The DAP was founded in Munich in the hotel “Fürstenfelder Hof” on January 5th, 1919 by just five individuals. Four months later, only ten members were present at the meeting; a later meeting in August only noted thirty-eight members attending. A month later, on September 12th, when Adolf Hitler attended the DAP meeting for the first time, only forty-one member showed up.
The party was clearly stagnating. It was still just one of seventy-three (!) or so nationalist groups in Germany. In Munich alone there were at least fifteen. Like the DAP, most of these were small, insignificant organizations.
Laws of party politics are just as brutal as the laws of business. You either grow, and grow fast – or you die. Cut and dry, plain and simple, loud and clear. Consequently, DAP had a choice: either become a mass movement – or perish.
Surprisingly, not everyone in the party agreed with this assessment. The cautious (too cautious) Karl Harrer, the party’s first chairman, believed that DAP should remain a small “völkisch circle” and that a rapid expansion would inevitably result in the collapse of an organization.
However, other party leaders (and most, if not practically all) party members did not share his fears so he found himself all but completely isolated. He had the choice of ether to agree with the overwhelming majority – or to resign. He chose the latter and was promptly replaced by another party founder – Anton Drexler.
Hitler and most of other party leaders were convinced that there was a tremendous potential (“market”) for their ideology – it only had to be marketed effectively (by doing the right things) and efficiently (by doing the things in the right way).
No nationalist group at that time had such a powerful agitator as Adolf Hitler as its member, so DAP already had one crucial competitive advantage in the “nationalist political jungle”.
However, by itself it was not enough. To survive (let alone prosper) on the German market for nationalist parties, it had to develop another crucial competitive advantage – an effective and efficient promotion (“marketing”) system which at that time and no one had. Including the DAP.
When Adolf Hitler joined the party, had no membership forms, no printed matter, not even a rubber stamp. Invitations to party meetings were handwritten or produced on a typewriter. Not surprisingly, the same few people turned up every time. Not very wealthy people, to put it mildly, so the party was dirt poor.
Even before he was officially appointed as DAP propaganda chief, Hitler initiated and carried out sweeping reforms of the party promotion and fundraising system. For all practical purposes, he created this system as before him DAP had no such system to speak of.
He made the party move to mimeographed notices which immediately brought a modest rise in numbers attending. More aggressive fundraising allow the party to place an advertisement in the Münchener Beobachter newspaper for a meeting on October 16th 1919.
Not surprisingly, the ad worked. One-hundred and eleven people showed up. In slightly over a month after he first attended the party meeting, Adolf Hitler almost tripled the attendance. And it was just the beginning of a rapid expansion of the party.
At that meeting, HHitler was not the main speaker, but he was by far the most impressive one. He electrified his audience and prompted a collection of 300 Marks for the party coffers (a large sum for the party at that time).
Invigorated by this success, Hitler insisted on more frequent and larger meetings. He got his way, and these took place in larger halls, with Hitler speaking to bigger and bigger audiences and with greater and greater success.
By the seventh meeting, the attendance had swollen to over 400 people (and so did the collections). Now he felt the time has come for a genuinely mass meeting. There was some opposition as some party leaders believed that the party expansion was happening too fast, but Hitler prevailed and the meeting date was set on February 24th, 1920. The meeting will be held in one of the largest beer halls in Munich – in the Festsaal of the Hofbräuhaus in the city centre.
It will turn out to be a historic one.