The first mark, known as the Goldmark, was introduced in 1873. With the outbreak of World War I, the mark was taken off the gold standard. The currency thus became known as the Papiermark, especially as high inflation, then hyperinflation occurred and the currency became exclusively made up of paper money. The Papiermark was replaced by the Rentenmark (RM) from November 15, 1923, and the Reichsmark (RM) in 1924.
The Deutsche Mark was officially introduced on Sunday, June 20, 1948 by Ludwig Erhard. The old Reichsmark and Rentenmark were exchanged for the new currency at a rate of DM 1 = RM 1 for the essential currency such as wages, payment of rents etc., and DM 1 = RM 10 for the remainder in private non-bank credit balances, with half frozen. Large amounts were exchanged for RM 10 to 65 Pfennig. In addition, each person received a per capita allowance of DM 60 in two parts, the first being DM 40 and the second DM 20.
A few weeks later Erhard, acting against orders, issued an edict abolishing many economic controls which had been originally implemented by the Nazis, and which the Allies had not removed. He did this, as he often confessed, on Sunday because the offices of the American, British, and French occupation authorities were closed that day. He was sure that if he had done it when they were open, they would have countermanded the order.
The introduction of the new currency was intended to protect western Germany from a second wave of hyperinflation and to stop the rampant barter and black market trade (where American cigarettes acted as currency). Although the new currency was initially only distributed in the three western occupation zones outside Berlin, the move angered the Soviet authorities, who regarded it as a threat. The Soviets promptly cut off all road, rail and canal links between the three western zones and West Berlin, starting the Berlin Blockade. In response, the U.S. and Britain launched an airlift of food and coal and distributed the new currency in West Berlin as well.
Since the 1930s, prices and wages had been controlled, but money had been plentiful. That meant that people had accumulated large paper assets, and that official prices and wages did not reflect reality, as the black market dominated the economy and more than half of all transactions were taking place unofficially. The reform replaced the old money with the new Deutsche Mark at the rate of one new per ten old. This wiped out 90% of government and private debt, as well as private savings. Prices were decontrolled, and labor unions agreed to accept a 15% wage increase, despite the 25% rise in prices. The result was the prices of German export products held steady, while profits and earnings from exports soared and were poured back into the economy. The currency reforms were simultaneous with the $1.4 billion in Marshall Plan money coming in from the United States, which primarily was used for investment. In addition, the Marshall plan forced German companies, as well as those in all of Western Europe, to modernize their business practices, and take account of the wider market. Marshall plan funding overcame bottlenecks in the surging economy caused by remaining controls (which were removed in 1949), and opened up a greatly expanded market for German exports. Overnight, consumer goods appeared in the stores, because they could be sold for higher prices. While the availability of consumers goods is seen as a giant success story by most historians of the present, the perception at the time was a different one: prices were so high that average people could not afford to shop, especially since prices were free-ranging but wages still fixed by law. Therefore, in the summer of 1948 a giant wave of strikes and demonstrations swept over West Germany, leading to an incident in Stuttgart where strikers were met by US tanks ("Stuttgarter Vorflle"). Only after the wage-freeze was abandoned, Deutschmark and free-ranging prices were accepted by the population.