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Exclusivity and the Entrepreneurial Class in Remscheid (1880s)

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I was fortunate not to encounter too many difficulties in getting accepted among local circles, because a few years earlier one of my cousins had married a cousin of the inventors. According to the rules of Remscheid, therefore, despite being a “perfect stranger,” I passed as a kind of relative, and because of this legitimation I was welcomed in the friendliest way and without reservation. When it comes to social interaction, the residents of Remscheid are courteous, friendly, and hospitable, but rather reserved and cautious towards strangers. [ . . . ]

The activities of members of Remscheid’s high society were, as mentioned earlier, primarily concerned with business. Thus, it was understandable that all of their sons were inevitably trained as merchants. Back then, it was customary for young people to take classes up to the highest grade of grammar school and then to enter into a three-year apprenticeship, the third year of which often took place abroad for the purpose of language study. After completing the apprenticeship, the young man initially joined his father’s business in order to familiarize himself with manufacturing [ . . . ] and marketing. Following that, young businessmen usually went abroad for three years to work in branches of their fathers' businesses in order to become familiar with the use of tools, the wishes and demands of customers, the competitors’ products, and various languages. After these three years, they would usually return to Remscheid and soon became associates and fathers as well. Sometimes this journey abroad had to be repeated, quite often with a wife and children.

All of Remscheid’s offices were bustling with activity. At 7 o’clock in the morning the boss would sit in the office opening the incoming mail delivered by the postman and issuing instructions for dealing with it. Between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m., the boss allowed himself a half-hour breakfast – while the staff continued to work until 12:00 p.m. – and then after a two-hour lunch break he stayed on until 7:00 p.m., often even 8:00 p.m., when all the mail was worked through. Some businesses had retained the older familiar custom of providing a cup of coffee at 4:00 p.m., which was enjoyed at the office between tasks.

Source: R. Bungeroth, 50 Jahre Mannesmannröhren 1884-1934 [50 Years of Mannesmann Pipes 1884-1934]. Berlin: VDI-Verlag, 1934, pp. 5ff.

Original German text reprinted in Gerhard A. Ritter and Jürgen Kocka, eds., Deutsche Sozialgeschichte 1870-1914. Dokumente und Skizzen [German Social History 1870-1914. Documents and Sketches], 3rd ed. Munich: C.H. Beck, 1982, pp. 325-26.

Translation: Erwin Fink

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