"Made in Germany" – the history of a designation of origin

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After Expo 1876 in Philadelphia, German businessmen saw what they regarded as an assault on their ambitions. Their products had been described as “tending to be cheap and of low quality” by experts there.


So an attempt was made to get rid of this humiliating label once and for all and improve the quality of German products. This was successful and German exports soon rose significantly – also thanks to low wages and advantageous manufacturing conditions. So significantly in fact that the British Empire regarded exports from Germany as a threat to its economic sphere of influence.


For this reason the British tried to stem the flow of German exports by requiring every product to have “exact details of the country of origin”. So in 1887 a law was passed in the British parliament, which required all German products to be labelled “Made in Germany”. The British people would boycott foreign products out of a sense of patriotic duty, or so the politicians thought.


A fatal miscalculation, as it quickly turned out. The label on German products, which had been conceived as more of a “stigma”, very soon became a seal of quality. For the good experience that consumers had with German products counted more than loyalty to products from the home market.


As early as 1896 the British journalist, E.E. Williams, noted in his book “Made in Germany”: “What is resented the most is that it counts as a free endorsement of German products”. What Williams indeed anticipated was the start of Germany’s rise to become the world’s leading exporter.


"Made in Germany" - a term of enduring value?


Scepticism is always healthy, if only because it encourages regular scrutiny and evaluation and can expose negative trends – as in 1876 in Philadelphia. But all current empirical studies show that:

  • ”Made in Germany“ still represents a seal of quality in international markets, despite structural problems, despite weak growth and high labour costs.
  • ”Made in Germany“ still represents quality, hard work, efficiency and precision and thus good, reliable as well as robust and innovative products. 
  • ”Made in Germany“, at an annual rate of more than 100,000 national and more than 15,000 international patent registrations, originating to a very large extent from practical research by market-driven companies, stands for global leadership in the development of forward-looking innovations. 
  • ”Made in Germany“ therefore continues to be perceived in international markets as an obvious strength, which positively influences purchasing decisions.
  • ”Made in Germany” is an international concept and is also embodied, for example, by politics, the arts, culture or architecture and by the people involved and thus represents creativity and a cosmopolitan attitude.
  • ”Made in Germany“ thus forms the basis for promoting of the competitiveness of products, services and skills from Germany (the business location) around the world, using a label with a high recognition factor.


"Made in Germany" as a designation of origin


Nowadays the term "Made in Germany" is still frequently used as a designation of origin – although there are no rules in Germany governing when and for what purpose the term may be used. You can obtain an overview of the current legal situation from the presentation


"The Designation of Origin: 'Made in Germany' - 

History, legitimacy and meaning of an old (new) value term",


extracts of which you can retrieve as PDF documents per mouse click (only in german language). 


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