German coal and the Dutch market

German coal and the Dutch market, 1915-1932

The Rheinisch-Westfälisches Kohlen-Syndikat (RWKS) was probably one of the most powerful cartel organizations. From its establishment in 1893 to its liquidation after the Second World War, it decisively shaped and structured outcomes in the energy sector – and not just those of the German mining industry. In organizational terms the RWKS was classed as a “syndicate”, the highest form of the cartel system. As well as regulating products and prices, the syndicate had developed an efficient sales apparatus. Until 1914, this was said to have subjugated and gradually enslaved the previously dominant wholesale coal trade. This dissertation project examines the sales organization and analyses the sales strategies of the powerful Ruhr syndicate in the interwar period.


Funded by the German Research Foundation and associated with the DBM’s research division for post-industrialization mining history, the dissertation project examines the sales organization and analyses the sales strategies of the powerful Ruhr syndicate in the interwar period. The syndicate structure had been stable before the war, but the economic upheavals after the First World War triggered a structural crisis, which played out in the form of violent disagreements, especially within the syndicate. Here the main focus of criticism was the syndicate’s once much appreciated sales function. A particular conflict arose around the so-called ‘Holland question’. The Netherlands – the most important foreign market for Ruhr coal since the founding of the RWKS – was seen as a classical competitive market. Alongside the large quantities of coal imported from Britain, even before 1914, the Dutch mining industry, which had been the object of heavy investment during the war, became an energetic rival of Ruhr coal on the much-coveted Dutch market.
Ruhr coal did in fact manage to maintain its strong position on the Dutch market despite the intense competition. The obvious explanation for this is the Steenkolen-Handelsvereeniging (SHV), which the syndicate used exclusively for its dealings with the Netherlands. With the aid of strategic pricing policies, exclusive sales contracts with carriers, and negotiating skill, this organization established a contract-based system of competition. This included both the major British importer and the Dutch mining industry. And yet the relationship between the SHV and the RWKS, though based on interdependence, was not free of conflict. Rival groups within the syndicate pushed for the deregulation of the “Dutch sales”, and the exclusion of the syndicate organization SHV.
The main focus of the analysis is the actor-centred decoding of the complex relationships between the RWKS, its mine interests and the SHV – relationships which were both cooperative and conflict-laden. The dissertation project thus takes trade mediation, the connecting of supply and demand through market intermediaries, as its object of study, and asks: to what extent did the RWKS’s foreign sales – as suspected by contemporaries – act as a “release valve”? What tools form the basis for a syndicated market, and what kind of negotiations lead to the development of power and control in the context of syndicated and competition-based markets? Furthermore, what freedoms did the syndicated sales system allow, and to what extent could these be used by the individual actors to promote their own interests?

PhD thesis

Eva-Maria Roelevink


Prof. Dr. Dieter Ziegler

Dr. Michael Farrenkopf


Lehrstuhl für Wirtschafts- und Unternehmensgeschichte der Ruhr-Universität Bochum (Prof. Dr. Dieter Ziegler)


2012 - 2014