Machine tools and mass production in the armaments boom: Germany and the United States, 1929–44


  • Research for this article has been supported by Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR grant no. 203.10.39; 204.4920), and by a Research Grant from the ESRC (No. L138 25 1045). We would like to thank Solomos Solomou, Merritt Roe Smith, Albrecht Ritschl, Stephen Broadberry, Charles Feinstein, Martin Daunton, and Cliff Pratten for their comments and/or support. Useful comments were also received from participants at seminars at the Bank of Italy; at the Universities of Cambridge, Birmingham, and Münich; and at the LSE. The help of Chris Beauchamp in the retrieval of archival material was invaluable. The usual disclaimer applies.


This article anatomizes the ‘productivity race’ between Nazi Germany and the US over the period from the Great Depression to the Second World War in the metalworking industry. We present novel data that allow us to account for both the quantity of installed machine tools and their technological type. Hitherto, comparison of productive technologies has been limited to case studies and well-worn narratives about US mass production and European-style flexible specialization. Our data show that the two countries in fact employed similar types of machines combined in different ratios. Furthermore, neither country was locked in a rigid technological paradigm. By 1945 Germany had converged on the US both in terms of capital-intensity and the specific technologies employed. Capital investment made a greater contribution to output growth in Germany, whereas US growth was capital-saving. Total factor productivity growth made a substantial contribution to the armaments boom in both countries. But it was US industry, spared the war's most disruptive effects, that was in a position to take fullest advantage of the opportunities for wartime productivity growth. This adds a new element to familiar explanations for Germany's rapid catch-up after 1945.