The first German textile factory was built in 1784 in Ratingen near Düsseldorf. It was called "Cromford" after its English model and was very much on its own in Germany. Since the country was divided into so many small states and traditional guild privileges were abolished relatively late it was not until after 1800 that the process of industrialisation slowly began to get underway.

In Germany too textile manufacturing was first to be mechanised, primarily in established trading centres like Aachen (thread), Krefeld (silk) and Saxony. The first German spinning machines were built in Chemnitz in 1782 and the town subsequently became a pioneer in engineering. In Upper Silesia the unstoppable spread of spinning machines and looms gave rise to rebellions by hungry weavers and the uprisings became a symbol of the epoch in contemporary literature.

Upper Silesia was a stronghold of early industrialisation, for the local aristocratic landowners had enough capital at their disposal for investments. The State of Prussia also became involved. In silver mines tests were made to lift water with the help of steam engines, coal mining expanded and at the end of the 18th century the first coke-driven blast furnace was built in Gleiwitz. Puddling processes were also imported from England. Coal mining was given a boost in the region around Aachen and in Saarland, both of which were under French rule at the time. By contrast the area around the River Ruhr remained idyllically rural. A single solitary ironworks in the town of Wetter emitted its smoke like a dark portent of the coming era.

The foundation of the German Customs Union was the trigger for the Industrial Revolution. When trade barriers between German states were abolished in 1834 this gave rise to an attractive market in goods. Demand for coal rose quickly and mining areas boomed. The villages in the Ruhrgebiet rapidly merged to become crowded towns and cities as new collieries and ironworks sprung up out of the ground - at the start with capital from the prospering economies of Belgium and Great Britain and also with thousands of foreign workers. Essen developed into a new industrial centre. The first deep mine was sunk to reach the rich supplies of coal beneath the surface there. The Krupp ironworks manufactured steel for the railways and an increasing number of cannons for the State. As such it was the germ cell for an gigantic empire. The Hoesch firm, later also one of the steel giants in the Ruhrgebiet, began producing railway lines in Eschweiler near Aachen. Ironworks in Neunkirchen und Burbach sprung up along the River Saar and in 1873 the Völklingen ironworks went into operation.

The railways proved to be the motor of German industrialisation. Their constructors enjoyed amazing success. The first railway line to go into operation was between Nuremberg and Fürth. Several years later firms in Munich and Berlin were building their own locomotives, soon began to overtake their British forerunners and went into the export business. Mechanical engineering was the third major pillar of the expanding economy alongside coal and steel. By the end of the 19th century German businesses had taken over a leading role in the modern areas of chemicals and electrical engineering.

Duisburg. Matthes & Weber chemical plant