Cuno, Wilhelm

(1876-1933)
   shipping magnate and Chancellor; initiated passive resistance during the Ruhr occupation.* Born in the Thuringian town of Suhl, he studied law and took a doctorate at Breslau in 1901. He joined the Treasury Office in 1910 and became head of the Grain Office upon the decla-ration of war. Assigned to the War Food Office in July 1916, he was lured by Albert Ballin in January 1917 to the Hamburg-Amerika Shipping Company; upon Ballin's suicide in November 1918 he became the firm's Generaldirektor. Cuno was an economics expert during the Armistice* process and again at the peace conference. He also attended reparations* meetings as an advisor and represented shipowners in negotiations with the Republic over compensation for shipping surrendered to the Allies. In 1920, via the so-called Harriman Agree-ment, he secured valuable assistance for his company by forming a cooperative venture with United American Lines. While he was in America, he served as an unofficial emissary for the Foreign Office. Rejecting earlier offers to become Foreign Minister and Finance Minister, he was named Chancellor on 22 No-vember 1922. His so-called Commerce Cabinet (Regierung der Wirtschaft) was decidedly right-wing and included several ministers who, like himself, claimed no political affiliation.
   Considerable hope was attached to Cuno's government, largely because of his foreign connections. However, he became Chancellor just as inflation* threatened to become catastrophic and as relations with France approached crisis. Aiming to revise the Versailles Treaty,* he proposed reparation changes in De-cember 1922 as a means for stabilizing the Reichsmark; but at French insistence the Allies dismissed his proposal. When in late December Germany was declared in default on deliveries of timber and coal, French Premier Raymond Poincare chose to occupy the heavily industrialized Ruhr district. Supported by five French and one Belgian divisions, engineers moved into the Ruhr on 9 January 1923 to ensure compliance with the Reparation Commission's delivery program. Cuno responded by declaring a policy of "passive resistance," forbidding of-ficials to take orders from the occupying authorities. Those authorities replied by expelling all railway and administrative officials and severing economic links with the rest of Germany. The result was disastrous: the Allies received a paltry quantity of coal in the following six months; an open state of conflict existed between Germany and France; and the value of the mark, already weak, com-pletely collapsed. Because the Republic's financial needs by April were seven times higher than the revenue level, the Reichsbank reacted by printing an im-modest quantity of money. As the mark's value plunged and assets valued in monetary terms became worthless, Cuno conceded that Poincare would not open negotiations unless passive resistance ended. Recognizing that Cuno, who was near nervous collapse, wished to resign, the SPD removed its support from his cabinet on 12 August 1923. At that point one American dollar was worth a million Reichsmarks.
   Cuno returned to the board of the Hamburg-Amerika Shipping Company, reemerging as Generaldirektor in 1926. His development of the firm included a 1930 merger with North German Lloyd. He also worked to emancipate German property held in the United States. In 1931, when it appeared that Hindenburg* might not run for reelection, Cuno was approached as a possible presidential candidate. The idea collapsed when it was disclosed that he was a Rotarian; the Rotary Club upheld the Versailles Treaty.
   REFERENCES:Benz and Graml, Biographisches Lexikon; Cornebise, Weimar Republic; NDB, vol. 3; Rupieper, Cuno Government.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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