Outport and Hinterland. Rotterdam Business and the Ruhr, 1870-2000

Prof. Hein Klemann and Dr Ben Wubs

A century and a half of economic interdependence
For more than a century there was a close link between the German and Dutch economies. Since the 1990s, however, as a result of major structural changes in the Ruhr district this narrow link has become difficult to prove statistically. Between the 1870s and 1990s the two countries often seemed a union in economic matters, which does not mean that the smaller Netherlands was unilaterally dependent on its bigger neighbour however.

The German interests in the Netherlands were also enormous, and its dependency on Dutch services was significant. By its political unification in 1871, Germany had become the major power of the continent, while the Ruhr-industry evolved into the industrial heart of Germany. Simultaneously, the Netherlands became economically vital for Germany because the most important industrial centre of North-Western Europe, the Ruhr district, lay immediately over the Dutch border and Rotterdam and its harbours at the Rhine mouth developed into the outports of this most powerful industrial centre.

Port and Hinterland
In the late 19th century Germany’s heavy industry became increasingly dependent on foreign raw materials, in particular iron ore. The Germany heavy industry at the river Rhine became highly competitive as freight costs over water declined in comparison to freight costs by railway. As a result, it concentrated more and more around the river Rhine. In addition, the growing population of workers needed cheap grain from abroad. Location and facilities, such as steam operated grane elevators, made Rotterdam into the most economic harbour for its German hinterland. Transport via the largest Dutch harbour skyrocketed and turned into a vital condition for Germany’s trade and traffic. Industry and mines needed an outlet for its finished products and coal. Therefore, Rotterdam evolved into the most important outport of the Rhine industry. Transport via the largest Dutch harbour skyrocketed and turned into a vital condition for Germany’s trade and traffic.

Aims of the research project
Because Rotterdam has played a key role in the development of the economic Dutch-German dyad over the last one and a half century a closer investigation into the specific role of Rotterdam business and its harbours seems opportune. For the city, the harbour and businesses in and around Rotterdam a historical research project into the origins, the growth and results of recent structural changes of the Dutch-German economic relations – in particular the relations with Ruhr district – is highly recommended.

This research therefore aims to explore the development of the economic links between Rotterdam, Rotterdam business and the Rhine mouth harbours on the one hand, and the Ruhr district and Ruhr industry on the other in the course of the 1870-2000 period.

The project is divided in three subprojects:

  • Coal, Iron Ore and Steel; Rotterdam Business and the German ‘Montan’ Industry, 1870-1940
    Drs. Joep Schenk MA, PhD student

  • Opting for Oil; Rotterdam’s Oil Port and the Transition from Coal to Oil of the Rhine Industry, 1945-1973
    Drs. Marten Boon MA, PhD student

  • The Box and Rotterdam’s New Hinterland; The Rise of Container Transport and Globalisation, 1970-2010
    Drs. Klara Paardenkooper MA, PhD student

Project output

  • Boon, Marten (2011), ‘Energy transition, Suez crisis and transnational transport. The case of the Rotterdam-Rhine pipeline, 1955-1960.’ Paper 15th EBHA Conference, Athens, 24-26 August.
  • Boon, Marten (2012), 'Energy Transition and Port-Hinterland relations. The Rotterdam oil port and its transport relations to the West German hinterland, 1950-1975', Economic History Yearbook/Jahrbuch für Wirtschaftsgeschichte (2012) 2, 215-235. PDF
  • Boon, M. (2014). Oil Pipelines Politics and International Business. The Rotterdam Oil Port, Royal Dutch Shell and the German Hinterland, 1945-1975EUR (328 pag.) (Rotterdam: in eigen beheer). Prom./coprom.: prof.dr. H.A.M. Klemann & prof.dr. B. Wubs. Defended 19-12-2014.
  • Boon, Marten (2012), Opting for Oil. Rotterdam’s Oil Port and the Transition from Coal to Oil of the Rhine Industry, 1945-1973, Poster at 1st Erasmus Smart Port/Port Research Center poster session, Rotterdam, 6 March 2012. Poster
  • Boon, Marten (2011), Outport and Hinterland. Rotterdam Business and Ruhr Industry, 1870-2010, Poster at North Sea History Conference, Gothenburg, 1-3 September 2011. Poster
  • Paardenkooper, Klara (2011) ‘Cherishing the stepchild of container transport (1966-2010) How and why did the German and Dutch governments keep rail container transport in the race against their cheaper competitors?', 15th EBHA Conference, Athens, Greece, 24-26 August 2011
  • Paardenkooper, Klara (2011) ‘Liberalization of the German and Dutch Railways and the containerization of the hinterland of Rotterdam (1966-2010)', 4th Annual Conference of Competition and Regulation in Network Industries, Brussels, Belgium, 25 November 2011.
  • Paardenkooper, Klara (2012) Globalization, regionalization and the hinterland of Rotterdam The case of rail container shuttles (1966-2010)  EBHA - BHSJ Paris 2012: Business enterprises and the tensions between local and global, Paris, 30 Aug-1 Sep 2012. PDF
  • Paardenkooper, Klara (2012) Containerization of Rotterdam’s Hinterland (1966-2010), a stimulus of European Economic integration, in: Europeanisation in the 20th century: the historical lens/ Pour une lecture historique de l'européanisation au XXe siècle (Brussel 2012) 185-203. PDF
  • Schenk, Joep, Marten Boon, Trading Places. How merchants shaped the Rotterdam-Ruhr axis in the first’global economy, 1870-1914, 16th annual conference EBHA. PDF
  • Schenk, J. (2015). Havenbaronnen en Ruhrbonzen. Oorsprong van een wederzijdse afhankelijkheidsrelatie tussen Rotterdam en het Ruhrgebied 1870-1914. EUR (382 pag.) (Rotterdam: eigen beheer). Prom./coprom.: prof.dr. H.A.M. Klemann & prof.dr. B. Wubs. Defended 19-11-2015.
  • Schenk, J.,  E.-M. Roelevink, (2011) Dutch-German coal business, 1918-1925. Paper for the 15th Annual Conference of the European Business History Association 2011 (Athens, 2011).

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