Two quick takeaways:
- The origins of German manufacturing prowess are in protectionist policies with import tarifs in the 1870s.
- Made In Germany mutated from marking lower quality German imports to Britain to marking premium quality German goods within 50 years or so.
Quoting from the Wikipedia article “Made In Germany”:
The label was originally introduced in Britain by the Merchandise Marks Act 1887, to mark foreign produce more obviously, as foreign manufactures had been falsely marking inferior goods with the marks of renowned British manufacturing companies and importing them into the United Kingdom. Most of these were found to be originating from Germany, whose government had introduced a protectionist policy to legally prohibit the import of goods in order to build up domestic industry (Merchandise Marks Act – Oxford University Press).
According to Professor Asaf Zussman, Department of Economics, Hebrew University in “The Rise of German Protectionism in the 1870s: A Macroeconomic Perspective∗”, the “Rye and Iron” tariffs introduced by Bismarck’s Germany in 1879 caused a major reduction of imports in order to protect Germany’s industries. As a response, the Free-trade Liberal government in the UK introduced the Merchandise Marks act to allow consumers to be able to choose whether or not they would continue to purchase goods from protectionist economies.
In this context tracing “Made in Germany” in English vs German text is informative: