Americanisation as a Complex Process of Transfer
The understanding of Americanisation as a "one-way street from a western direction to the east" common in the older literature has – justifiably – come in for a lot of criticism.1 In response to the often expressed scepticism towards the suitability of the term, many recent works have revised the idea that Americanisation means the gradual and uncompromising alignment of European societies with the model of civilisation. One must instead see Americanisation as a complex transfer process which is no direct and unidirectional adoption in the sense of a colonisation of European lifestyles by the USA. Instead, empirical studies reveal Americanisation to be a highly selective process in which institutions, values, customs, and modes of behaviour are appropriated alongside techniques, products, images and symbols. This involves active choice, acceptance and adaption, but also rejection. Therefore, Americanisation becomes a meaningful academic terminus technicus when we include the decision-making processes of the percipients. Several case studies illustrate this.2
The Rise of American Capitalism Since the End of the 19th Century and its Influence on the European Systems of Production and Consumption
"Unser europäisches Leben gewinnt immer mehr einen Zug ins Amerikanische", was the conclusion drawn by German engineer Gustav W. Meyer (1873–?) in 1920 in his "kritischen Beobachtungen und Betrachtungen" ("critical observations and comments") on the "Amerikanisierung Europas" ("Americanisation of Europe").3 By this time, the concept of Americanisation had become firmly established in the political and intellectual discourses of the European public, especially in Germany. The USA had laid its claim to world power status in the First World War, and during the 1920s they increased their influence in through economic intervention in the form of loans and direct investment.4 Like Gustav Meyer, many contemporaries of the interwar period realised that one could not ignore America.
However, for entrepreneurs, engineers and academics, the economic rise of the USA had been an incontrovertible fact since the last quarter of the 19th century when, for example, the world exhibitions in had provided Europeans with an impression of the rapid technological development beyond the .5 From then on, countless visitors flocked to the industrial centres of , and in order to inspect the most recent production technologies and rational systems for organising labour. Ever since that time, Europeans considered these traits as characteristic of the US economy without aiming at a straightforward imitation of the American model in Europe.6(1876), (1893) and above all (1900)
This should hardly be surprising: after all, up into the last third of the 19th century, the USA's economic and social system had been perceived as primitive. However, unusually fast increases in productivity and the rapid rise in living standards connected to it led one to talk of an "American miracle".7 The key to this was thought to be the American System of Manufacturing (AMS) and the associated economies of scale. Rational methods of production and organisation, such as those devised by Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856–1915) and Henry Ford (1864–1947) , were needed earlier in the USA than the European states due to the former's combination of abundant natural resources with a perceptible lack of labour. Many American manufacturers concentrated on producing large numbers of goods on the basis of standardised building parts with as little manpower as possible. Above all, the mass production of arms and agricultural machinery, along with sowing machines and office appliances, were hallmarks of the American production system of mass manufacturing.8
From the economic and technological perspective, rationalisation and productivity thereby became core elements of an "American ideology"9 that brought with them a specific sales policy aimed at mass markets.10 Markets were systematically expanded with techniques of market research and sales promotions. Gustav Meyer described in 1920 the "großzügige Propaganda" ("lavish propaganda") of American suppliers and retailers that differed strikingly from German advertising strategies. It was not limited "wie bei uns […] auf Erteilung von Drucksachen und Reklame in Form von Zeitungsinseraten", but employed "viel wirksamere Mittel" ("much more effective methods") such as free samples, giveaways, installations and cinema advertisements.11 In order to rationalise sales and overcome large distances, special forms of trade developed at the end of the 19th century: the mail order sales of Sears, Roebuck & Co.; chain stores, such as those of the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P) founded in 1859; and self-service stores, which only spread to Europe in the 20th century.
It was this combination of productivity, mass affluence and consumer culture that made the USA the "irresistible empire" of the 20th century.12 The question of whether this created a "seedbed for Americanization" should be examined by looking at individual case studies.13 Alongside , the seems to be precisely the European state with particular affinities to the USA. As an industrial catch-up state, had experienced an equally fast economic development as the USA since the end of the 19th century. In addition, it occupied a special position among its European neighbours due to its capital/economic and military-political relations with the USA after the First and Second World War respectively. Nevertheless, the German independent production system of specialised, high-quality production, which has been described as an alternative to the American production model, was retained.14
Discourses and Waves of Americanisation
Thus, the beginnings of Europe's interaction with the American economic model must be traced back to the end of the 19th century rather than the conclusion of the First World War. In terms of economic performance, the "land of opportunity" became a model for the industrial states of the West in the early 20th century at the latest.15 This occurred despite the fact that, in the economic context, the country always remained a focus for xenophobic fears and anti-American polemics.16 These say more about the self-perceptions, expectations, and worries of Europeans than the actual influence of the USA in Europe.
One can classify various "waves of Americanisation" by looking at these discourses.17 Following the "prelude" at the end of the 19th century, "the first wave of Americanization" came in the 1920s. In this period, Americanisation can be primarily understood as rationalisation. The areas of production and organisation affected by it became the basis for the creation of modern systems of production and consumption. These, however, only arrived in Europe after the Second World War. In fact, there was a further wave of Americanisation in the 1950s and 1960s. It can be seen as the forerunner of globalisation in the late 20th century with regard to the transfer of management knowhow and the American culture of competition.
Americanisation as "Rationalisation" after the First World War
During the "incubation phase" of the great European debate on America before the First World War, Americanisation was only occasionally discussed in terms of the direct transfer of American popular culture and production methods to the old world. This, however, changed after the First World War, when the "great seminal catastrophe" of the 20th century threw European culture into a deep crisis and also changed the self-image of the USA considerably. The war brought about fundamental shifts in international state structures and first heralded the "American century".18 The USA's new role was reflected in, amongst other areas, its enormous economic potential and new interests, which resulted in a considerable transfer of capital to and economic activity in the European states in the 1920s. American direct investment in Europe in 1930 amounted to about 1.35 billion US dollars. 485 million went to Britain, followed by 216.5 million to Germany in second place before with 145 million and with 113 million.19
Therefore, an "industrial Americanization of Europe" was already taking place in the period after the First World War, although
the type of industry which has developed in the US differs from that in Europe, in its emphasis on standardization, mass or serial production, time studies, technical division of labour, advertising, and […] relatively high wages.20
From the beginning, this involvement of American companies in Europe de facto offered local firms a manageable range of new practices of production, sales and competition. Above all, the "American gospel of productivity" fell on fertile ground among European companies that wanted to modernise and revitalise the European economy. Often, these were liberal entrepreneurs of the so-called new industries such as the electrical and chemical industries or light engineering, who were open to new technologies or had to adapt their methods under pressure from American competitors. This was also true of 21 In the 1920s, companies such as the Swiss watchmaker Longines, the French automobile manufacturer Renault and the shoemakers Bally and Bata introduced methods of standardisation and assembly-line production in so-called "American halls".22watchmakers and European shoe and bicycle manufacturers, who standardised and mechanised their production facilities early on.
In addition, Taylorist methods of work had been entering the German engineering and electrical industries since the end of the 19th century. For example, the Ludwig Loewe (1837–1886) had travelled the USA to study the production systems there intensively. He employed them in the Deutsche Waffen- und Munitionsfabriken AG, the engineering company he founded in 1886: "Die Idee, die das Fundament unserer Unternehmung bildet […], haben wir in Amerika in großem Ausmaß vorgefunden". In order to facilitate optimal transfer, Loewe even employed American engineers and sent his employees to the USA on educational trips. Loewe built his company from scratch on the American model. It would have been considerably more difficult to Americanise an existing firm.23entrepreneur
In contrast to Loewe, most European manufacturers rejected extensive standardisation of their products in favour of meeting the individual tastes of their customers. For this reason alone, in Switzerland, France and the German Empire, it was clear that Europeans "nie so weit […] gehen können wie die Amerikaner".24 In contrast to the American and French automotive companies, German car manufacturers such as Daimler and Benz retained capital intensive single-piece production methods. In accordance with their belief in quality, they believed that
jede Automobilfabrik, welche die Handarbeit vernachlässigt, wie es die Amerikaner machen, […] sich selbst dadurch am meisten [schädige], denn gerade durch die notwendige Handarbeit [...] ist die Firma in der Lage, auch die moralische Garantie für ihre Fabrikate zu übernehmen.25
Not until after the First World War did Opel become the first German car manufacturer to introduce Fordist methods in 1924. A few years later, this made the company an attractive target for takeover by General Motors.26
In individual cases, the expansionist American models of production already had consequences for the enterprises' organisational structures. Meyer noticed the increasing organisation of large firms "nach amerikanischem Muster" ("on the American model").27 As early as at the beginning of the 20th century, the reconstruction of the Bayer chemical factory in , for example, followed American examples. The inclusion of a rail connection and a transport system inside the plant drew on the example of the Union Stock Yards of Chicago and made it a showcase for a modern enterprise. The European "super firms" founded in the 1920s such as Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG (VSt), IG Farben, the French Alsthom and the British Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) were seen as paragons of the economies of scale; they consciously followed the organisational and financial models of American big business.28
Americanisation after the Second World War: The Liberalisation of World Trade, the "Productivity Mission" and the American Culture of Competition
After the Second World War, the discourse of Americanisation reached a new stage. The need to overcome the economic crisis and rebuild society made cooperation between the European states and the American military authorities a question of survival.29 In the context of its rise as a political and economic "superpower", the USA also exerted considerable influence on European economic policy and competitive culture in its role as an occupying force. This is above all true of the model of the liberal market economy, which – especially in the – was implemented as analogous to a democratic social order.30
Such interpretations have received considerable criticism in the research.31 Indeed, there is something to be said for abandoning the concept of Americanisation as a "useless" category due to the "Mannigfaltigkeit und Komplexität von Prozessen transnationaler Grenzüberschreitung".32 Nevertheless, the term continues to enjoy considerable popularity as a paradigm in economic history, particularly for the period after 1945. For example, it is used in relation to the European Recovery Program (ERP) as a byword for productivity, technical progress and economic prosperity. The "Marshall Plan", named after the US Secretary of State George C. Marshall (1880–1959), obliged the participating countries to adhere not only to political but also to "economic good conduct". It thereby enforced both an institutional and a mental process of transformation, each of which can be discussed from the perspective of Americanisation.33 Through the implementation of a liberal global economic order, the USA exerted a considerable influence on the economic and regulatory perceptions of the participating states. As a result, the central tenets of a modern, Western capitalism were transferred to Europe, sometimes with gentle pressure: the unitary worldwide monetary system agreed in the Bretton Woods treaty of 1944, the integrated system of foreign trade based on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT, 1947) and a liberal understanding of competition.34 One can therefore speak of a "dictated Americanisation" in so far as European traditions such as the widespread practice of cartel and market agreements or the state dominated policies of central banks were abandoned.35
The correlation of productivity, economic growth and affluence that had characterised the US economy since the early 20th century was weaker in the European states before the Second World War.36 From the US perspective, the Europeans required the necessary purchasing power in order to achieve self-sustaining economic growth and act as a market for American products. They could only accomplish this if they received adequate revenues. Consequently, the OEEC Ministerial Council launched a productivity initiative at the end of August 1951. It aimed to increase the productivity of the countries participating in the Marshall Plan by a quarter by the mid-1950s. This was to be attained by giving instruction on new technologies and organisation to European entrepreneurs, engineers and economists within the framework of the US Technical Assistance and Productivity Mission.37 Productivity agencies sent business representatives and trade union functionaries from America to the individual European states with the task of spreading the "gospel of productivity" in the enterprises and institutions.38 At the same time, several thousand entrepreneurs, managers and engineers from the European states took part in educational trips to the USA where they received an impression of the performance of American industrial capitalism.39 The business schools founded along the American model, for example the elite French institution INSEAD (Institut Européen d'Administration des Affaires) in near Paris, were also an element of the American economic culture that was transferred.40
The American initiatives to increase productivity had little measurable success (for example with regard to direct increases in productivity). Nevertheless, one should not underestimate their long-term modernising impact. They essentially promoted a liberal understanding of the market and a modern orientation towards productivity, expansion and sales, which became a cornerstone of the 41wealth. And, while this self-image could differ depending on an actor's industry, competitive situation or generation, one can observe a fundamental rapprochement in values and strategies between Western economic cultures that would turn out to be essential to the globalisation of the late 20th century.
The increased presence of American corporations in Europe contributed to this. The foundation of the European Economic Community in 1957 created a market which resembled its American counterpart in terms of size and prospects for development:
Historically American investment dollars have followed growth, and the most spectacular growth area in the world today is that provided by the international market of the European Economic Community.42
However, the USA's economic activities in, for example, Germany and France were not uncontroversial. After the Second World War, the Americans had considerable competitive advantages in Europe in terms of their markets and potential for development. Therefore, many local companies feared that the Marshall Plan was nothing other than a "Trojan Horse" for American investors and competitors to win the European markets. Indeed, the involvement of American corporations in Europe placed an unprecedented competitive pressure on long-established suppliers.43 In the 1960s, the EEC attracted more American investment than any other region of the earth. It seemed more advantageous to develop production facilities locally rather than export to this market, not least due to the EEC's initially high external tariffs. In this way, the transfer of private capital in the form of US direct investment was an important component of the international economic integration that turned Europe into an "economic centre of gravity".44
The literature sees the stream of capital from the USA to Europe as a central transfer medium for Americanisation:45
Vom Sonderfall der militärischen Besetzung abgesehen gibt es wohl keine andere Verbindung, durch die gewisse Besonderheiten einer Gesellschaft gleich schnell und wirksam auf bestimmte Bereiche einer anderen übertragen werden könnten.46
American companies abroad formed "Brückenköpfe" ("bridgeheads") and "Schaukästen amerikanischer Wirtschaftskultur" ("showcases of American economic culture").47 American industry concentrated its investment activities on key sectors such as the oil and automotive industries just as before and after the First World War. After the Second World War, engineering, aluminium, chemicals, plastics, tyre manufacturing and pharmaceuticals were added.48 More than ever before, the involvement of American corporations introduced an Americanised understanding of competition to the European states. Its defining attribute was an expansionist approach orientated towards offensive risk-taking. Contemporary publications such as the French journalist Jean Jacques Servan-Schreiber's (1924–2006) Le Défi Americain from 1967 document this. Servan-Schreiber understood the massive American direct investment as an economic challenge for the European states and a lesson for European companies.49
With this in mind, economic and business historians correctly argue in favour of using the term Americanisation as an analytical category, above all for the period after 1945.50 Americanisation is understood as "die Übernahme [...] von Werten, Verhaltensformen, Verfahrensweisen, Normen und Institutionen, die [...] in den USA [...] verbreitet waren" by the European economy. According to this, Americanisation does not only mean the influence of American capital in European companies, for example in the form of direct investment, but also – indeed primarily – the adaption of values and legal institutions, business practices and strategies in the areas of market organisation, economic policy and corporate governance.51 When describing the history of transatlantic transfer in the 20th century, "Americanisation" is a useful term in the economic context.
"Americanisation" as "Hybridisation" or "Self-Service"
Americanisation describes graduated degrees of adaption, including improvements and modifications: in short, it is the "hybridisation" of American techniques and models that accommodates decidedly European traditions.52 From the example of one of the most Americanised companies in Europe, the Volkswagen AG , one can clearly see that "the Americanisation" of the West German economy and society "nicht als schlichte Kopie des amerikanischen Modells vollzog, sondern als kreative Synthese aus amerikanischen Einflüssen und deutschen Traditionen".53 One could therefore describe the German process of Americanisation after the Second World War as a form of "self-service model".54 The recognition that Americanisation is neither a simple "one-way street" nor a compulsive development has long been implicit in the concept.
With regard to the European economy, the term Americanisation is therefore an extremely promising analytical framework. Nevertheless, one cannot assume a basic "Americanisation" in the sense of a lineal transfer of American methods, values and convictions. Rather, the transfer and adaption of American know-how before and after the Second World War seem to have depended on various constellations such as the institutional and political system, the individual stance of business actors and the competitive climate. Regardless of this, the American rhetoric of productivity, cooperation, division of labour, modernity and social affluence conveyed a changed perception of economic processes and competitive and expansionist behaviour which underscored the golden age of prosperity after the Second World War.
Outlook: Americanisation and Globalisation
which provided the tools for modern business management and which made companies able to cope with global competition, rapidly changing environments and challenging new market conditions.56
Companies' global activities are not only made possible by the necessary institutional foundations such as the deregulation and liberalisation of markets or the introduction of technologies facilitating worldwide transportation and communication; they are also encouraged by the disintegration of cultural boundaries and the implementation of unified systems of norms and values among all those participating in the market. Therefore, the wave of Americanisation after the Second World War was particularly important in paving the way for the construction of the global economy: "Die Schrittmacherrolle bei der Internationalisierung der Produktion übernahmen die US-Unternehmen" by implementing management strategies and innovations and setting benchmarks for a new form of competitive behaviour.57
In addition, through their policies of transnational investment and the export of universal popular culture, American corporations prepared the triumphal march of global products. Brands such as Coca Cola and McDonald's were, in this way, the pioneers of a global development. The rationalisation of consumption based on reproducibility, universal manufacturing methods and prompt availability led, via the core elements of the American ideology, to a converging global society.58