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Jahrbuch für Wirtschaftsgeschichte / Economic History Yearbook

Ed. by Ziegler, Dieter

CiteScore 2018: 0.06

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.115
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.203

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Volume 49, Issue 2


Unternehmen und Familie. Zur Genese von Familienunternehmen im Industriezeitalter: Sachsen 1850-1940

Michael Schäfer
Published Online: 2016-08-13 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1524/jbwg.2008.49.2.197


Historians often regard family firms as a phenomenon typical of the early phases of industrialisation. It has been argued that the family was of great importance for early industrial enterprises.The family provided vital resources like capital, business connections, managers, commercial know-how and technical training facilities etc. But with the emergence of a modern banking system, professional managers and technical and commercial schools, the entrepreneurial family gradually lost these functions.

The evidence of this case study on Saxony suggests rather different conclusions: (1.) The family’s function for early industrial firms seems to be less vital than often assumed. Since in Saxony up until the end of the 19th century a majority of founders came from family backgrounds outside of the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie, they could not rely on resources transmitted by an established bourgeois family. (2.) In many respects industrial enterprises owned by families were a rather modern phenomenon. The emergence of family firms seems to be connected to the typical challenges of personal enterprises: Inheritance laws and practices made it difficult to pass businesses on to the next generation without impairing the firm′s liquidity. Thus ownership of industrial enterprises was transferred to increasingly wider circles of people related to each other by kinship. (3.) Family firms pursued a meaningful purpose beyond the mere maximisation of profits. Family circumstances could very well lead to serious problems for family businesses: The early death of the owner-entrepreneur could leave the firm with successors not old enough to take over the firm’s management; succeeding sons might not be suited for their assigned task; the growth of the firm could be hampered by the family’s refusal to mobilise outside capital. But challenges were often met by responses suitable to solve problems inherent to family businesses and to compensate for certain handicaps. Moreover, family based firms could count on resources, especially in times of crisis, which could be vital for survival. Thus, it seems that family became rather more important for business between the middle of the 19th and the middle of the 20th century.

Keywords: Family Business; Saxony; Business History; Business Culture

About the article

Published Online: 2016-08-13

Published in Print: 2008-12-01

Citation Information: Jahrbuch für Wirtschaftsgeschichte / Economic History Yearbook, Volume 49, Issue 2, Pages 197–214, ISSN (Online) 2196-6842, ISSN (Print) 0075-2800, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1524/jbwg.2008.49.2.197.

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