistic programs won the support of German industry because its goals were to win the support of the working classes for the Empire and reduce the outflow of immigrants to America, where wages were higher but welfare did not exist. Bismarck further won the support of both industry and skilled workers by his high tariff policies, which protected profits and wages from American competition, although they alienated the liberal intellectuals who wanted free trade.
The era of the German Empire is also remembered as one of great cultural and intellectual vigor. Thomas Mann published his novel Buddenbrooks in 1901. Theodor Mommsen received the Nobel prize for literature a year later for his Roman history. Painters like the groups Der Blaue Reiter and Die Brücke made a significant contribution to modern art. The AEG turbine building in Berlin by Peter Behrens from 1909 can be regarded as a milestone in classic modern architecture and an outstanding example of emerging functionalism.
The end of this Kaiserzeit, or German Emperor Era, came in November 1918, when the Kaiser abdicated and Germany was temporarily crippled by the harsh terms of the Versailles Treaty, by communist and anarchist activity, by runaway inflation, and by all the societal changes brought about by WWI.