Past History

1949, the year the BDI was founded, was not a "zero hour". As regards the organisation’s essential features, the umbrella organisation’s structure and responsibilities, the founders of the BDI drew on the Weimar Republic model, the Reichsverband der Deutschen Industrie / Reich Association of German Industry (RDI).

Its history began with the economic and industrial developments since the foundation of the German Reich in 1871. From 1876 to 1895, two umbrella organisations, which not only streamlined industrial interests but also represented them across the sectors and regions, if in rivalry, grew out of the existing or recently founded specialist and regional associations. The Centralverband deutscher Industrieller / Central Association of German Industry comprised primarily the raw materials industry, geared to protective tariffs and cartelisation. From the beginning this led to conflicts with the processing industry, by nature interested in growing sales markets and lower raw materials tariffs, and thus in free trade policy developments. In 1895 it finally organised itself centrally as a counterpart to the Centralverband / Central Association in the Bund der Industriellen / Industrialists Union. This joint cooperation helped it gain influence vis-à-vis government, parliament and the military authorities and the compromises thus achieved meant any differences of interests receded into the background.

With the outbreak of the war in 1914, industrial interest groups grew closer and founded the Kriegsausschuss der deutschen Industrie / War Committee of German Industry. With the increasing war problems the differences between the Centralverband / Central Association and the Bund der Industriellen / Industrialists Union diminished. In 1916 they had already agreed, together with the Verein zur Wahrung der Interessen der chemischen Industrie Deutschlands / Association to preserve the Interests of the German Chemical Industry, to continue the joint cooperation after the war and founded the Deutsche Industrierat / German Industrial Council as a basis for this.

On 12 April 1919 the industrial assocations founded a uniform umbrella association the Reichsverband der Deutschen Industrie / Reich Association of German industry (RDI) which had its head office in Berlin-Tiergarten.

From an organisational point of view, the RDI members were generally only associations which were organised on both a specialist and regional basis. Over the long term, the specialist principle with specialist groups won out, with which the RDI had achieved a high degree of organisation based on voluntary membership independent of the state. Apart from the General Meeting of the Main Committee, the association’s committees included the Board and Executive Board. The top-level committees also included the First Director General who was an Executive Member of the Board and the Director General. Moreover, the RDI had close links to the Vereinigung Deutscher Arbeitgeberverbände / Association of German Employers' Associations (VDA) which had been founded in 1913 (first President of both the RDI and the VDA, Kurt Sorge, Friedrich Krupp AG). The names of the RDI Presidents, Carl Duisburg, IG Farben (1925 -1931) and Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach (1931-1934) reflect the emphasis of the interests in the RDI, however over the long term did not resolve the internal conflicts which stemmed from the time of the German Reich. The RDI had extensive political influence and always tried to stay in close contact with the government. The relationship was enhanced by personal connections. The Managing Members of the Presidential Boards came from the upper echelons of the Reich bureaucracy: Walter Simon, Hermann Bücher, Ludwig Kastl.

The RDI’s important fields of action focused on tax policy (the 1919 Erzberger financial reform and the 1926 tax reform), monetary policy (inflation, the Reichsbank credit policy, credit facilities for small and medium-sized industries, as well as for exports). In addition, the RDI Cartel Bureau was founded in 1920 and enjoyed more independence than other RDI departments, having its own committees. At international level, the association represented industrial interests in areas relating to foreign, trade and reparation policy, e.g. at the international directors’ conferences and international cartels. Social policy did not belong to the RDI’s areas of responsibility; this was the VDA’s task.

Nevertheless, representing industrial interests in the Weimar Republic did not run smoothly and was negatively impacted by the political and economic effect of war, revolution, reparations and inflation. Greater political influence shaped the Weimar Republic’s economic and social constitution. Against this background, the various industries organised within the RDI fell in line with this structure on the one hand but also pursued industry’s interests at the same time, struggling for a position of power for the industrial sectors, as the importance of industrial branches from the secondary sector had increased considerably.

After the national socialists seized power on 30 January 1933, internal conflicts became increasingly evident. On the one side there was the liberalist camp under President Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach and on the other the supporters of developments in the Führer state, motivated by party politics, under Fritz Thyssen. The reorganisation of German business since mid-1933 therefore led to the VDA merging with the RDI to become the Reichsstand der deutschen Industrie / Reich Association of German industry under the leadership of Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach. In the run-up some members of the previous RDI Board had turned their backs on the association because of their personal views or after being removed from office by the political masters of the NS period as a result of racial policy. Despite his own opposing personal views, Krupp had accepted this arrangement in order to rescue what was left of the opportunities for associations to exert any influence. However, in the end the law to prepare the organic development of German business of February 1934 created the legal basis to re-organise the free associations. On 12 January 1935 the “Reichsstand“ / Reich Association thus became the “Reichsgruppe Industrie“  / Reich Group Industry (RGI). The Employer Association which had been amalgamated with the RDI to become the “Reichsstand“ / Reich Association was now integrated into the Deutsche Arbeitsfront / German Labour Front (DAF), responsible for matters relating to social policy. As a result Krupp von Bohlen had resigned from office in December 1934.

The RGI (divided into economic groups), whose head office and various branch offices had been taken over by the RDI until the bomb attack in November 1943, was one of the sub-divisions of the Reich Chamber of Commerce. Within the Organisation der Gewerblichen Wirtschaft / Organisation of Trade and Industry (OGW) it was subordinate to the Reich Ministry of Economic Affairs which was at the head. In line with the dictate of the Reich Minister of Economic Affairs, the specialist and regionally subdivided economic groups represented the branches which had been compulsorily assigned to them.

The role of the Reich Group Industry and its sub-divisions during the NS era in the context of the Second World War has not yet been appraised by historical research. One reason for this is the loss of a complete set of files. A large number of the files of both the RDI and the RGI were apparantly destroyed during the war. The historical view of the industrial umbrella organisation will therefore have to be appraised with the aid of records from state archives, as well as archive and estate materials supplied by the companies and/or estates concerned.


Werner Abelshauser, Gustav Krupp und die Gleichschaltung des Reichsverbandes der Deutschen Industrie, 1933-34, in: Zeitschrift für Unternehmensgeschichte, 47th year, no. 1/2002, p. 3-27

Boris Gehlen, Paul Silverberg (1876.1959). Ein Unternehmer, Stuttgart 2007

Reinhard Neebe, Großindustrie, Staat und NSDAP 1930-1933. Paul Silverberg und der Reichsverband der Deutschen Industrie in der Krise der Weimarer Republik, Göttingen 1981

Hans-Peter Ullmann, Interessenverbände in Deutschland, Frankfurt/Main 1988