Business among the Mennonites in Germany

Revision as of 23:04, 15 January 2017 by RichardThiessen (talk | contribs) (Text replace - "<em>Mennonite Quarterly Review</em>" to "''Mennonite Quarterly Review''")
(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)
Jump to navigation Jump to search

In Germany there have always been basically two types of Mennonites, the urban congregations of Northwest Germany (Emden area, Krefeld, and later Gronau) and Schleswig-Holstein, including Hamburg-Altona and Friedrichstadt, to which should be added Danzig, Elbing, and Königsberg in the east, and then the rural congregations of the Vistula Delta and South Germany. The former not only included many businessmen from the very beginning but have furnished outstanding business leaders for Germany. A number of Danzig Mennonites, for instance, were presidents of the Chamber of Commerce there. Mennonites were traders, shippers, millers, and oil pressers, distillers, and brewers, millwrights and shipbuilders, and great textile manufacturers. The city of Altona owes its development in the 17th and 18th centuries largely to the Mennonites. Whaling became a Mennonite specialty, and Mennonite shippers handled much of the business of the port. Hinrich van der Smissen I (1662-1737), the chief of the most important trading firm of Altona at the beginning of the 18th century, was known as a city builder. He owned and operated a variety of business enterprises. Later at Hamburg, Berend Roosen was the leading shipowner of the leading commercial city of Germany, a princely merchant. The first Mennonite church in this city was built from five per cent of the net profits of one whaling trip in 1674-1675. Although Mennonites ultimately discontinued their interests in whaling and shipping they continued to be wholesale merchants in Hamburg as before, some of them outstanding to the present day.

Likewise in East Friesland the Mennonites played a prominent role in the wholesale and sea trade. In the 18th century the Bouman family at Emden controlled oil mills, a distillery, the grain trade, the shipping trade and whaling, while the van Horn, Rahusen, Bavink, and Vissering families at Leer were wholesale merchants. For the 19th and beginning 20th centuries at Norden the Ten Doornkaat-Koolman family, at Emden the Brons family, at Leer the Brouer family are to be mentioned; that they were people of consequence is frequently evident by their being appointed to consulships or having the title of Kommerzienrat (Councilor of Commerce) or even Geheimer Kommerzienrat (Privy Councilor of Commerce). Jan ten Doornkaat Koolman was one of the greatest distillers of 19th-century Germany with his great plant at Norden. The distillery was still flourishing in the 1950s. In the 17th and into the 19th century there was a noted Mennonite distillery in Danzig whose products were known far beyond the borders of Germany, especially the Danziger Goldwasser brandy.

Still more outstanding have been the great Mennonite textile firms of Westphalia and the Rhineland, namely, those founded and operated by the van Delden, Stroink, and related families at Gronau (cotton) and at Ahaus (jute). In 1854 Matthieu van Delden founded a weaving and spinning mill at Gronau. The firm of Gerrit van Delden (founded in 1876) operated the largest cotton spinning mills on the European continent (it was still one of the largest in the 1950s). Hendrik van Delden (d. 1950), the son of Gerrit, was president, first of the German, and then of the International Union of Spinning Mills. These textile firms were founded by Dutch Mennonites who came to Germany in the early 1800s.

The Lower Rhine congregations of Emmerich, Rees, Kleve, and Goch, and especially Krefeld, had from the beginning (16th century) many linen weavers among them. But the great silk industry of Krefeld was established there by the von der Leyen family in the 17th century. In a short time it became a world renowned firm, the economic mainstay of Krefeld. In 1768 it employed 724 machines and more than 3,000 workers in Krefeld and its neighborhood, whereas the whole town had only 6,000 inhabitants. In 1789, among the 1,485 artisans of Krefeld 625 were Mennonites "of considerable means and splendid knowledge and ability," according to a report of the Prussian government of Kleve. Fredrick Wilhelm II granted patents of nobility to the von der Leyens in reward for their great contribution to the welfare of the Prussian state. In the 19th century the big firm of the von der Leyens disappeared, but new Mennonite enterprises sprang up, and throughout the century the leading businessmen of the city were members of the large Mennonite church there, among them Hermann von Beckerath (d. 1870), a banker; Karl Wilhelm Crous (d. 1904), a big dealer in raw silk; and Heinrich Müller-Brüderlin (d. 1917), the biggest taxpayer of the city at the turn of the century. The Mennonite firms of Krefeld in the 1950s were still prominent though no longer so dominant as once.

Among the South German Mennonites very few of the farming families entered business. Peter Kinzing of Neuwied, the gifted mechanic and clockmaker of the later 18th century, should be mentioned. There have been occasional millers, merchants, and small manufacturers in the Palatinate and Southwest Germany, but most of the Mennonites of these areas have remained rural.

The change in business occupations and trades open to and entered by Mennonites in Germany is worthy of note. At first in most cities only a few trades were open to Mennonites, others being forbidden. Thus in the 17th and 18th centuries Mennonites frequently became distillers because this was one of the few businesses with a product of general use, which was open to them. (See Alcohol Among the Mennonites of Northwest Germany, also Alcohol Among the Mennonites of Northeast Germany.) Some Mennonites were makers of gold lace for the same reason. Friedrichstadt (Schleswig), a newly founded city of special character, was a unique exception, where the Mennonites early controlled most of the trade of the town. There, in the 17th and 18th centuries, they were to be found in all trades; "they were bakers and butchers, millers and oil pressers, distillers and brewers, tailors and shoemakers, weavers and dyers, wool carders, hatters, and soap boilers, masons and carpenters, smiths and glaziers, millwrights and shipbuilders, shopkeepers and wholesale dealers, in possession of a sugar factory and a starch factory." But by 1800 more and more trades were opened to Mennonites and entered by them, until soon all barriers were dropped. The Mennonitisches Adressbuch of 1936 lists Mennonites in the following trades and businesses: baker, butcher, distiller, pastry-cook, manufacturer, shoemaker, tailor, weaver, carpenter, glazier, mason, painter, upholsterer, engineer, machinist, mechanic, plumber, blacksmith, auctioneer, banker, bookkeeper, chemist, innkeeper, shopkeeper, merchant, pilot, seaman, shipbuilder, shipowner, carrier, ferryman, taximan, bookbinder, bookseller, printer, dentist, optician.

See also Business


Beckerath, G. van. "Die wirtschaftliche Bedeutung der Krefelder Mennoniten im 17. und 18. Jahrhundert." Doctoral Dissertation, Bonn University, 1952.

Crous, Ernst. "The Mennonites in Germany Since the Thirty Years' War." Mennonite Quarterly Review 25 (1951): 235-262.

Fast, Abraham. Die Kulturleistungen der Mennoniten in Ostfriesland und Münsterland. Emden: A. Fast, 1947.

Kurschat, Wilhelm. Das Haus Friedrich & Heinrich von der Leyen in Krefeld während der Franzosenzeit in seiner politischen, wirtschaftlichen und sozialen Bedeutung. Frankfurt a. M.: Klostermann. 1933.

Münte, Heinz. Das Altonaer Handlungshaus van der Smissen 1682-1824. Altona (Elbe): Lorenzen; [Altona-Othmarschen, Haidkamp 12]: [Dr. H. Münte], 1932.

Roosen, Berend Carl. Geschichte unseres Hauses. Hamburg: Rauhes Haus, 1905.

Author(s) Harold S Bender
Date Published 1953

Cite This Article

MLA style

Bender, Harold S. "Business among the Mennonites in Germany." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 5 Aug 2021.

APA style

Bender, Harold S. (1953). Business among the Mennonites in Germany. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 5 August 2021, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 482-483. All rights reserved.

©1996-2021 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.