Hundred Years of German Immigration to America
1683 - 1983
FINAL REPORT OF THE
PRESIDENTIAL COMMISSION FOR THE GERMAN-AMERICAN TRICENTENNIAL
PRESIDENT AND CONGRESS
OF THE UNITED STATES
Pursuant to Public Law 97-472 and Public Law 98-197
Presidential Commission for the German-American Tricentennial
Horst G. Denk and Kenneth Rush, Co-Chairmen
Americans claim German heritage. They comprised 26.1 percent of the
188,000,000 people -- from a total population of 226,504.,825 -- who
answered questions on ethnicity in the 1980 census.
as one student of the German-American experience
"Despite such numerical strength in the 1970s, the Germans ... were
among the least visible of ethnic groups." Even with the current resurgence
of ethnic awareness in the U.S., most Americans of German origin regard
themselves simply as Americans and are generally indistinguishable from
the rest of the population. Few if any nationalities have blended so
completely into the multicultural mosaic of twentieth century American
German-Americans have a quiet pride in their cultural inheritance and
of German birth or descent have made to the progress and prosperity
States. As President Reagan noted in May 1981, " with strong hands
and good hearts, these industrious people helped build a strong and
good America." Later, on January
in proclaiming 1983 the "Tricentennial anniversary year of German settlement
in America," he observed that more than seven million German immigrants
"have entered the United
made extraordinary human, economic, political, social, and cultural
contributions to the growth and success of our great country."
organized group of German immigrants to this country, thirteen Mennonite
families numbering thirty-three persons from Krefeld on the Rhine, arrived
in Philadelphia on October 6, 1683, and quickly established Germantown
a few miles away. In their experience can be seen the industry, frugality,
and perseverance that were 'to become the hallmarks of millions of their
fellow countrymen who followed them to America. They settled within
two days on land they had purchased in advance from William Penn, and
immediately began building. They had occupied their first living quarters
by winter that year. Germantown quickly developed into "the first distinctively
manufacturing town in Pennsylvania." Though a small community near a
large metropolis, it quickly developed a variety of industrial activities,
producing textiles, leather, coaches and carts, paper, and other products
basic to the economy of the period.
of Germantown came to America primarily seeking religious freedom from
the repressive treatment given nonconformist groups in the German principalities
of the seventeenth century. Many fellow countrymen followed for that
reason. Increasingly, however, their motives were Political or socioeconomic
or, perhaps more often, both.
was seen as a land of great, if not always clearly perceived, opportunities.
Land and work were plentiful. In the colonial period, the century after
Germantown's founding, almost one hundred thousand Germans immigrants.
The British encouraged new settlers. By the time of the ,American Revolution,
nearly a quarter of a million German-Americans lived in the thirteen
colonies., Most had come as agricultural laborers, peasants, and craftsmen
with,skills adaptable to, life in a new land.
of the colonial period made indelible mark on America in the formative
years of the new Republic. The breadth and importance of these contributions
are symbolized by a remarkable family, the Muhlenbergs of Pennsylvania.
Pastor John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg ascended his Lutheran pulpit in
Woodstock, Virginia one Sunday in January,1776. Declaring "There is
a time for all things, There is a time to preach and a time to fight,"
he removed his pastoral robe to reveal the uniform of a Volunteer regiment.
Three hundred members of the community then spontaneously enlisted to
fight the British with their pastor. This friend and supporter of Patrick
Henry went on to raise - and command the Eighth Virginia Regiment, to
distinguish himself at the
the Brandywine, and to lead the units- which stormed and took the British
redoubts before Yorktown. Muhlenberg was the eldest of six sons of Henry
Melchior Muhlenberg, generally acknowledged as the first organizer of
Lutheranism in America. other sons were also prominent. One became
a renowned botanist
and was speaker of the First Congress of the United States. Another
was Vice-Governor of Pennsylvania after the Revolution.
impact of the German immigrants of the colonial period was considerable,
the great era of German immigration from a numerical standpoint began
only with the political, economic, and social upheavals that followed
the Napoleonic Wars. Between 1825 and 1835, about fifty thousand Germans
made the long voyage to America, followed in the next decade by another
two hundred thousand. From 1816 to 1914, about five and a half million
Germans came to the United States. In the beginning, they were farmers,
craftsmen, and small tradesmen. However, the ultimate failure of the
Social Democratic Revolution of 1848-49 created a new kind of immigrant:
judges, lawyers, professors, writers, and other intellectuals who were
liberals and democrats, patriots and freedom fighters, products of the
student movement in mid-nineteenth-century Germany.
among them was Carl Schurz,who became successively a candidate for lieutenant-governor
in Wisconsin, ambassador to Spain, a Union Army general, senator from
Missouri, Secretary of the Interior, and editor of the New York Evening
Post and Harper's_Weekly. In the tradition of the people
of Germantown, who made the first public protest against slavery in
America in 1688, only five years after their arrival in America, Schurz
and other "Forty-Eighters" were in the forefront of the anti-slavery
reform impulses were felt in other areas as well. While Secretary of
the Interior, Schurz was among those leading advocates of Civil Service
reform whose efforts resulted in passage of the Pendleton Act in 1883,
a significant first step away from the old "spoils system." It has been
said of him,
he remained a symbol of moral leadership and intellectual achievement.
To all immigrants of his own and later generations, his life served
as a reminder that economic opportunity was not the only or even the
most important reward that American society held forth to those willing
to accept its challenges and demands.
and the influx of the Forty-Eighters, the tide of German immigrants
continued to rise. It rose to a half million during the years 1852-1854
-- 215,000 in 1854 alone -and nearly a million throughout the decade
of the 1850s. Their origins were more diverse than those of earlier
arrivals, who came mainly from southwestern Germany, and so were their
occupations. Farmers and artisans came with their families. Often whole
villages immigrated. But there were more skilled workers now, reflecting
the growth of industries and cities, both in Germany and the U.S., where
opportunities in industry, commerce, and trade awaited experienced newcomers.
In mid- century, half or more of all employed German immigrants were
skilled manual workers in Milwaukee, St. Louis, Detroit, New York, Jersey
City, and Boston. Many others were in non-manual occupations. Very few
were unskilled laborers.
By the mid-1800s,
westward settlement of the United States permitted this new wave of
Germans to move beyond earlier concentrations of their countrymen in
places like Pennsylvania and the Appalachian valleys to the cities and
farm lands of the Midwest and even Far West. Most chose to live in the
upper Mississippi and Ohio valleys, mainly in Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin,
and Missouri. The stability of German American settlements in Pennsylvania
and the Midwest is reflected in the large percentage of the current
populations of these states claiming ' German ancestry: Pennsylvania
(34%), Ohio (33%), Illinois (27%),Wisconsin (51%), and Missouri (32%).
Indiana, Michigan and Minnesota have German-American populations of
comparable size. Similarly, more than one fourth (28%) of the people
of Oregon -- a major destination of nineteenth century immigrants making,the
long.,arduous journey westward -- are of German descent.
their preference for certain areas, Germans could eventually be found
everywhere. In his book "The German Element in the United States,"
Albert B. Faust notes that by-the 1900 census they were "more equally
distributed over the territory of the United States than any other foreign
element," This pattern has continued in this century. It is both a cause
and consequence of a willingness among most German immigrants, typified
earlier by Carl Schurz, to become altogether citizens of their new country.
caused by the American Civil
I War and
the Franco-Prussian War, large-scale German immigration resumed and
quickly reached an all-time high in 1882, when a quarter
of a million
Germans entered this country.: German-born Americans became the dominant
element in many major cities and constituted the largest foreign-born,group
in the country. Though fewer German immigrants of that time were farmers,
as late as 1900 most American farmers were of German ancestry. They
were widely regarded as the best husbandmen in the land.
By the last
quarter of the nineteenth century, America was pervaded by German influences.
Many of these have become so accepted a part of America ,life that their
ethnic origin has been forgotten. Santa Claus (St. Nicholas), the Christmas
tree, the Easter bunny, the frankfurter, the hamburger, and beer are
familiar features of American life. Our kindergartens and graduate schools
were German-inspired. Classical music, choral singing, and marching
bands in America were given strong impetus by German teachers, musicians,
and enthusiastic amateurs from early times, but especially in the latter
decades of the last century.
reform tradition in politics and the American labor movement have been
shaped largely by socially conscious German- Americans. The oft-discussed
American work ethic, a prime factor in the rapid rise of the U.S. to
preeminence in agriculture and industry in the twentieth century, owes
much to the German- Americans' commitment to excellence.
the ability of the Germans to make this land their own, the immigration
pattern in this century has been uneven, complicated by politics, tragedy,
and war. The great movement of more than two centuries came to a halt
during the First World War. The war years were unhappy for German-Americans,
who suddenly found themselves -- archetypal assimilators -- treated
as aliens. During the 1920s new federal policies prevented the resumption
of immigration on the prewar scale., Nonetheless, 75,000 German immigrants
in 1924, many coming to escape difficult living conditions in postwar
War I, about 1.5 million Germans have immigrated to the United States.
Many were political refugees, often intellectuals and persons of substantial
means. During the years 1933-41, German immigrants numbered 104,000,
some eighty thousand of them Jews fleeing persecution by the Nazis.
In the early post-World War II years of 1949-58, another 375,000 arrived
-- a small proportion of the great masses of Europeans uprooted by that
war. Many were ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe.
But a brief
survey of immigration trends cannot begin to tell the story of the profound
effect the achievements and contributions of German-Americans have had
on making the United States the country it is today. Famous for their
practical skills, thrift, hard work, interest in the arts, and enjoyment
of good living they have left their mark indelibly on American culture
and life. Even a summary account of their three-hundred-year-old story
cannot omit mention of a few among the many who have played a special
part in creating the German-American legacy.
helped win and transmit the freedoms we enjoy today. For example, the
first great victory for freedom of the press in America occurred in
1735 when a jury found John Peter Zenger, a German-American printer
and journalist, justified in criticizing the colonial government. Philadelphia's
German- language Philadelphische Zeitung was the first newspaper
to report the Declaration of Independence.
Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, a Prussian military officer, turned Washington's
civilian soldiers into a disciplined force capable of defeating the
British. Notable among many German-Americans who have shaped our military
to meet later challenges were John J. Pershing, whose ancestral family
name was Pfoerschin, and Dwight D. Eisenhower, a descendant of Hans
Nikolas Eisenhauer. "Ike" also shared with Herbert Hoover the distinction
of being one of our two Presidents of German descent.
Conestoga wagons carried our pioneers westward, some armed with "Kentucky
rifles," also made in Pennsylvania by Germans. A leading German-American
wagon builder, Clement Studebaker, later produced the popular car that
bore his name.
famous bridge, a century-old American landmark, was designed and built
by the visionary German immigrant engineer,John Roebling, and his son,
Washington. It joined Brooklyn with Manhattan Island, bought from Indians
for a few beads by German-born Peter Minuit.
call of German-American leaders in business and finance includes names
like Astor, Boeing, Chrysler, Firestone, Fleischman, Guggenheim, Heinz,
Hershey, Kaiser, Rockefeller, Steinway, Strauss (of-blue jeans fame),
Singer (originally Reisinger), Sulzberger, Wanamaker, and Weyerhaueser.
And other famous names, such as Einstein, Bausch, Lomb, Mergenthalerf
Steinmet,,Westinghouse and Wernher von Braun helped give America preeminence
in science and technology.
there have been such memorable figures as baseballers Honus Wagner,
and Casey.Stengel, and swimming champions Gertrude Ederle and
Weissmuller. In literature, Theodore Dreiser, John Steinbeck, Thomas
Mann, Kurt Vonnegut and the inimitable "Dr. Seuss" (Theodor Seuss Geisel),
author of forty-four children's books. In journalism, Thomas Nast, the
German-born cartoonist who created the popular images of Uncle Sam and
Santa Claus and gave us the donkey and elephant symbols for our major
political parties, Rudolf Dirks, creator of the beloved "Katzenjammer
Kids", Charles Schulz of "Peanuts" fame, Adolph Ochs, H. L.-Mencken,
and Walter Lippman.
organ-makers, Steinway, Knabe, and Wurlitzer -- Leopold and Walter Damrosch,
Bruno Walter, John Philip Sousa, Oscar Hammerstein, Paul Hindemith,
Arnold Schoenberg, and Kurt Weill. And from the theatre a succession
of gifted playwrights, directors and performers, among them Bertolt
Brecht, Ernst Lubitsch, Eric von Stroheim, Fritz Lang, Otto Preminger,
Billy Wilder, and the inimitable Marlene Dietrich.
arts have also benefited from German genius. Painters of German birth
or.descent from the nineteenth century include Emanuel Leutze, best
known for his classic work, Washington Crossing the Delaware, and
Albert Bierstadt, who captured on canvas the majestic beauty of the
American West. Notable in our own times have been Max Beckmann, Hans
Hofmann, George Grosz, Lyonel Feininger, Josef Albers, Roy Lichtenstein,
Robert Rauschenberg, and the great critic, Erwin Panofsky.
of the art of photography -- Alfred Stieglitz and Alfred Eisenstaedt
-- were also German-Americans. And American architecture has been enormously
influenced by German emigres Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe.
the thirsty millions from every walk of American life, the names Stroh,
Schaefert Schlitz, Miller, Pabsto Anheuser- Busch, Budweiser, and Coors
are synonyms for beer brewed in the German-American tradition.
mention noted German-Americans and their achievements is only one way
of suggesting the magnitude of our debt to the millions of others who
have helped create and enrich the American way of life. As one recent
writer said, "...the relative handful of famous German-Americans has
been far less consequential in the shaping of America than have the
anonymous common folk." Ordinary German-Americans of the past three
centuries became a major part of our population, dispersed themselves
widely across the land, and fully accepted and embodied the ideals that
have become characteristic of our society. They have been a powerful,
constructive force in the formation of our society and our common heritage.
to all of these -- the great, near-great, and
"common folk" alike -- the Congress, by joint resolution and the
President by proclamation joined in declaring 1983 the "Tricentennial
Anniversary Year of German Settlement in America." Congress noted "the
immeasurable ... contributions to this country by millions of German
immigrants over the past three centuries." It cited the close friendship
between the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany based
on the common
values of democracy, guaranteed individual liberties, tolerance of personal
differences, and opposition to totalitarianism." The President added
that "the success of the Marshall Plant the Berlin Airlift, and the
ensuing NATO partnership have led to a recognition of our common democratic
ideals and joint interest in Western economic and political strength."
In its resolutiont
Congress established a Presidential Commission for the German-American
Tricentennial "to plant encourage, develop, and coordinate the commemoration
of the German-American Tricentennial" and called for a report on its
activities upon termination of the Commission.