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Historicist building by Arwed Roßbach in Leipzig, Germany (1892)

Gründerzeit (German pronunciation: [ˈɡʁʏndɐˌtsaɪt] ; lit.'founders' period') was the economic phase in 19th-century Germany and Austria before the great stock market crash of 1873.


Gründerzeit primarily refers to the entrepreneurial boom of late 19th-century Germany; machine and locomotive ironworks of Borsig AG in Berlin's Feuerland, 1847 painting by Karl Eduard Biermann

The so-called Gründerzeit or the age of the founders lasted for just six years, from 1867 to 1873.[1] The term refers to a short-lived economic boom and the economic rise of the German Empire, when hundreds of new businesses, banks and railways were founded. German writers of the late 19th century used the term Gründerzeit as a pejorative, because the cultural output of that movement is associated with materialism and nationalistic triumphalism. The cultural historian Egon Friedell complained, that stockmarket fraud was not the only Gründerzeit swindle.[2]

Design and architecture[edit]

Historicist architecture in Nordstadt in Hanover

The need for housing rose in consequence of industrialization. Complete housing developments in the so-called Founding Epoch Architecture style arose in previously green fields, and even today, Central European cities have many buildings from the time together along a single road or even in complete districts. The buildings have four to six stories and were often built by private property developers. They often sported richly-decorated façades in the form of Historicism such as Gothic Revival, Renaissance Revival, German Renaissance and Baroque Revival. Magnificent palaces for nouveau-riche citizens but also infamous rental housing for the expanding urban lower classes were built.

The period was also important for the integration of new technologies in architecture and design. A determining factor was the development of the Bessemer process in steel production, which made possible the construction of steel façades. A classical example of the new form is the steel and glass construction of the Crystal Palace, completed in 1851, which was then revolutionary and inspired subsequent decades.

Gründerzeit districts, called Gründerzeitviertel [de], were built all over Germany, Austria and even in Hungary.

In Austria[edit]

In Austria, the Gründerzeit began after 1840 with the industrialisation of Vienna, as well as the regions of Bohemia and Moravia. Liberalism reached its zenith in Austria in 1867 in Austria-Hungary and remained dominant until the mid-1870s.

Vienna, the imperial capital and the residence of Emperor Franz Joseph, after the failed uprising of 1848 became the fourth-largest city in the world with the inclusion of suburbs and an influx of new residents from other regions of Austria. Where the city wall had once stood, a ring road was built, and ambitious civic buildings, including the Opera House, Town Hall, and Parliament, were also built. In contrast to agricultural workers and urban labourers, an increasingly-wealthy upper-middle class installed monuments and mansions. That occurred on a smaller scale in other cities such as Graz but on the periphery, which preserved the old city from destructive redevelopment.

In Germany[edit]

In the mindset of many Germans, the epoch is intrinsically linked with Kaiser Wilhelm I and Chancellor Bismarck, but it did not end with them (in 1888 and 1890, respectively) but continued well into the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II. It was a Golden Age for Germany in which the disasters of the Thirty Years' War and the Napoleonic Wars were remedied, and the country competed internationally in the areas of science, technology, industry and commerce. Particularly, the German middle class rapidly increased its standard of living, buying modern furniture, kitchen fittings and household machines.

Many major public buildings in Germany were built during the period, such as the Hamburg City Hall.

In German-speaking areas, a huge number of publications were produced that was comparable, on a per-capita basis, to modern levels. Most were academic papers or scientific and technical publications, often practical instruction manuals on topics such as dike construction. There was no copyright law in most countries except in the United Kingdom. Since popular works were immediately republished by competitors, publishers needed a constant stream of new material. Fees paid to authors for new works were high and significantly supplemented the incomes of many academics. The prices of reprints were low and so publications could be bought by poorer people. A widespread public obsession with reading led to the rapid autodidactic dissemination of new knowledge to a broader audience. After copyright law gradually became established in the 1840s, the low-price mass market vanished, and fewer but more expensive editions were published.[3][4]

The social effects of industrialisation were the same as in other European nations. Increased agricultural efficiency and introduction of new agricultural machines led to a polarized distribution of income in the countryside. The landowners won out to the disadvantage of the agrarian unpropertied workforce. Emigration, most of it to America, and urbanisation were consequences.

In the rapidly-growing industrial cities, new workers' dwellings were erected, lacking in comfort by today's standards but criticised even then as unhealthy by physicians: "without light, air and sun", they were quite contrary to the prevailing ideas on town planning. The dark, cramped flats took much of the blame for the marked increase in tuberculosis, which spread also to wealthier neighbourhoods.

Nevertheless, the working class also saw improvements of living standards and other conditions, such as social security through laws on workers' health insurance and accident insurance introduced by Bismarck in 1883–1884, and in the long run also through the foundation of a social democracy that would remain the model for the European sister parties until Hitler's Machtübernahme in 1933. Even today, the model of social care developed by Bismarck in 1873 (Reichsversicherungsordnung) remains the contractual basis for health insurance in Germany.


  1. ^ Judson, Pieter (2016). The Habsburg Empire: A New History. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. p. 275. ISBN 978-0674047761.
  2. ^ Matthew Jefferies (2020). Imperial Culture in Germany, 1871–1918. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 89. ISBN 9781137085306.
  3. ^ Thadeusz, Frank (18 August 2010). "No Copyright Law: The Real Reason for Germany's Industrial Expansion?". Spiegel Online.
  4. ^ Lasar, Matthew (23 August 2010). "Did Weak Copyright Laws Help Germany Outpace The British Empire?". Wired.

Further reading[edit]

  • Baltzer, Markus (2007). Der Berliner Kapitalmarkt nach der Reichsgründung 1871: Gründerzeit, internationale Finanzmarktintegration und der Einfluss der Makroökonomie (in German). Münster: LIT. ISBN 9783825899134.
  • Hermand, Jost (1977). "Grandeur, High Life und innerer Adel: 'Gründerzeit' im europäischen Kontext". Monatshefte (in German). 69 (2): 189–206. JSTOR 30156817.

External links[edit]