KRUPPTHE CANNON KING
Alfred Krupps life was Longfellows noblest poem, livednot writtenand of him can it surely be said that he has, in dying, left behind him footprints on the sands of time that will comfort many a shipwrecked brother yet unborn.Captain O.E. MICHAELIS, U.S. Army.
THE War of 1870 between Prussia and France was a triumph for Krupp cannon. It was more ; it was a successful climax to over a score of years of effort on the part of the greatest German arms maker. Krupp had to struggle against military conservatism. In Prussia he faced a century-old military caste beside which the American War College, which did so much to discourage Colt, was relatively progressive. He had to perfect his productsa lesser task since he had all the ingrained German mechanical talent and dogged persistence. And lastly he had to solve in his own way the problem of markets, which had caused little difficulty to Du Pont. In doing this he forged more than steel cannon barrelshe introduced a new code of arms dealing.
The Krupp family through four generations possessed all the qualities that make for success. It was familiar with the psychology of business and sales and adapted this knowledge to the peculiar problems of the armament trade. It was scientific and inventive and developed many new processes invaluable in its field. It was thoroughly convinced of its patriotism and took occasion repeatedly to impress this fact upon the authorities. It believed in religion and advocated prayer as an element of industrial success. It was paternal to all its workers, provided many opportunities for recreation and various welfare measures for its employees, and hated all Socialists venomously. In a political campaign it issued a powerful appeal to all its workers to avoid this vicious doctrine and its agitators, and it suffered great paternal disappointment when the workers elected Socialists in spite of this.
Krupp had many friends, admirers and defenders ; it also had many enemies, critics and detractors.1 The official historian of the company is Wilhelm Berdrow. His two-volume biography of Alfred Krupp and his collection of Krupp letters are important materials ; but they are also very disappointing, for Berdrow was apparently not permitted to publish the most significant letters of Krupp, which must be derived from other sources. Furthermore, his work carries only to 1887, precisely the point when the connection between Krupp and the German government grew closest and when the full international activity of the armament makers began to unfold.
The Krupp company had its modest beginnings in the early nineteenth century. When Freddrich Krupp died in 1826, his steel works were left to ten-year-old Alfred. Before Alfred Krupp died in 1887, the name Krupp was famous throughout the world. Alfred began this accomplishment in a most conservative way. He devoted himself at first only to the manufacture of materials useful in peace-machines, railroad trucks, etc. Through incessant experimentation he had perfected a crucible steel which was tough and durable. In 1842 he finally managed to produce a cannon of crucible steel, and he was now on the road to success in the armament industry.
Progress, however, was still exasperatingly slow. The military refused to be budged from their conservative ideas. Not until 1849 did the Prussian Artillery Testing Committee agree to test his gun, and even then no orders were forthcoming. But Krupp was doggedly persistent. He exhibited his gun at all industrial exhibitions, together with his other crucible steel products. He went to London in 1851 and received the award of the highest distinction. He exhibited at Munich in 1854 and in Paris in 1855. He presented his gun to the Prussian king, Frederick William IV, in spite of the open opposition of military circles. Results were completely lacking.
Finally in 1856 there was a rift in the clouds. The khedive of Egypt, Said Pasha, decided that the Krupp cannon were all that their manufacturer claimed for them and he placed the first substantial order for the guns. This was immediately followed by a French order for 300 cannon, but the order was cancelled due to lack of funds. The French were later to regret this lack of funds and indifference to Krupp products.
The tide was now definitely turning. An indication of this was given when the Prussian Regent, Prince William, visited the Krupp factories. The Prince had heard of Krupp and of his persistent efforts to have his gun adopted by Prussia ; also of the scorn with which the military spoke of Krupp guns. Alfred Krupp now revealed his first flash of genius as a salesman. He had just installed a 30-ton hammer, named by his men Fritz. Like all hammers of this kind, Fritz was versatile with an able man in charge. So Krupp decided to show off Fritz. Would His Majesty like to see Fritz do his tricks ? Yes ? Very well. Would His Majesty be gracious enough to let his humble servant have his watch for a minute ? Thanks a thousand times, Gracious Majesty. Now if His August Majesty will watch closely, he will see one of the marvels of modern science. We will put the watch on the anvil. Nowsee that hammer descend with lightning speed and with terrific force ? Look out for that watch ! But already the hammer has stopped. Just the fraction of an inch above the royal watch it has come to rest. Such is the perfection of modern science.
The Prince smiles. He is pleased as a child with a clever mechanical toy. No doubt the hammer can do other tricks. Of course, of course, Your Highness. Now, for instance, we will take a nut and place it below the hammer. Down comes the hammer, just far enough to crack the nut but not to crush it to formless pulp. Wonderful ! Astounding ! A man who had machines of this kind and who could operate them thus expertly was interesting, to say the least.2 Perhaps the military were just stubborn old conservatives to stand by their old bronze cannon. Back to Berlin went Prince William with a feeling of admiration in his heart. The beginnings of a valuable friendship were thus laid. In the same year Krupp received his first order for cannon from Prussia.
The tide had turned now, as statistics show. From 1853 to 1861 the Krupp plants at Essen grew from 22 to 131 acres ; by 1873 they had expanded to 86 acres and in 1914 they covered 250 acres. As to workers employed, they rose from a mere handful to the population of a good-sized city. In 1849, as he was vainly seeking to market his cannon, he had 107 employees. By 1860 this number had increased to 1,057. By 1914 he had 80,000. These figures cover only the Essen plant, for long the centre of the worlds cannon technique and manufacture. Krupps other enterprises employed many more workers.
The 1860s were highly important for Krupp, because they demonstrated beyond a doubt the practical value of his crucible steel cannon as instruments of war. Krupps wrestling at this time with the problem of patriotism is also highly interesting. For years Krupp had been insisting on his patriotism. This argument, he evidently believed, would move the indifferent Prussians to do business with him. Before large orders were received from abroad, he placed the needs of Prussia ahead of all other countries. In 1859 he pointed out that certain Prussian guns were not very well known abroad, because their construction was a state secret. If Prussia is equipped and the design is known, if we cannot prevent it, then other states may follow, and if we then accept similar orders for other states, it should be in the first place for friends and allies of Prussia.3
In 1860 he wrote that he considered the supply of guns to the Royal Prussian Army less as a piece of business than as a matter of honour. At the same time there are already strong indications that his strict interpretation of patriotism was not good business. He had made application for the renewal of one of his patents and the Minister of Commerce delayed granting the request. Krupp wrote to his friend, Prince Regent William, pointing out what his patriotism was costing him. Other governments had given him dazzling promises and assurances of protection if he would establish branches in their countries, but hitherto he had resisted these temptations.
Without outside promptings, I have of my own initiative, in the interest of our country, left such expedients up to the present untouched, and in spite of the higher prices which could indubitably be realised, I have refused to supply any crucible steel guns to foreign countries when I believed I could serve my native land thereby.4
The Prince Regent took the hint and ordered the renewal of the patent, in recognition of the patriotic sentiments which Commercial Counsellor Alfred Krupp of Essen has frequently displayed, particularly in declining foreign orders offered to him for guns, orders which promised him substantial profit.
Krupp had now learned the technique. When he wanted something from the government, he must speak of his patriotism and include a veiled threat that he might sell his guns to other nations. To Von Roon he wrote about one of his patents :
In such circumstances it is possible for me to continue the practice, which I have hitherto adopted voluntarily, of declining orders for guns, which might possibly some day be turned against Prussia, and to renounce the advantages of such orders, as well as the profit from the sale of this new mechanism in the same quarters.5
In 1863 Russian orders arrived. Krupp was also asked to co-operate in the work of design, and for years the best of the Czars ordnance designers were in and out of his workshops and his house. The Danish War (1864) and the beginnings of the navy of the North German Confederation helped to keep the ball rolling. Krupps name acquired an international reputation, and that reacted on his native land. It was another case of a prophet having no honour in his own country until his foreign disciples singled him out.
Slowly the years went by. Foreign orders were increasing. Less and less is heard from Krupp on the subject of patriotism. In 1866, when the Austrian war was almost a certainty, the Minister of War, Von Roon, appealed to Krupp not to sell guns to Austria : I venture to ask whether you are willing, out of patriotic regard to present political conditions, to undertake not to supply any guns to Austria without the consent of the Kings Government.6
The rôles were now reversed. No more was Krupp appealing to the governments patriotism to get orders ; the government was appealing to him to be patriotic and not to sell guns to an almost certain enemy. To be sure, Krupp had already sold cannon to Austrias allies, the South German states, so the damage was done. Von Roon was referring to another order which Austria had recently placed. Krupps reply to Von Roon shows the change which had occurred. He assured the Minister that the work on the new order had not yet begun, hence there was no reason for anxiety. At the same time, he was obviously put out by this government interference and this little lecture on patriotism, and he told it to the Minister in unmistakable terms : Of political conditions I know very little ; I go on working quietly, and if I cannot do that without disturbing the harmony between love of my country and honourable conduct, I shall give up the work entirely, sell my works, and shall be a rich and independent man.
But this was too good an opportunity to let pass without again calling attention to the shameful neglect which he had experienced at the hand of Prussia. He continues : I may remind Your Excellency that I accepted the order from Austria at a time when the relationships between the two countries were of the most friendly nature, and with all the more thankfulness just then, since the Prussian navy disapproved of my crucible steel as gun material, and the leading expert was working for the introduction of bronze instead of crucible steel. From this time onward, with profitable foreign business available in increasing volume, Krupp had no further trouble with patriotism.
In 1866, in the Austro-Prussian War, came the first test of Krupps cannon in war. To be sure, Austrias allies also were equipped with Krupps guns, but even so the test was not conclusive. The Prussians won decisive victories and the war was over in seven weeks, but the Prussian artillery had been handled so badly that it was impossible to say what role Krupps cannon had played in the Austrian débâcle.
Krupp was still eagerly looking for markets and the French looked to him like promising customers. Had not Napoleon III decorated him on the occasion of the Paris Worlds Fair ? Did not this French emperor know good guns when he saw them ? Krupp decided that France was a good prospect. Twice he sent letters to Napoleon III accompanied by a catalogue. Twice he was rebuffed. Here is one of the letters :
April 29, 1868.SIR :
Encouraged by the interest which Your Majesty has shown to a simple industrialist and the fortunate results of his efforts and of his great sacrifices, I dare to approach you again with the humble prayer to accept the enclosed catalogue which represents a collection of illustrations of the various objects manufactured in my factories. I dare to hope that the four last pages above all will attract the attention of Your Majesty for a moment. You will find there the crucible cannons which I have manufactured for various great powers of Europe. These will, I hope, persuade Your Majesty to pardon my audacity.
With the deepest respect and the greatest admiration, I am,
Your Majestys most humble and devoted servant
The reply to this was :
The Emperor has received with great interest the catalogue which you have sent and he has ordered me to thank you for communicating with him and to tell you that he earnestly hopes for the success and expansion of your industrial enterprises which are destined to render great services to humanity.7
Shortly before the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, Krupp achieved another triumph. Hitherto British guns had been supreme. Now in 1868 Krupp arranged for competitive trials between his cannon and the Woolwich guns of the British. The test took place at the Tegel Proving Grounds near Berlin. The British, at this time, were living on their reputation and had fallen a bit behind in artillery construction. They still adhered to muzzle loaders, while Krupp had definitely gone over to breechloaders. All of this was conclusively proved by the tests. The British were, of course, slow to admit this, but the Belgian, Nicaise, proclaimed Krupps guns superior to those of the British, and both Belgium and Russia adopted them.
In 1870 the long-anticipated Franco-Prussian War finally broke over Europe. It was an important occasion for Krupp. Again his cannon were to be tested by war. This time there could be no doubt as to their effectiveness and superiority. Fortunately for Krupp, the French had not bought his much advertised artillery and hence it was a clean-cut issue between Krupp and non-Krupp guns. The Germans marched into France taking their Krupp guns along. It was marvellous. One of those Krupp cannon would be aimed at the enemy positions, and in no time at all opposition had died. The Krupp cannon fired accurately, their aim was precise, they stood up under the hardest usage. Everybody was agreed that Krupp cannon had won the war.
If Napoleon III had any doubts as to the soundness of this analysis, he was soon convinced of his error. Passing through Belgium on his departure from France, the Belgian and French military men discussed the late war with him and pointed out to him regretfully and reproachfully that the Krupp guns had done the work. Now Belgium had been smart and had placed its orders with Krupp, but Napoleon III had resisted Krupps salesmanship. Thus the war had been lost.
Other achievements for Krupp followed closely. His agents were everywhere, taking advantage of every political friction, bribing their way, using ambassadors and diplomatic officials to secure them an open door. One student of Krupps history says : The court of the Cannon King was tacitly counted among the European courts. A motley picture of international representatives of almost every civilised state met in order to have forged cannon with which to do battle each with the other.8
There was hardly a war or a frontier skirmish in which Krupp guns did not enter.
When Servian and Bulgarian, Turk and Greek do battle with each other, Krupp guns deal death and destruction to both sides. When European powers undertake frontier defence, their fortresses bristle with Krupp guns. Even when travelling in Africa, sailing up the Nile, or in Asia among the almond-eyed subjects of the Flowery Kingdom, Krupp guns bear grim witness to the progress of civilisation.9
Sometimes these sales were attended by curious circumstances. The guns sold to China were later turned on the Germans in the Boxer Rebellion. Spain ordered huge Krupp guns, ostensibly for the purpose of turning them secretly against the British at Gibraltar, but they were so large that they could not be concealed and they served to heighten the British suspicions of Germany. Andorra, the tiny republic in the Pyrenees, bought a gun from Krupp which it could not fire without sending the projectile beyond its frontiers.
In the 1890s a new development occurred at Krupps. The great navies were about to make their appearance. Krupp could not, of course, foresee that one of the super-dreadnoughts would cost more money than most university endowments, but he understood that there would be profitable business. In anticipation of this, he had experimented with armour plate for warships.
Steel-armoured vessels were already in use by the French in the Crimean War, but these iron-clads were not sea-going. They were merely wooden vessels plated with iron. This armour plate covering for wooden vessels was increased to the point where some plates were 24 inches thick. Further development along this line was impossible, because the limit of floating power had been reached. Then steel ships were introduced. At first a French process prevailed. Then Harveyised plate came in, that is, steel mixed with nickel for hardening.
At this point Krupp began his experiments. By 1893 he had evolved armour plate of such excellence that there could be no doubt as to its superiority over all other. Tests were made in which all other armour plate was shattered to pieces, but Krupps plate was not even cracked. Having demonstrated this to all the world, Krupp at once announced the conditions under which his armour plate was for sale. Any country might buy it from him, or it might manufacture it in its own factorieson payment of a heavy licence fee and of a royalty of about £9 per ton. No great power in the world was in a position to refuse Krupps terms. Krupps armour plate was the best, and all navies had to have it. One after the other the naval powers built with Krupp armour plate, so that in 1914 the navies of Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Germany, and the United States were built of Kruppised steel.
From this beginning Krupp expanded into shipbuilding. In 1896 he acquired the Germania shipyards in plenty of time for the naval bill of 1900. Of course, this shipyard took orders also from other countries and many a foreign warship was built here by Krupp.
The German government then grew interested in submarines. By this time, Krupp and the government were almost partners. The company was reorganised in 1903 and Emperor William II became one of its largest shareholders. Government loans were always available for Krupp. Special yearly grants were made for experiments. Hence when submarines began to interest the German navy, it is not surprising that Krupp in 1906 was granted some £200,000 for submarine experiments. The hold which the German armament manufacturers, and especially Krupp, had on the German government may be seen from the fact that for ten years before the World War the German authorities bought virtually no armaments abroad but had all their orders filled at home. In this, Germany was unique among all nations of the world.
Through the aid of the government Krupp also acquired a huge new proving ground at Meppen. This was a ten-mile range on which even the largest guns could be tested. It would be the height of naïveté to imagine that Krupp guarded this proving ground with great care against the intrusion of foreigners. Quite the contrary ! Krupp was eager to have all nations witness his technical triumphs in artillery, and the test of some new weapon or death-device was generally the occasion for the assembling of brigadier-generals, admirals, and ordnance experts from all countries, so that the new device might receive the fullest publicity and be sold to all who wanted it.10
After the disastrous defeat by the Japanese in 1904-05, the Russians set to work in earnest to reconstruct their military machine. Elaborate plans were drawn for a modern army with the best and most up-to-date equipment, an efficient navy, and modern arms factories. There was an almost indecent rush by the armament manufacturers of the entire world to secure orders in this rehabilitation scheme. The arms merchants of England, France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, and the United States all gladly enlisted in this task. When the World War broke out in 1914 this reconstruction work was not yet fully completed, but the allied and rival forces of the arms international achieved marvels in the time available. Krupp took a prominent part in re-arming Russia, not only in the construction of artillery factories but also in the building of the Baltic fleet. And this in spite of the fact that Russia was a fast friend and close ally of France, Germanys hereditary enemy.
No modern business methods were unknown to Krupp. The power of the press was understood and appreciated. Krupp owned or controlled three great newspapers, the Rheinisch-Westphaelische Zeitung, the Berlin Taegliche Rundschau, and the Neueste Nachrichten. It was a simple matter to rouse public opinion to a patriotic frenzy at any time by war scares or by giving prominent space to the armament activities of other countries, especially during the feverish years before the War.
Krupp also remained in close touch with the War and Navy Departments of Germany. Officers of all ranks, especially the high officials of the army and the admiralty, were on his pay rolls and could be counted on to favour Krupp when contracts were let by the government.
Even then Krupp was taking no chances. One of his men, Brandt, was an army ex-officer with many friends in the War Office. It was this mans business to keep closely in touch with his old comrades and to discover in advance what orders were to be placed, what the specifications would be, and what his competitors had bid. In this business, money frequently changed hands between Brandt and his old comrades-in-arms. When this scandal was aired in the Reichstag, it was shown that on the financial side there had been merely petty bribes, tips ; the secret information of the War Office had been made available to Krupps agent largely because he was an old friend and a former soldier.
In 1912 the statistics of Krupps business showed that he had manufactured 53,000 cannon since his advent as arms maker. Of these, 26,000 had been sold to Germany and 27,000 to 52 foreign countries.
Krupps story reveals definitely the problem of the modern armament manufacturer. Inventiveness produced a superior product and the development in technology made possible the mass production of arms. Immediately the problem of markets arose and tied to that were the further problems of patriotism and business methods. After some hesitation, Krupp decided that a strict interpretation of patriotism was injurious to business and he embarked on a programme of world-wide sales. Moreover, Germany needed Krupp just as much as Krupp needed German orders and this co-operation developed into a virtual partnership. At the same time the German government was encouraging and establishing an alien kingdom in the heart of Germany, a power which it could not control, yet could not do without. It was a situation which was becoming commonominously commonin the Western world.
From this story Krupp emerges as typically merchant and typically German. He was efficient, persevering, industrious, capable of perfecting inventions, and logical to the extent of following his business through to its ultimate markets wherever they were. But there is little colour, little audacity in his make-up, and none of the Yankee propensity for extracting novel death-dealing gadgets from his pedlars pack. It was reserved for an American to exploit in an ingenious way the now productive field of European and Asiatic armament customers.
1 Wilhelm Berdrow, Alfred Krupp, 2 vols. ; Wilhelm Berdrow, Krupp. A Great Business Man Seen Through His Letters (translation from the German) ; Murray H. Robertson, Krupps and the International Armaments Ring ; R. Ehrenberg, Grosse Vermogen ; Franz Richter, Alfred Krupp and das Ausland, Nord and Sued, 1917, pp. 179-190 ; Viktor Niemeyer, Alfred Krupp : A Sketch of His Life and Work (translation from the German) ; H. Frobenius, Alfred Krupp ; L. Katzenstein, Les deux Krupp et leur oeuvre, Revue Economique Internationale, May, 1906, pp. 322-346 ; John Colton, The Only Woman the Kaiser is Afraid Of, Every Week, July 3, 1916, p. 15 ; Raphael, Krupp et Thyssen ; F.C.G. Mueller, Krupps Steel Works (translated from the German) ; Felix Pinner, Deutsche Wirtschaftsführer ; Anonymous, A Centurys History of the Krupp Works (1812-1912) (translated from the German) ; Hermann Hasse, Krupp in Essen. Die Bedeutung der deutschen Waffenschmiede.
2 Murray H. Robertson, op. cit., p. 74.
3 Berdrow, Krupp. A Great Business Man Seen Through His Letters, p. 174.
4 Berdrow, op. cit., p. 182.
5 Berdrow, op. cit., p. 185.
6 Berdrow, op. cit., p. 226.
7 Frobenius, op. cit., p. 108.
8 Niemeyer, op. cit., p. 26.
9 H. Robertson Murray, op. cit., p. 31.
10 Lehmann-Russbueldt, Die Revolution des Friedens, p. 27.