Edited by Harwell Wells
Chapter 7: German company law 1794–1897
Chapter 7 provides an account of German company law, 1794–1897, showing both the slow adoption of German law to the corporation—a process similar to that in other countries—and, more unusually, the development of other business forms as well. To speak of ‘German’ law is something of a misnomer for much of the century, as the German Empire only came into existence in 1871, and before then (and sometimes after it) company law could vary significantly from state to state. Much of corporate law’s development in this era turned on whether would-be incorporators had to seek specific permission from the state to incorporate, and the law developed from a system in which the state granted a firm a specific charter and accompanying privileges (Oktroi), to a concession system in which the state issued charters in a more standardized, regularized process, as adopted in Prussia’s 1843 Corporations Act, to a liberalized, general incorporation system in which any group of entrepreneurs could have access to incorporation (1870 Corporations Act). This chapter also provides an account of business forms other than the corporation, notably the Cooperative, which played an unusually important role in the German economy, and the GmbH, a hybrid business form established near the end of the nineteenth century that would become widespread in the twentieth.
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