Nail Men

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Statue of Hindenburg in front of the Victory Column in Berlin, 1919
Nail Book recording donations for nails hammered into a cross in Mannheim in 1916

Nail Men or Men of Nails (German: Nagelmänner) were a form of propaganda and fundraising for members of the armed forces and their dependents in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the German Empire in World War I. They consisted of wooden statues (usually of knights in armour) into which nails were driven, either iron (black), or coloured silver or gold, in exchange for donations of different amounts. Some took different forms, including pillars, shields or local coats of arms and crosses, especially the Iron Cross, and in German there are a variety of alternate names for them, including Wehrmann in Eisen or eiserner Wehrmann (Iron Guardian), Nagelfigur, Nagelbild or Nagelbrett (Nail Figure or Nail Board), Wehrschild (Defence Shield) and Kriegswahrzeichen (War Monument). The most famous were the original Wehrmann in Eisen in Vienna and the 'Iron Hindenburg', a 12-metre (39 ft) statue of Hindenburg adjacent to the Victory Column in Berlin.

Origins and purpose[edit]

Close-up of the Vienna Wehrmann im Eisen showing the nails

The idea for the Nail Men came from the Stock im Eisen in Vienna, a tree-trunk which had had nails hammered into it for centuries.[1] The first Nail Man, a medieval knight, was set up in Vienna and was first nailed on 6 March 1915 in a public ceremony attended by many dignitaries, including members of the imperial household and the German and Ottoman ambassadors.[2][3] They were promoted as a patriotic fund-raising method in German-speaking parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and also in the German Empire, including by publications such as Gotthold Riegelmann's Der Stock in Eisen: praktische Ratschläge zur Errichtung einfacher Nagelholzmale mit Ideenskizzen und Kostenberechnungen (The Stock im Eisen: practical advice on the erection of simple wooden monuments for nailing with sketched ideas and cost calculations)[4] and Benno Fitzke and Paul Matzdorf's Eiserne Kreuz-Nagelungen zum Besten der Kriegshilfe und zur Schaffung von Kriegswahrzeichen (Iron cross nailings for the best benefit of war aid and for the creation of war monuments).[5] They have been seen as "fit[ting] in much more closely with Protestant celebrations of the Prussian military genius and the grandeur of the Kaiserreich" than with Austrian Catholicism.[6]

Municipalities and charitable organisations, either specially founded associations or the Red Cross, had a statue or other emblem made out of wood (oak was sometimes recommended), sometimes by well known sculptors, such as the medieval knight Wehrmann in Eisen by M. Molitar in Leipzig.[7][8] The nails which the donor could use depending on the level of the donation could be iron, or silver- or gold-plated. The placement of the nail also reflected the level of the donation.[7] For example, in the case of the Iron Cross at Heidelberg, a black (iron) nail cost 1 mark, a silver nail hammered into the border, 3 marks, a nail in the '1914' inscription, 5 marks, in the 'W' for Kaiser Wilhelm, 10 marks, and in the crown at the top of the cross, 20 marks;[9] in the case of the 'Iron Siegfried' at Wiesbaden, iron nails cost 1 mark, silver-coated, 5–20 marks, and gilded up to 300 marks, with further donations possible;[10] in the case of the Hindenburg statue in Berlin, gold nails cost 100 marks, silver and black cost 5 marks, and grey 1 mark; for donations over 500 marks, a small plaque was nailed to the sword.[11] Donations were often recorded in an 'Iron Book', for example at Heidelberg, and the donor often received a lapel pin, a certificate, or some other token of the donation. Medallions, postcards and other associated merchandise were sold as a further source of funds.[7]

An iron cross was a popular choice of form, perhaps the most popular;[12] it was specifically recommended by Fitzke and Matzdorf, who state that it would require 160–200 nails.[13] Other common shapes were shields and coats of arms, but animals, flowers and ships (including U-boats) were also nailed. The figures in human form typically were knights in armour but sometimes depicted modern soldiers or historical and legendary figures. In addition to Hindenburg, Admiral Tirpitz, Rupprecht, Crown Prince of Bavaria and General Otto von Emmich were depicted as Nail Men.[14]

Donations were usually collected to assist the wounded or for widows and orphans of the fallen.[7][15] But in some cases, for example at Schwäbisch Gmünd, they were intended to help supply front soldiers; in the winter of 1916, the need was particularly great.[16] The statues were usually prominently displayed and there was considerable social pressure to show patriotism by buying nails.[17] The first nail was generally ceremonially driven by an important personage at a large patriotic ceremony including hymns and specially written patriotic poems which often evoked the Age of Chivalry; Fitzke and Matzdorf provide a suggested ceremony in 24 parts.[6] Clubs, school classes, and so on performed group nailing; there were even nailings at the front.[18]




Other locations in modern Austria[edit]

The Berndorf Nail Bear in his cage
The Iron Edelweiss of Enns

Former Austro-Hungarian territories[edit]

now in Croatia[edit]
now in the Czech Republic[edit]
now in Poland[edit]
now in Romania[edit]
The mounted crusader of St. Ulrich in Gröden
South Tyrol, now in Italy[edit]
now in Ukraine[edit]
  • Czernowitz: an imperial eagle, set up in memory of liberation from Russian occupation, and based on the eagle on the town hall roof, which the Russians had removed.[42]
  • Drohobycz: a Wehrmann (knight).[25]
  • Lemberg (Lviv): a Wehrmann (knight).[25]



Iron Cross in the museum in Erfurt

Other locations in modern Germany[edit]

The Iron Roland of Mannheim

Former German territories[edit]

now in Denmark[edit]
now in Lorraine, France[edit]
now in Poland[edit]
now in Russia[edit]
Baltimore Wehrschild used to collect money for the German and Austrian Red Cross





now Czech Republic[edit]


  • Rheims (then occupied by the Germans): an eagle.[26]


  • Istanbul: the 'iron cannon of Stamboul', a wooden replica produced by the Škoda Works, placed in front of the War Ministry and inaugurated in April 1916 to commemorate the sinking of three enemy warships off the Dardanelles in March 1915.[79]

United States[edit]

German-Americans and Austrian-Americans also collected money by means of Nail Men, until the entry of the US into the war on the Allied side.

  • San Francisco: an iron cross.[24]
  • Baltimore: an eagle with a red cross on its breast, used to collect donations for the German and Austrian Red Cross until 1917.[80]

In York, Pennsylvania, the same fundraising method was used with the opposite meaning: people paid 10 cents to drive a nail into the head of a statue of the kaiser with a red, white and blue handled hammer.[81][82]

Modern nailing[edit]

Nailing at a wedding

Florian Dering, a museologist at the Munich Stadtmuseum, describes a nailing game called Nagelbalken, which became popular after World War I in German-speaking countries and is still used to raise money for charity as well as at weddings, for the newlyweds to display their skills to those present.[83]


  1. ^ Alexander Watson, Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I, Basic Books, 2014, ISBN 9780465018727, p. 221.
  2. ^ Watson, pp. 221–22.
  3. ^ Dietlinde Munzel-Everling, Kriegsnagelungen: Wehrmann in Eisen, Nagel-Roland, Eisernes Kreuz, Wiesbaden, August 2008, p. 3. (in German) (pdf)
  4. ^ Berlin: Wasmuth, n.d., OCLC 248487978; referenced by Munzel-Everling, p. 5, and dated by her 1915.
  5. ^ Leipzig: Strauch, 1916, OCLC 72645763; referenced with misspellings by Jay Winter, Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History, Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1995, repr. 1998, ISBN 978-0-521-63988-0, pp. 8283 and p. 245, notes 22, 23. The book has a subtitle beginning Gebrauchsfertiges Material für vaterländische Volksunterhaltung durch Feiern in Schulen (Material ready for use for patriotic amusement of the populace through celebration in schools).
  6. ^ a b Winter, p. 84.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Munzel-Everling, p. 4.
  8. ^ a b c Allen J. Frantzen, Bloody Good: Chivalry, Sacrifice, and the Great War, Chicago: University of Chicago, 2004, ISBN 978-0-226-26085-3, p. 169.
  9. ^ a b Folker Reichert, "Heidelberger Hochschullehrer im Ersten Weltkrieg", lecture on the occasion of the 65th birthday of Eike Wolgast, University of Heidelberg, 19 October 2001 (in German)
  10. ^ Munzel-Everling, p. 10.
  11. ^ Sherwin Simmons, "Men of nails: Monuments, expressionism, fetishism, Dadaism", RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 40, Autumn 2001, pp. 211–38, p. 211, note 2 (JSTOR)
  12. ^ Munzel-Everling, p. 5; according to Franzen, p. 167, and Winter, p. 83, the most popular.
  13. ^ Winter pp. 83–84 and p. 245, note 23, referring to Fitzke and Matzdorf p. 10.
  14. ^ Munzel-Everling, pp. 6–8.
  15. ^ Simmons, p. 211 mentions only "[assisting] relatives of soldiers killed in the war."
  16. ^ a b Klaus Graf, "Hans Rauchbein: ein Gmünder Bürgermeister im 16. Jahrhundert und sein falscher Ruhm", Ostalb-Einhorn 18 (1991) 116–26 (in German) (pdf) p. 124.
  17. ^ Frantzen, p. 167 sees them as "promoting the war effort [as well as] raising funds".
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac Munzel-Everling, p. 5.
  19. ^ a b Munzel-Everling, pp. 3, 7.
  20. ^ Munzel-Everling, p. 32.
  21. ^ a b c Munzel-Everling, pp. 8, 33.
  22. ^ a b c d e f Munzel-Everling, pp. 8, 32.
  23. ^ Munzel-Everling, pp. 6, 8, 32.
  24. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh bi bj bk bl bm bn bo bp bq br bs bt bu bv bw bx by bz ca cb cc cd ce cf cg ch ci cj ck cl cm cn co cp cq cr cs ct cu cv cw cx cy cz Munzel-Everling, p. 6.
  25. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh bi bj bk bl bm bn bo bp bq br bs Munzel-Everling, p. 7.
  26. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab Munzel-Everling, p. 8.
  27. ^ Munzel-Everling, pp. 7, 8, 32.
  28. ^ Munzel-Everling, pp. 6, 7.
  29. ^ Munzel-Everling, pp. 6, 33.
  30. ^ a b c d e Munzel-Everling, pp. 8, 15.
  31. ^ a b c Munzel-Everling, pp. 8, 18.
  32. ^ Munzel-Everling, pp. 7, 22, 23.
  33. ^ Munzel-Everling, pp. 7, 26.
  34. ^ a b c Munzel-Everling, pp. 8, 27.
  35. ^ Munzel-Everling, pp. 8, 27–28.
  36. ^ a b c d Munzel-Everling, pp. 8, 31.
  37. ^ Munzel-Everling, p. 31.
  38. ^ Munzel-Everling, pp. 7, 34.
  39. ^ a b Munzel-Everling, pp. 8, 16.
  40. ^ "FOTOGALERIJA Otvorena izložba 'Dubrovnik u Prvom svjetskom ratu 1914. - 1918.' -". (in Croatian). 2015-12-30. Retrieved 2017-01-18.
  41. ^ a b c Munzel-Everling, pp. 8, 30.
  42. ^ Munzel-Everling, pp. 8, 16–17.
  43. ^ Munzel-Everling, pp. 8, 10, 14.
  44. ^ Simmons, p. 211.
  45. ^ New-York Tribune, November 16, 1919, p. 6.
  46. ^ a b Munzel-Everling, p. 13.
  47. ^ a b Munzel-Everling, pp. 8, 14.
  48. ^ Munzel-Everling, p. 14.
  49. ^ Munzel-Everling, p. 16.
  50. ^ Munzel-Everling, pp. 7, 10.
  51. ^ Munzel-Everling, pp. 8, 16, 17.
  52. ^ Munzel-Everling, p. 17.
  53. ^ According to Munzel-Everling, pp. 8, 18, a fir-tree.
  54. ^ Roger Chickering, The Great War and Urban Life in Germany: Freiburg, 1914–1918, Studies in the social and cultural history of modern warfare, Cambridge, 2007, ISBN 978-0-521-85256-2, pp. 349–50: a linden.
  55. ^ Munzel-Everling, pp. 8, 19, 20.
  56. ^ a b Munzel-Everling, pp. 8, 19.
  57. ^ a b Munzel-Everling, pp. 8, 20.
  58. ^ Munzel-Everling, pp. 7, 8.
  59. ^ Munzel-Everling, pp. 7, 12.
  60. ^ Munzel-Everling, pp. 8, 17.
  61. ^ Munzel-Everling, p. 21.
  62. ^ Munzel-Everling, pp. 7, 8, 21.
  63. ^ Munzel-Everling, pp. 8, 21.
  64. ^ Munzel-Everling, pp. 8, 22.
  65. ^ Munzel-Everling, pp. 8, 23.
  66. ^ a b Munzel-Everling, pp. 8, 24.
  67. ^ Munzel-Everling, p. 24.
  68. ^ Munzel-Everling, pp. 8, 25.
  69. ^ Munzel-Everling, pp. 7, 8, 26, 27.
  70. ^ Munzel-Everling, pp. 8, 28.
  71. ^ Munzel-Everling, pp. 6, 7, 28.
  72. ^ Munzel-Everling, pp. 6, 8, 28.
  73. ^ Munzel-Everling, pp. 7, 29.
  74. ^ a b Munzel-Everling, pp. 7, 30.
  75. ^ Munzel-Everling, pp. 6, 8, 30.
  76. ^ Munzel-Everling, pp. 5, 7, 9–10.
  77. ^ Frantzen, pp. 169–70.
  78. ^ Munzel-Everling, pp. 7, 28.
  79. ^ Munzel-Everling, pp. 4, 8, 23.
  80. ^ Munzel-Everling, pp. 4, 8, 14.
  81. ^ James McClure, ed. Kim Strong, Never to Be Forgotten: A Year-by-Year Look at York County's Past, York, Pennsylvania: York Daily Record / York Newspaper Co., 1999, OCLC 41427147, "Residents seeking a shot at the kaiser buy nails at 10 cents a piece and drive them into the kaiser's head".
  82. ^ Jim McClure, "Hammer-wielding Yorkers helped to nail kaiser's noggin", York Blog, York Town Square, 26 December 2007, retrieved 26 August 2011.
  83. ^ Florian Dering, Volksbelustigungen. Eine bildreiche Kulturgeschichte von den Fahr-, Belustigungs- und Geschicklichkeitsgeschäften der Schausteller vom achtzehnten Jahrhundert bis zur Gegenwart, Dissertation, University of Munich, Nördlingen: Greno, 1986, ISBN 3-8919-0005-8, p. 159 (in German)


  • Heiko Bockstiegel. "Der Eiserne Burgmann im Rathaussaal zu Quakenbrück". Heimat-Jahrbuch Osnabrücker Land 1980, pp. 54 ff. (in German)
  • Martin Kronenberg. Die Bedeutung der Schule für die "Heimatfront" im Ersten Weltkrieg: Sammlungen, Hilfsdienste, Feiern und Nagelungen im Deutschen Reich. Dissertation, University of Göttingen, 2010. (in German) pdf at University of Göttingen. GoogleBooks preview. (in German)
  • "New-York Tribune Pg 6". New-York Tribune. 1919. pp. 1–20. ISSN 1941-0646. OCLC 9405688. Retrieved November 16, 2019.
  • Gerhard Schneider. "Über Hannoversche Nagelfiguren im ersten Weltkrieg". Hannoversche Geschichtsblätter new series 50 (1996) 216–58. (in German)
  • Gerhard Schneider. "Zur Mobilisierung der 'Heimatfront': Das Nageln sogenannter Kriegswahrzeichen im ersten Weltkrieg", Zeitschrift für Volkskunde 95 (1999) 32–62. (in German)
  • Gerhard Schneider. "Nageln in Niedersachsen im Ersten Weltkrieg". Niedersächsisches Jahrbuch für Landesgeschichte 76 (2004) 245–84. (in German)
  • Karl-Robert Schütze. Der eiserne Hindenburg. Berlin: Karl-Robert Schütze, 2007. ISBN 9783928589215 (in German)

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Nail Men at Wikimedia Commons