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History of German-American Relations >
1901-1939: Early 20th Century

German-American Relations Timeline - 1901-1939 1683-1900 1939-1945 1945-1955 1956-1988 1989-1994 1994-2000 2001- 1901-1939
1683-1900 1901-1939 1939-1945 1945-1955 1956-1988 1989-1994 1994-2000 2001
Germans in America | The German Language in the United States | German-American Relations

What kind of information materials are available?
CD: Texts available on CD version.Texts available in multiple languages.

Erster Weltkrieg
Encyclopedia Americana: Woodrow Wilson
German-American Chronology
The German-Americans: An Ethnic Experience
The German Diplomatic Files
Die Weimarer Republik
Das NS-Regime

Teacher Resources
The Foreign Policy of Franklin D. Roosevelt To The Entry Into World War II
Germany and America in the 20th Century A Hypertext Timeline
The Lost Children of Berlin
Shell Shock - World War I
Teaching With Documents: The Zimmermann Telegram.
What Are We Fighting For Over There? Perspectives on the Great War
Why We Fight - The Nazis Strike

Original Documents
Commercial Agreement Between the United States and Germany, 1907 CD
The Peace Treaty of Versailles English | Deutsch
President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, 1918 | Deutsch CD
President Woodrow Wilson's War Message
Primary Documents: Germany
Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Consular Rights, 1923 CD
Treaty of Peace with Germany
Treaty Restoring Friendly Relations, 1921 CD
World War I Document Archive

Charles Dawes  | Deutsch
Herbert C. Hoover, U.S. President (1929-33)
Kaiser Wilhelm II
Franklin D. Roosevelt, U.S. President (1933-45) |  Deutsch
Theodore Roosevelt, U.S. President (1901-09) |  Deutsch
Woodrow Wilson, U.S. President (1913-21) |  Deutsch

Hoover, Wilson, Roosevelt
Presidents Hoover,
Wilson and F.D. Roosevelt

World War I

Up until the 20th century, German-American relations focused chiefly on immigration and commerce. Starting in 1871, as a unified Germany became a more dominant power in European politics, the relationship encountered some frictions as a result of naval and economic rivalries. Minor incidents, occurring in Manila Bay, Beijing, Samoa, and Venezuela, ultimately escalated to Germany's submarine warfare against merchant shipping which caused the United States to enter World War I.

On August 4, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed U.S. neutrality in the European war. This changed abruptly on May 7, 1915, when a German submarine sank the British ocean liner Lusitania with 1,198 people aboard, among them over 100 Americans. When Germany announced on January 31, 1917 a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare, the United States cut diplomatic ties with Germany. After the sinking of five U.S. vessels, Wilson formally declared war on April 6, 1917. The war affected the lives of German-Americans in unique ways. German-language instruction ended in most states; hundreds of German-language publications ceased to exist. German music was no longer played and many streets, buildings, and even cities were renamed. Sauerkraut became "liberty cabbage" and hamburgers turned into "Salisbury steaks."

President Wilson presented his Fourteen Points in January 1918 as the basis for a just peace. It called for the abandonment of secret international agreements, a guarantee of freedom of the seas, the removal of tariff barriers between nations, reductions in national armaments, an adjustment of colonial claims with due regard to the interests of the inhabitants affected, self-rule and unhampered economic development for European nationalities. The Fourteenth Point called for the formation of an association of nations. When the armies of Germany were beaten back in the fall of 1918, the German government appealed to Wilson to negotiate on the basis of the Fourteen Points. The president conferred with the Allies, who acceded to the German proposal, but only with some compromises. An armistice was concluded on November 11, 1918.

Weimar Germany

The United States sought a lenient peace for Germany at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, however Wilson had been forced to compromise on his proposals for a generous and lasting peace. In June 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was signed. It redrew the map of Europe and, as a result, Germany lost one seventh of its territory. Germany was also charged with paying heavy reparations. The U.S. Senate rejected both the Versailles Treaty and the League Covenant in March 1920. Germany was not permitted to join the League of Nations until 1926. The United States and Germany signed a separate peace treaty in 1921 and a trade treaty in 1923.

The Dawes Plan presented in 1924 by American banker Charles Dawes was designed to help Germany pay its World War I reparations debt. It eased Germany's payment schedule and provided for an international loan. In 1929, the Dawes Plan was replaced by the Young Plan which substituted a definite settlement that measured the exact extent of German obligations and reduced payments appreciably.

In 1928 Herbert Hoover, the first president of German ancestry, was elected.

The stock market crash of 1929 marked the end of an era of prosperity and led to the worst depression in American history. The German economy also faltered. Germany faced severe economic hardships, high unemployment, and runaway inflation. The days of the Weimar Republic were coming to an end.

Hitler's Rise to Power

The rise of Hitler's National Socialist Party and the resulting persecution of Jews and political dissidents brought about another break in German-American relations. However, an isolationist Congress and American public did not allow the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to do much to resist Hitler's rise to power. The Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act of 1934 was severed. After the "Reichskristallnacht" in 1938, the American ambassador was recalled but diplomatic relations were not severed.

A new wave of emigration from Germany to the United States occurred. These refugees from Nazi Germany included Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, Kurt Weill and Marlene Dietrich, and other artists, scientists, musicians, and scholars. With the exception of the German-American Bund, with Fritz Kuhn as its "Führer," there was little Nazi support in the United States. Most German-Americans were loyal to the United States and indifferent to the appeal of international Nazism.

See also:
About the USA > German-Americans
About the USA > History of the United States > War, Prosperity and the Big Crash (1900s to 1929)
About the USA > History of the United States > The Great Depression and the New Deal (1929 to 1941)

Texts are abridged from U.S. State Department IIP publications and other U.S. government materials.
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Updated: June 2008