How German Copper Traders Procured an Industrial Necessity, 1881–1919: A Chapter in the Global History of Capitalism

Nathan D. Delaney

By the beginning of the First World War, the Imperial German economy was the second largest in the world thanks in large part to its communication and electrical equipment industries. These technologies were at the core of the Second Industrial Revolution and those firms producing them (such as AEG and Siemens) helped transform everyday life in major cities across Europe. However, before the benefits of the light bulb and the telephone could be realized, one vital ingredient needed to be secured in large quantities: copper.

Copper was required on the scale of millions of pounds per year in order to produce the wires, coils, and windings that were necessary for telegraphs, telephones, switchboards, and transformers. Satisfying copper demands throughout the Germany became difficult as domestic supplies paled in comparison to industrial needs. How German trading firms (e.g. Metallgesellschaft AG) purchased, refined, and shipped these non-ferrous metals is the primary focus of this paper.