History of Wörgl, Tyrol
Wörgl′s Monetary Experiment of 1932

The town of Wörgl in the Inntal Valley of Tyrol is a very modern one: Commercial in its appearance, it still bears the scars of heavy bombing that occurred around its station in WWII. Nevertheless, Wörgl has a long history. The Inntal was first populated during Neolithic days. In the early Iron Age, the Inntal had become an important trade route ("important" in Iron Age terms, obviously is wasn′t a Tyrolean Shanghai). Under Roman rule, Wörgl was known as Vergilianum and excavations uncovered buildings and other findings all over Wörgl and in its surroundings. Archaeologists consider Wörgl the most important Roman site in Northern Tyrol (that is, today′s province of Tyrol excluding Eastern Tyrol).

In the 6th century, Bavarian settlers moved in and gradually submerged the Romano-Celtic population. They stayed here rather long: Only in 1504, when Emperor Maximilian I (the legendary one) conquered the fortress of Kufstein and extended his territory over all of today′s Tyrol, Wörgl fell under Habsburg rule. In 1607, the community was lifted to the rank of a "vicarage".

In 1809, the Napoleonic Wars reached Tyrol and the province′s finest hour was there: The national hero of Tyrol (if only Tyroleans were a nation), Andreas Hofer, led a guerrilla war against the French and their Bavarian allies. Once the Bavarian and Saxon troops had passed the fortress of Kufstein, the Tyrolean partisans attacked them at Wörgl, but were defeated very badly. The troops continued to move towards Innsbruck, looting the Inntal Valley on their way. A memorial ("Wörgler Reara") that was built in 1909 still commemorates the battle at Wörgl.

History of Wörgl since the Late 19th Century

In 1863, Wörgl was divided into two municipalities. The Giselabahn railway connected Wörgl with the rest of Austria after 1873; this resulted in economic growth and rapid developments of local industries. Wörgl grew rapidly and became Tyrol′s most important railway crossing (which it is until today). In 1891, the vicarage Wörgl was made a parish and a market town in 1911, re-uniting the divided halves of the old Wörgl. The industrial character of Wörgl became explosive in 1934, when conservative (some say Faschist) and left-wing (all - including themselves - say Socialist) militia.

This Austrian "civil war" saw its most vicious confrontations in Upper Austria, Styria and Vienna - in Wörgl, it was even less significant than there, leaving behind the staggering number of two injured men on each side. The conservatives won and established a totalitarian, anti-Nazi regime in Austria. Wörgl remained important as a railway hub, which the allies noticed. This resulted in severe bombings, which hit not only the station, but also much of the rest of Wörgl. Until today, aerial bombs are found once every couple of years, usually on construction sites.

After the war, Wörgl recovered quickly. In 1951, the market town was lifted to the rank of a city. In 2005, a dam broke in Wörgl following obscene levels of rainfall (luckily, I lived in England at that point) and much of Tyrol was flooded. To economists, a different piece of Wörgl history might be known: The "Wörgler Geldexperiment", a micro-currency that was issued in 1932.

Wörgl's Famous Currency Experiment

Due to the Great Depression (which wasn′t all that great for people affected by it), the celluloses, paper and cement industries suffered that year, leading to wide-spread unemployment in Wörgl. The municipality had enormous costs for social aid and faced bankruptcy. In the summer of 1932, the municipal government started to issue bonds, or rather its own money: Coupons, soon known as "Wörgler Schilling".

For these coupons, a fee had to be paid each month to keep them valid; they were fully backed by currency reserves and an accepted mean of liquidity by most companies and shops in Wörgl, as well as the municipality, which accepted the coupons for tax payments. As a result, the locals gained new faith in the economy, invested and built things. Unemployment fell from 21 to 15 percent, at a time when it increased elsewhere. The positive effects of the inflationary policy were soon noticed by the national, then international press.

The future French minister of finance, Edouard Daladier travelled to Wörgl and the economist Irving Fisher suggested similar schemes for the US. The Austrian central bank, however, insisted on its monopoly for making money - and Wörgl was urged to stop the experiment. It ended in autumn 1933, after more than a year. With the hassle of the "civil war" the next year and WWII a few years later, the currency experiment was soon forgotten. Only in the 1950ies, private initiatives led to the organisation of economic meetings that preserved the knowledge about this Keynesian test-run before Keynes had even published his General Theory. Today, the Heimatmuseum (town museum) and the archives of Wörgl maintain a little exhibition on the municipality′s monetary adventure.

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Further Reading

Official Website of Wörgl

Wikipedia on Wörgl

Official Website of Tyrol