Chapter 2

Chapter Two discusses transatlantic exchanges during the 1920s. Individual American businessmen, such as Henry Ford and Edward Filene, actively promoted their views of technology and labor in Europe. In contrast to BLS officers, who had negated any direct relation between productivity and wages in their aim for objectivity, Ford tied mass production technologies to larger economic ideas about labor, wages, and prices, using his own welfare capitalist practices. Productivity thus became part of encompassing economic theories that encapsulated the American capitalist system. Germans eagerly read Ford’s autobiography, My Life and Work, and traveled to the United States to study American mass production technologies first hand. Visitors included German businessmen, engineers, academics, journalists, politicians, social workers, and union representatives. They brought their own tradition of technological rationalization to their observations, and they separated technological improvements from economic ideas. Some, like Carl Köttgen, a Siemens director and leading head of the rationalization movement in Germany, dismissed American productivity as unique to American geographical and other conditions, and called for Germans to work harder and longer hours to increase industrial output. Others, like members of a labor union delegation, admired American mass production technologies and work organization, and called for these to be introduced in Germany, alongside higher wages and lower prices.

Carl Köttgen, Das wirtschaftliche Amerika (1925)

Carl Köttgen was a German electrical engineer who worked for the electric machine company Siemens, rising to the rank of director by the early twentieth century…

Allgemeiner Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, Amerikareise deutscher Gewerkschaftsführer (1926)

In 1925, the German socialist trade union association, Allgemeiner Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, sent a 15-member delegation to the United States to study the “underbelly” of the American manufacturing system in order for German trade unions to be able to participate in the national debate on shaping the German economic system from a first-hand experience…

Henry Ford, My Life and Work (1923)

In 1923, Henry Ford’s autobiography My Life and Work appeared in German translation.

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