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A long tradition of passion

From the railroad and Gottfried Schenker to DB Schenker

The merger between the rail freight company Railion and shipping and logistics expert Schenker under the new DB Schenker brand marks the latest high point of a success story that dates back to the 19th century.

Gottfried Schenker founded in Vienna the forwarding company Schenker in July 1872 with two business partners. His most significant entrepreneurial achievement was the development of international groupage consignment: the idea of grouping together small consignments to a larger transport unit. This turned into a new, low-cost, high-speed transport system which made use of the combined strengths of rail, road and water transport. In 1873, Schenker organised the first groupage consignment service from Paris to Vienna, transporting among others champagne, cognac, Bordeaux wines, fashion and other luxury items for Vienna's society. Subsequently, the service was expanded to include ironware, machinery and textiles from England and Germany. Another novel idea from Schenker shed light on the previous tariff jungle of the forwarding trade: he was the first to offer a fixed freight tariff for general cargo of all kinds, based on the classification and destination of the goods. 

The network of Schenker branches grew rapidly, with the first startin up in Budapest in 1874. Subsequently Schenker opened up further markets inside and outside the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. During Gottfried Schenker's life, a following 32 branches were added in 13 European countries prior to his death in 1901. At the end of the 19th century, Schenker was the only company offering consistently calculated tariffs from London to Istanbul. "Door to door from a single source" - this recipe for success made Schenker market leader. The company acquired an international reputation, demonstrating its expertise among others at the World Exhibtion 1889 in Paris.

Groupage consignments on a continental scale and the carriage of bulk goods depended on shipping, so that Schenker also got involved in shipping companies. Using Triest as its port of departure, the company organised transport services among others to Germany, England and North America. To this end, in 1895 Schenker founded the "Schiffahrts-Gesellschaft Austro-Americana". Schenker's first branch outside Europe was founded in 1913 in New York.

Schenker was one of the first to see the possibilities offered by progress in communication technology, cooperating with the "Compagnie Francaise du Télégraphe de Paris à New York S.A." that had its own trans-Atlantic cable between France and North America. Today Deutsche Bahn AG and DB Schenker offer transport and logistics services from a single source on a worldwide scale.

During the 1920s, forwarders and their motor vehicles started to compete seriously with the railways. Many technical innovations had made trucks more reliable, faster and cheaper. A conflict emerged between the railways and road hauliers, both seeing themselves disadvantaged by legislation and regulations. At the end of 1930, the Imperial Transport Ministry proposed a solution to the conflict. But the Deutsche Reichsbahn-Gesellschaft, whose financial situation had deteriorated during the course of 1930, had already taken the initiative, addressing the weakness in rail freight transport, which was bringing the goods to and from the stations. To eliminate this weak point, the Deutsche Reichsbahn-Gesellschaft concluded a secret cooperation contract with the specially developed Schenker subsidiary Deutsche Bahnspedition Schenker & Co. GmbH. This was the so-called Schenker Contract. As started in the wording of the contract, the intention was to "reduce freight transport costs for the German economy and advertise for rail freight transport with the Reichsbahn". The "Schenker Contract" gave the Deutsche Reichsbahn-Gesellschaft the chance  to expand its influence in the forwarding and haulage business. Schenker wanted to take on haulage services only where the company already acted as forwarder, or where it could offer better conditions.

To expand its influence on freight transport, the Deutsche Reichsbahn-Gesellschaft bought the Schenker Group in January 1931. The purchase price for the largest forwarding company in Germany amounted to 24.9 million Reichsmark. In the early '30s, the group comprised 70 companies with about 200 branches in 19 European countries. The company was still to be run by some of the previous partners, but under the control of the Reichsbahn. New company headquarters were set up in Berlin. Schenker remain independent in formal terms. In near future the Deutsche Reichsbahn-Gesellschaft repudiated the claims, and Schenker also tried to keep up appearances: an honorary Frankfurter Zeitung ‘s publication in 1932 still portrayed Schenker as a family company with a long-standing tradition.

When Deutsche Bundesbahn was founded in 1949, the previously separate management entities of Schenker were brought together as Schenker & Co. GmbH, Central Management West, Frankfurt/Main.

Together with Schenker, Deutsche Bundesbahn also had direct or indirect holdings in numerous other transport companies. This enabled it to act with greater flexibility on the market, offering services that it could not perform adequately if at all.

Schenker was therefore an important element in Deutsche Bundesbahn's transport policy. Deutsche Bundesbahn was Schenker's sole shareholder. In the early 1960s, Schenker's supervisory board was made up solely of representatives from Deutsche Bundesbahn and affiliated companies. From the end of the '70s, Deutsche Bundesbahn and the private sector each held three seats on the supervisory board. But as a rule, the board was chaired by Deutsche Bundesbahn, usually in the person of the President.

Following the international trend for governments to withdraw increasingly from private business, in March 1985 the German government decided to proceed with partial privatisation of Schenker.  This process starts in 1989 -  Stinnes AG, Mülheim a. d. Ruhr acquired 22.5% of Schenker Co. GmbH. In 1991, the Stinnes Group increased its stake in Schenker to 80%.

DB AG laid the foundation for this combination – the only one of its kind in the market – when it acquired Stinnes AG, and thus Schenker, in 2002. Both Deutsche Bahn and Schenker can look back on an eventful history.

Last modified: 16.05.2014

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