Samuel Eleazar Wendt is a PhD Candidate at the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder), Germany. His research and dissertation project entitled The impact and relevance of tropical cash crops for industrial purposes in Wilhelmine-Germany, 1850 – 1920 aims to elicit the economic, social and cultural dimensions following tropical cash-crop appropriation in Germany.
He obtained his BA in Kulturwissenschaften (2010) with a thesis dedicated to the relevance of postcolonial theory in Latin America, entitled: Storm in 'The Lettered City’: Postcolonial critique’s
challenge for historiography from a Latin American perspective. He graduated with his MA in European Cultural History (2013) with a thesis devoted to the history of tropical botany and rubber
usage in Wilhelmine Germany, entitled Colonial Botany and the exploitation of tropical cash crops – On the relevance of rubber in Wilhelmine-Germany, 1880 – 1914. His fields of interest encompass postcolonial theory, history of botany, colonialism, commodities, human and plant migration, and historiography.
Tropical Raw Materials for New Industries: The Impact of Rubber and Palm Oil in Wilhelmine Germany, 1871-1918
While the transatlantic slave trade was being gradually abolished from 1807 to the mid-19th Century, the resulting excess supply of labour on African coasts encouraged entrepreneurs to set up a plantation economy which supplied early-industrial Europe with lubricants for its machineries, sisal for packaging trading goods, oils and fats for chemical, pharmaceutical, and food industries, etc. During the colonisation of Africa, European industries were tapping into this infrastructure and labour reservoir.
Germany, even though it was a late-coming colonial power, became very successful in exploiting two particular tropical raw materials: caoutchouc and palm oil kernels. By the 1890s, Germany’s rubber industry had become the third largest in the world, importing 14.000 tons p.a. of natural rubber from tropical regions. At the same time, German oil mills processed ca 270.000 tons of palm kernels to oil, which was required for the production of soaps, margarine, explosives, etc.
The analysis of the 19th-century commodity chains of rubber and palm kernels reveals characteristic political and economic transformations of commercial networks. Wars for independence and nation-building in the Americas as well as the ‘Scramble for Africa’ triggered spatial transformations which in turn led to a reconfiguration of Germany’s involvement with world trade. The paper will put the colonial endeavour during the Wilhelmine period into this context, and in contrast with patterns of trade before the era of the nation state.