Demographic History
First posted on June 6th 2008

Economic History of Alsace-Lorraine

Note : this page is conceived telegram-style and selective. The data given below refer to Alsace-Lorraine in her 1871-1918 borders, including historical events pertaining to the territory further back in history / after 1918.

Economy of A-L according to Meyers 1885-1892
Economy of A-L according to the Britannica 1911 edition

Sauerkraut / Choucroute
Beet Sugar Industry
Mining Industry
Coal Mining
Iron Ore Mining
Lead Mining
Silver Mining
Manufacturing Industry
Glass Industry
Textile Industry
Power Stations

The Economy of Alsace-Lorraine according to Meyers Konversationslexikon 1885-1892
Concerning the occupation, according to the census of 1882 41.88 % of the population earned their living in agriculture and forestry, 36.64 in manufacturing industry, of whom 8.29 % in the textile industry, in trade and transport 9.26 %, as domestics or paid workers 1.08 %, in public service and 'free' occupations (self-employed) 6.77 %, while 4.37 % were without specific occupation. Of the area, 47.75 % was farmland or garden, 12.27 % meadows, 3.15 % pastorage or barren land, 2.25 % vinyards, 30.59 % forest, 0.38 % covered by buildings, 3.40 % by roads, water etc.
Thus agriculture is the predominant source of income, it is higher developed in the Alsace than in Lorraine. Disadvantageous is the dominance of very small farms, which often consist of a number of scattered patches of land. Many municipalities, within their territory, have three types of land : privately owned land, communal land, and communal land and allocated communal land. Land of the latter two categories in many municipalities is held by tenants; the fee collected from them is spent to cover expenses of the municipality. Large estates are almost inexistant in the Alsace; in Lorraine they are found in larger numbers. The leading agricultural products are the potato (annual average 709,000 tons of 1000 kg), in areas with better soil wheat (annual average 217,000 tons). Further all agricultural products cultivated in adjacent states are cultivated here, too : maize, rye, barley, oats, oil plants etc.
No other part of the German Reich has areas under viticulture cumulatively as large as the Alsace (1884 30,625 hectars). In Lorraine the best-known areas under viticulture are found in Seille Valley and in Canton Gorze in District Metz, on the Moselle, but these are of lower quality than the red wines produced in the Rhineland. In the Alsace, the best vinyards are located in the hills on the eastern slopes of the Vosges Mountains. The area richest in wine production is that of Gebweiler downward to the Zorn, i.e. the Cantons Rufach (District Gebweiler), Winzenheim (District Colmar), Kaisersberg and Rappoltsweiler (District Rappoltsweiler) in the Upper Alsace, Barr (District Schlettstadt), Molsheim and Wassenheim (District Molsheim) in the Lower Alsace. In this area the best locations are near Kaisersberg, Ammerschweier, Reichenweier, Sigolsheim, Beblenheim, Hunaweier and Rappoltsweiler; further south Gebweiler and Thann, further north Weissenburg and others. The better years on average produce in the Alsace 1,050,000 hectolitres. Export (of white wines, mainly from the Districts Kolmar, Schlettstadt and Rappoltsweiler) since annexation has increased considerably, on average 80,000 hl.
Fruit cultivation is also of importance; apples, peaches, quinces, plums, cherries, apricotys, peaches, walnuts, mulberry trees, even good chestnuts and almonds are cultivated. In 1883, 3746 ha were cultivated with flax and hemp. In 1884-1885, tobacco was grown on 2432 ha, mainly between Strassburg and Schlettstadt. Hop was cultivated on 4689 ha. near Bischweiler, Hagenau and elsewhere. Further there are oil fruits, mustord, zichory etc. and a large number of garden plants.
A large number of agricultural societies are dedicated to raising the level of agriculture; an agricultural experimental station operates at Rufach, an agricultural school at the same location, a school for fruit cultivation and horticulture at Brumath, a technical winter school at Strassburg. 4 cultural engineers (Kulturingenieure) and 13 meadow masters (Wiesenbaumeister) are employed for amelioration.
According to the livestock census of 1883 in A. there were 138,725 horses, 179 mules, 1332 donkeys, 428,650 head of cattle, 129,433 sheep, 322,431 hogs, 53,604 goats and 56,661 beehives. The number of horses (especially in Lorraine, where one can observe farmers tilling the heavy soil with a plow pulled by 6 horses) is more important than in most parts of the German Reich, especially than in adjacent Baden, on the other hand A. is behind the otrher south German states in regard to cattle. In A., as in most of southern Germany, there are only few sheep. A stud farm in Strassburg aims at improving the quality of the horses. Canton Münster in the Upper Alsace leads in cattle breading, where excellent mountain meadows permit cattle feeding Swiss style, and where the popular Münster cheese is produced and exported. Rivers and lakes are rich in fish, namely eels, carps, pikes, eelpoots, perches, barbs, trouts etc. In Blotzheim there is a fish breeding institute, named after Hünngen, the most important of its kind, the costs of which are paid by the Reich. Beekeeping is of considerable importance, sericulture of minor importance.
Among the forests 132,310.8 ha or 29.8 % of the total forest area were state forests, 199,391 ha or 44.9 % municipal forests or forests owned by endowments, also administrated by state forest administration, 16,748 ha common property of state and municipalities, 95,594 ha or 21.5 % privately owned forests. E. is among the most forested territories of the Reich. Most of the Vosges Mountains are covered by forest, with the exception of the valleys, were many meadows are found, and of pastorage on both sides of the Münster Valley. In the northern, lower part of the mountains, there is a triangular contiguous forest area between Zabern, Bitsch and Weissenburg, which stretches into the adjacent Rheinpfalz. In the Alsatian plains are of importance in the south the Hartwald between Rhine and Ill (60 by 15 km); in the north the Hagenau Forest covers the area between Hagenau, Sulz unterm Wald and Selz. In the hilly part of Lorraine forest is more scattered; larger forest areas are found near Finstingen, Dieuze, and in the Jura on the left bank of the Moselle. High altitude forest covers 58 % of the total forest area, medium altitude forest 34 %, low altitude forest 8 %; the first is exclusively found in the Vosges; on the Lorraine Plate mainly medium altitude forest is found. In high altitude forest, coniferes dominate. Most part of the state forests are high altitude forests, while the state has almost no share in the low altitude forest. In municipally owned forests, high altitude forest also dominates; among privately owned forests, medium and low ltitude forest dominates. Thanks to the care of the German forest administration, hunting has improved compared to the situation found at the time of annexation. The new hunting law of 1881, which deprived the landowner of the right to hunt and foresaw renting out of the right to hunt by the municipality, also contributes to this effect. Prey are mainly deer, hares, rabbits, boars, wolves (in Lorraine), foxes, wildcats, fowl.
Among the useful minerals of the Reichsland, iron ore, mineral coal and salt (all in 1885 exclusively produced in Lorraine) and stones are leading. Iron ore is mainly found in the Jura on the left bank of the Moselle, in the extreme northwest of the country. These iron ore deposits form part of a larger formation stretching from Luxemburg into France, and partially iron ore is produced in open-cast mining. Especially in District Diedenhofen (Thionville), near Gross-Moyeuvre and Fentsch (Hayingen). Mining has been begun here in the 13th century; only oolithic brown iron ore is produced. Most of the iron ore is delivered to steel mills in the Reich. The Steel Mills in and around Niederbronn in the Lower Alsace extract iron from regional poor quality iron ore in combination with ores from Siegerland, Nassau and even from France. In 1884 2667 miners produced 1,909,000 tons of iron ore. In 20 steel mills, 8013 steel workers produced 410,000 tons of pig-iron, 31,800 tons of cast iron products (45 ironworks), 167,000 tons of wrought iron (12 ironworks), 36,000 tons of ingot iron (3 ironworks).
Mineral coal is found in thin layers in the Vosges, in rich layers in Forbach District in Lorraine, near Saarbrücken. But they are covered by layers of sandstone, and of comparatively lower quality than in adjacent areas of Prussia. In two mines, in 1884 3211 miners produced 594,000 tons of coal. Lignites were produced in lower quantity (1881 3296 tons) on the eastern slope of the Vosges, in combination with asphalt limestone (1883 3949 tons) abnd vitriol and alaun ores (1881 2419 tons). asphalt near Lobsann northwest of the Sulz unterm Wald, alaun ores near Buchsweiler. Near Sulz unterm Wald, also petrol and petrol containing sand are produced (1883 1193 tons). In Lorraine there are mineral salt deposits in the Seille area near Dieuze, Chambrey, and on the Saar near Saaralben. Exploitation began in the 11th century, salt mining has been discontinued (near Dieuze in 1864). 8 saltworks in 1884 produced 44,377 tons common salt. The quarry industry is vibrant. In 1881 there were 1114 quarries, more than half of them in Lorraine; 14 subterranean. Of great importance are the quarries in the vicinity of Metz, on the Zorn near Zabern, in Kronthal on the Mossig in Wasselnheim (where the stones for Strassburg Cathedral had been produced) etc. Gypsum is produced near Mommenheim (near Brumath), excellent clay for pottery near the Hagenau Forest. Negligible amounts of gold are found in the sand on the Rhine. In the past there had been copper, silver and lead mines in the Vosges near Markirch.
Among the industries the most important one is the steel industry, concentrated in the northwest, in District Diedenhofen (Thionville) and in District Metz. In formidable steel mills at Hayingen, Gross-Moyeuvre, Ars a. M., further at Deutsch-Oth, Öttingen etc., also at Stieringen-Wendel (District Forbach), then in the combined mills at Mutterhausen (District Saargemünd), Niederbronn, Märzweiler and Jägerthal (District Hagenau) excellent blast furnaces with foundries, rolling mills. Machine production is found at Reichshofen (District Hagenau), then at Grafenstaden near Strassburg, at Mülhausen, Gebweiler, Bitschweiler and Althann in the Upper Alsace, important tool producing factories especially in Zornhof near Zabern and at Mutzig.
The important glass industry mainly is concentrated in those parts of Lorraine rich in forest, in the Cantons Bitsch and Götzenbrück (clock glasses), Meisenthal, Münzthal-St. Louis (crystal), as well as in Vallerysthal near Saarburg (hollow glass). An important ceramics factory is found in Saargemünd.
Chemical factories are found in Dieuze (soda, sulphur, in combination with the saltworks), Buchsweiler, Thann, St. Ludwig, Hüningen and elsewhere. a famous photographic institution at Dornach. Stearin- and candle production is found in Strassburg, paper production in Strassburg and Roxheim (also wallpapers), in Türkheim, a paper mache factory at Forbach, large tanneries at Strassburg, Metz, Barr.
Of exceptional importance is the textile industry. It is centered in the Upper Alsace, in Mühausen, then in Colmar (Logelbach) and in all valleys of the Vosges, where it is supported by the power of water (water mills) which is abundant and partially harnessed by ponds. In the Lower Alsace it is important in Breuschthal and in a side valley, Steinthal, where Priest Oberlin 1767-1826 by the introduction of industrial institutions has greatly contributed to raising the industry. In the Upper Alsace, beginnings of the industry are found in the 17th century, but only in the middle of the 18th century it gained in importance. Cotton printing was first introduced in Mülhausen in 1746, then cotton weaving industry developed (first larger factory Sennheim 1750, first mechanical weaving factory 1821), then cotton spinning (first factory Wesserling 1803, first steam engine Mülhausen 1812). Still today the cotton printing shop, which is not only the origin of the cotton industry, but of the Upper Alsatian industry in general (machine industry, production of printing rolls, chemical industry), is flourishing; the center is M&uul;lhausen and adjacent Dornach, then Thann, Wesserling etc. In 1885 c.100 printing machines were in service; their product enjoys worldwide recognition and is of unsurpassed quality. Of greatr importance are dye industry and bleeching industry (Pfastadt, Dornach etc.) and especially cotton spinning and weaving. Both are mostly combined, mainly in Mülhausen, Dornach, thenn (in District Thann) in Thann, Bitschweiler, Weiler, Wesserling, Sentheim, Masmünster, further (in District Gebweiler) in Gebweiler, Bühl, Sulz, (in District Colmar) zu Logelbach, Winzenheim, Münster, finally (in District Rappoltsweiler) in Rappoltsweiler und Markirch.In the Lower Alsace this industrial branch is found in Breuschthal (Mühlbach, Lützelhausen, Rothau etc.), then in Benfeld. Cotton twining is centered on Dornach and Gebweiler. In general, the cotton industry production has not increased since annexation; lately it has lost market share to the wool industry. Wool spinning industry especially is on the rise; in and around Mülhausen alone in 1885 there were 164,000 wool spindles, inportant spinning industry is further found at Malmersbach near St. Amarin and at Erstein in the Lower Alsace. Wool weaving and cloth production are centered on Markirch and environs, in Mülhausen, in Bühl near Gebweiler and in Bischweiler. Only the last mentioned place lost in importance by being annexed into Germany. The silk industry in the Upper Alsace also is flourishing.Plush production is centered on Saargemünd and on Püttlingen in Lorraine. Linen industry in the Upper Alsace, namely twining, is not without importance.
Among other industries, brewery in Strassburg and environs (considerable export to France) and the famous production of fois-de-gras, also in Strassburg, deserve being mentioned. A new industry which emerged in consequence of the raising of tariffs on the import of champaign is the production of champaign based on imported French wines, conducted by French companies, in Metz, Schiltigheim and elsewhere.
Corresponding to the economic importance of the Reichsland and its favourable location on the borders of France and Switzerland, trade has always been of eminent importance. Since annexation, the directions of trade have seen changes in a number of cases; few products of the region have been unaffected by this. Chaussees and local roads (1881 11,885 km) crisscross the region. Navigable rivers mainly are situated along the border (Rhine, Moselle) or begin to be navigable at the border (Saar); in the interior are found the Ill and the many canals of eminent importance. The Rhine-Rhone Canal, constructed 1783-1784, connects with the Ill just above Strassburg, runs parallel in small ditance from the Rhine until northeast of Mülhausen, where it connects to the Hüningen Canal (28 km), which connects to the Rhine below Basel, and mainly serves as a feeder to the main canal. The main canal continues parallel to the Ill, crosses the watershed near Gottesthal, and enters French territory near Altmünsterthal. Its length is 322 km, of which 132 km are located in the Alsace. Connected with this canal are further the Neu Breisach or Vauban Canal, which is no longer used for navigation, and the Colmar Side Canal (13 km). The Rhine-Marne Canal connects to the Rhine below Strassburg, reaches the Zorn valley near Brumath, runs parallel to the Zorn and the railroad (to Avricourt and Paris), crosses railroad and Vosges watershed in a tunnel 2.3 km long, crosses the Saar and the pool of Gondrexange, runs parallel the Sanon and enters French territory at Lagarde. This canal, constructed 1838-1853, has a length of 320 km, of which 104 are located in the Alsace. Other canals include the Ill-Rhine Canal, actually the continuation of the aforementioned, the canal conncting the former with the Rhine-Rhon Canal near Strassburg (constructed 1880-1882), the Breusch Canal fed by the Mossig and the Breusch, which feeds into the Ill near Strassburg, the Saar Coal Canal which connects to the Saar near Saarbrücken, which until Harskirchen follows the Saar valley, which meets the Rhine-Marne Canal in the pool of Gondrexange, and which mainly serves the shpping of coal from the Saar basin, finally the Moselle Canal along the Moselle from above Metz; its continuation until oblenz is planned. Not completed is the Saline Canal (from Dieuze to the Saar). The total length of artificial waterways in Alsdace-Lorraine is 403 km. In 1885 preliminary works for a canal connecting Strassburg and Ludwigshafen were begun.
Railroads (1885 1328 km), with the exception of a few secondary lines, are property of the German Reich, to which they were ceased by the peace treaty of 1871 in downpayment on the reparations. The beginnings of the railroads (Mülhausen-Thann, Mülhausen-St. Ludwig, Kolmar-Benfeld, Strassburg-Benfeld) date back to the years 1839-1841. The main lines connect Forbach with Pagny via Metz, Metz with Luxemburg and Trier via Diedenhofen, Hagenau with Diedenhofen and Fentsch, Strassburg with Metz via Avricourt, Strassburg with Weisenburg, Strassburg with Kehl across the Rhine Bridge, Strassburg with Rothau, Zabern with Schlettstadt, Strassburg with Basel via Colmar and Mülhausen, with many branches into the Vosges (to Markirch, Münster, Lautenbach, Wesserling), from Mülhausen to Belfort, from Strassburg to Lauterburg, from Saargemünd to Saarburg, from Saaraben to Chambrey etc. In total, until the end of the budget year 1882-1883 the Reich spent 452.8 million Mark, including the initial purchase price of 260 million Mark, on the railway service in A.-L. The Reich Railroad Administration with seat in Strassburg has taken over the administration of the Wilhelm-Luxemburg Railroad. In 1882-1883, the railroads transported combined 8,400,000 tons of goods..
Next to the railroads there are a number of steam-powered trams. In the two postal districts Strassburg (Alsace) and Metz (Lorraine) by the end of 1882 there were 477 post offices and 418 telegraph offices. Telephone networks exist in Mülhausen (the oldest in the Reich), connected with Thann and Gebweiler, and in Strassburg. Among Credit and Insurance Institutions the Aktiengesellschaft für Boden- und Kommunalkredit and a number of other banks, a number of rural credit facilities (Raiffeisen etc.), 45 savings banks and branches with in 1883 108,000 account holders and combined assets of 35 million Mark have to be mentioned. Insurance companies (French companies were forbidden to offer their services in 1880) are Rhein und Mosel Fire Insurance, and Alsatia Fire and Life Insurance in Strassburg. The official currency is the German Mark, but in practice many still canculate in Francs (1 Frank = 0.80 Mark).

The Economy of Alsace-Lorraine according to Encyclopedia Britannica 1911 edition
The Rhine valley is in great part fertile, yielding good crops of potatoes, cereals (including maize), sugar beet, hops, tobacco, flax, hemp and products of oleaginous plants. But grapes and fruit are amongst the most valuable of the crops. The cereals chiefly grown are wheat, oats, barley and rye. Great quantities of hay are harvested. This description embraces also the production of Lorraine, where agriculture is less strenuously carried on, and the fertility of the soil is less. But Lorraine possesses, in compensation, greater riches in the earth, in coal and iron and salt mines. Cows are grazed on the S. Vosges in summer, and large quantities of cheese (Munster cheese) are made and exported.
The farms in Alsace are mostly small and are held partly as a private possession, partly on the communal system; in Lorraine there are some larger occupations. The manufacture of cottons, and on a smaller scale of woollens, is special to Alsace, the chief centres of the industry being Mulhausen, Colmar and the valleys of the Vosges. The territory has always been the centre of an active commerce, owing to its situation on the confines of Germany, France and Switzerland, and alongside the great highway of the Rhine. The communications embraced some 1249 m. of railway (1903), of which 1108 m. belonged to the state, a good system of roads, and several canals (notably the Rhine-Rhone, the Rhine-Marie and the Saar Canals), in addition to the rivers


It is assumed that the pre-Roman Celtic population of the Alsace already was engaged in viticulture. The Alemannic conquest of the 5th century is believed to have resulted in an interruption of viticulture, which again is documented for the 9th century; during the Middle Ages it was practised by the monastic orders. In 1828, wine was grown on 30,000 ha; since the area under cultivation has contracted by two thirds. Alsatian wine is white wine of the Riesling and Gewürztraminer kind.

Sauerkraut or Choucroute
The technique how to ferment cabbage is believed to have reached Europe with the Hunnic invasion of the 5th century. Fermentation was a technique to conserve food in an age without refrigerators, and in the 16th century Sauerkraut was widely used by navigators to prevent their crew falling victim to scurvy.
In the Alsace, Sauerkraut / Choucroute became an essential part of the regional cuisine; cabbage is grown on a number of fields, Sauerkraut produced in factories, consumed in the Alsace and exported to other regions.

In 1719 the French government forbade the cultivation of tobacco in all of France, except for the Alsace, Flanders and Franche Comte.

Beet Sugar Industry
From the 15th to the 19th century, sugar was a highly priced commodity, mainly produced on plantations overseas. In 1747 German chemist Andreas Sigismund Marggraf discivered the sugar content of the sugar beet. The Continental Blockade 1806-1813 cut Europe off from supplies of sugar produced overseas, and thus provided an incentive for the emergence of a beet sugar indyustry, in the Alsace f.ex. in Gerstheim.

Mining Industry
Coal Mining
Coal was discivered in Lorraine in the 15th century. Industrial scale mining began in 1858; the mines were nationalised in 1946; from 1958 onward the industry was deficitary; subsidies postponed closure until 1984-2004.

Iron Ore Mining
Began in the 13th century; in 1913 French Lorraine held second place in world iron ore production; last mine (in Greater Lorraine) closed in 1997.

Lead Mining
18th century (?) at Katzenthal Forest, Lembach, Bas Rhin

Silver Mining
At Markirch (Saint-Marie-aux-Mines) from the 10th to the 16th century.

Manufacturing Industry
Glass Industry
The glass industry started in Meisenthal in 1704 before spreading throughout the region (Vallerysthal in 1707, Saint-Quirin in 1737 and Saint-Louis-Les-Bitche in 1767.

Textile Industry
On a scale of manufactures / factories began with the establishment of the cotton printing industry in Mülhausen (then Swiss) in 1746; which proved a catalyst for the establishment of other factories. From the early 19th century on the factories saw mechanization.

Power Stations
The nuclear power station of Fessenheim began operation in 1978.

Michel Hau, Nicolas Stoskopf, Labour Intensive Industrialization : the Case of Alsace during the 19th Century, from EH Net
Article Histoire de Mulhouse, Metz : Histoire, Histoire de Strasbourg, Grand Canal d'Alsace, Centrale Nucleaire de Fessenheim, from Wikipedia
The Alsace Wine Region, a History of Success, from ABC of France
Histoire du Haguenau, from Ville du Haguenau
Wikipedia German edition articles Kaysersberg (Haut Rhin), Haguenau, Colmar, Mülhausen, Munster (Haut Rhin), Obernai, Rosheim, Selestat, Turckheim, Wissembourg, Kernkraftwerk Fessenheim, Rheinseitenkanal
Article Alsace-Lorraine, from Wikipedia French edition
Ehemaliger Kalisalz-Bergbau zur Produktion von Kalidünger im Elsass, from Der Oberrheingraben, in German
Elsass, from Wein Ziele
Article Grand Canal d'Alsace, from Wikipedia
Breweries of France, from French Beer, scroll down for Breweries of the Alsace
Industry in Haut-Rhin, from Alsace - CAHR
Die Geschichte der Textilindustrie (in Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines / Markirch), from Mode & Tissues, in German
Park von Wesserling, Textil Museum, from Musees Alsace, in German
David Allen Harvey, Mothers and Breadwinners, Gender and Working Class Identity in Alsace 1821-1936 Moselle Tourism
L'Histoire du Charbon en Lorraine, from Charbonnages de France, in French
Markirch, Katzenthal Forest, from mindat
Alsace Awaits, from Heritage of Industry

DOCUMENTS Article Elsass-Lothringen, from Meyers Konversationslexikon 1885-1892
REFERENCE B.R. Mitchell, International Historical Statistics 1750-1988 [G]
Michael Erbe (ed.). Das Elsass. Historische Landschaft im Wandel der Zeiten (Alsace, Historic Landscape in the Course of Time), Stuttgart : Kohlhammer 2002, in German [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted om June 6th 2008

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