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  • Der Gelehrte und der Manager: Franz Reuleaux (1829–1905) und Alois Riedler (1850–1936) in Technik, Wissenschaft und Gesellschaft by Wolfgang König
  • Hermione Giffard (bio)
Der Gelehrte und der Manager: Franz Reuleaux (1829–1905) und Alois Riedler (1850–1936) in Technik, Wissenschaft und Gesellschaft. By Wolfgang König. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 2014. Pp. 334. $84.55.

Now familiar primarily to historians of German engineering, Franz Reuleaux and Alois Riedler were perhaps the best-known engineering professors in Germany in the late nineteenth century. Yet the two also were important for their contributions to German society well beyond the realm of engineering. Reuleaux was particularly interested in the German language and in protecting German craft traditions, while Riedler was very concerned about the social role of engineers. Indeed, the book’s title indicates that these men were known for their contributions not only to technology and science but also to society more generally; here, Wolfgang König presents the opinions of the two on a range of subjects (p. 286). Outspoken critics of one another as well as of other colleagues, they held views on important topics including technocracy, capitalism, industrialization, rationalization, mass production, patents and invention, and the social role of engineers.

Known particularly for his contribution to machine construction and kinematics and for his attempts to make engineering a more theoretically based exact science. Reuleaux was important as an advisor to various bodies during his life—and so shaped what became national policy. For example, he counseled Bismarck in matters regarding engineering (pp. 55–63). The younger of the two, Riedler was born in Austria, and well-known as a mechanical engineer. He became a professor in Germany, where he vigorously defended practically oriented engineering education. It was Riedler who championed the establishment of degrees for German engineers, a perhaps lesser-known change in Germany carried out under Kaiser Wilhelm II.

The late nineteenth century is fascinating because it was one in which the profession of engineers was being established. Especially given Germany’s reputation today, it is very interesting to read a detailed study of two actors fighting to shape engineering at a time when it was not highly valued in a more humanistic culture. The anomalous German Diplom Ingenieur—often rendered Dipl. Ing.—was introduced in 1899 along with the degree of Doktor der Ingenieurwissenschaften. The titles demonstrate the importance that society was beginning to place in these individuals and their training (p. 87). They also represent a compromise between university-trained engineers and those emerging from vocational training schools or apprenticeships, yet another outcome of the “scientification” of the German engineering profession in the late nineteenth century (p. 77).

The notion of a double biography—just about unheard of in the case of engineers—is justified here because of the importance of the men in question and because the actors knew each other and were involved in many of [End Page 266] the same debates. Indeed, in this case, the juxtaposition works particularly well because the two men dealt with similar themes—the training and social role of engineers—yet often disagreed with each other, Reuleaux standing more for theory and Riedler more for practice. They were, as König describes it, “hostile” colleagues at the technical high school in Berlin between 1888 and 1896, both in the department for machine building, until Reuleaux left in 1896 (p. 10). Although their opinions may not have been shared by everyone, they were nevertheless deeply respected by their colleagues (p. 286).

Though it lacks a theoretical framework, the dual biography format allows König to bring out the comparison between these important figures. König chooses to arrange his book according to themes, and this works much better than the provision of two parallel biographies, even if it leads to some repetition. His sources include both archives and published papers by both protagonists and he sticks closely to them.

Despite the apolitical reputation of engineers, Reuleaux and Riedler were deeply engaged with the social issues of their times (p. 290). Both saw technology as an important part of culture. Their involvement in the creation of the Deutsches Museum is therefore of particular interest (pp. 102...


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