Michael Unterguggenberger

An Experiment in Wörgl

The year was 1932; the world was gripped by the greatest economic depression that it had ever known. One man in a small town decided to try something new to help the people of his community. In doing so the town made economic history. The town was Wörgl in the Bavarian province of Austria. To understand the Wörgl experiment you have to understand the man behind it. The towns mayor Michael Unterguggenberger.

Michael Unterguggenberger

Michael was born into an old Tyrolean peasant family. He lived the life of a poor European without falling into the mental trap of heavy blue-collar work. He apprenticed himself to a master mechanic. After apprenticeship he became a journeyman mechanic. At the age of twenty-one he had his first post at the Worgl railway station. His striving for social justice jeopardized his personal advancement. In taking a stand for his fellow workers as a trade union man, he was not promoted any higher. In 1912 he was elected representative for the union of Innsbruck Rail Engineers in the committee for personnel. Yet to the officials of the Austrian Railroad network he was seen as the person who represented the concerns of the workers against the moneyed interests of the railroad. Later Alex von Muralt would write that Michael Unterguggenberger always stressed that he was not a Marxist.


Wörgl was a small town that had grown rapidly in the early 1900's. Then came the crash of 1929, which quickly spread, into Europe. Michael was town councilor, he soon became deputy mayor. In 1931 he was elected mayor of Wörgl. As mayor he had a long list of projects he wanted to accomplish. Projects like repaving roads, street lighting, extending water distribution across the entire town and planting trees along the streets. But in the midst of the depression out of the towns population of 4,500, 1,500 were without a job and 200 families were penniless.

Next >