German Immigration

German Immigration

Francis Daniel Pastorius was a lawyer in Krefeld but because of his religious beliefs was forced to leave the country in 1683. Pastorius arranged for twelve other Quaker families from Krefeld to sail to America on a ship called the Concord. Pastorius and his followers established Germantown, the first permanent settlement of German immigrants in America. Pastorius became the town's burgomaster and on 16th November, 1684, Germantown became the first in Philadelphia to hold a fair.

Germantown concentrated on producing cloth and sold considerable quantities to New York and Boston. Francis Daniel Pastorius was opposed to slavery and it was banned in Germantown. He also campaigned against it in other German colonies in America.

German emigration to America did not take place in any significant numbers until the beginning of the 18th century. In 1708 the British government began to encourage Protestants from Germany to settle in America. Over the next few years about 13,500 Germans reached England. Of these, 2,257 Roman Catholics were turned back. It took nearly 6 months to transport these Germans to America. Ships were overcrowded and typhus fever became a major problem. Of the 2,814 who started from America in 1710, 446 died on the way. One of those who arrived safely was John Peter Zengler, who later became the publisher of the journal, the New York Weekly Journal.

By 1711 the British government had spent £100,000 transporting Germans to America. Later the Germans purchased land along the left bank of the Mohawk in New York and established villages such as Mannheim, Oppenheim and Herkimer. In 1784 a Deutsche Gesellschaft was organised to help German immigrants on their arrival in America. One person helped by this organization was John Jacob Astor, who went on to become a highly successful fur trader.

Some moved on from New York to Pennsylvania. In 1766 a committee of the House of Commons was told that about a third of Pennsylvania's population were German immigrants. Roman Catholics from Germany also began to settle in Maryland. Significant numbers of Germans also went to Virginia and began smelting iron ore at Germanna, near Fredericksburg.

In 1829, Gottfried Duden, a German visitor to America, published his book, Report of a Journey to the Western States of North America. The book providing a very attractive account of German immigrant life in America. As well as describing spectacular harvests, Duden praised the intellectual freedom enjoyed by people living in America. The book sold in large numbers and persuaded thousands of Germans to emigrate.

The failed German revolution in 1848 also stimulated emigration. Over the next ten years over a million people left Germany and settled in the United States. Some were the intellectual leaders of this rebellion, but most were impoverished Germans who had lost confidence in its government's ability to solve the country's economic problems.

Others left because they feared constant political turmoil in Germany. One prosperous innkeeper wrote after arriving in Wisconsin: "I would prefer the civilized, cultured, Germany to America if it were still in its former orderly condition, but as it has turned out recently, and with the threatening prospect for the future of religion and politics, I prefer America. Here I can live a more quiet, and undisturbed life."

New York City was popular with German immigrants. By 1860 over 100,000 Germans lived in the city and owned 20 churches, 50 schools, 10 bookstores and two German language daily newspapers. There was also an estimated 130,000 German-born immigrants in Chicago. The city became a centre of German culture with bands, orchestras and a theatre. Milwaukee, known as the German Athens, and Cincinnati, also had large numbers of Germans. One journalist wrote in the Houston Post, commented that "Germany seems to have lost all of her foreign possessions with the exception of Milwaukee, St. Louis and Cincinnati."

Most arrivals in America came from rural areas in Germany. These were often small farmers and farm labourers who had suffered from advances in agricultural technology during the 19th century. Many of these immigrants settled in Wisconsin, where the soil and climate was similar to that in Germany. Of the 70,000 Germans who migrated to the Deep South, about 15,000 lived in New Orleans.

Several of those who fled Germany in the 19th century because of their political beliefs became successful in the United States. This included August Follen (poet and politician), Carl Schurz (journalist and politician), Franz Sigel.(journalist and soldier), Peter Osterhaus (soldier and politician), Friedrich Heckler (soldier and politician) and Adalbert Volck (artist). Others such as the German revolutionary leader, Gottfried Kinkel, found it difficult to settle in the United States and decided to seek political sanctuary in England.

Anti-socialist laws passed in Germany also encouraged radicals to emigrate to America. These men usually became active in politics after arriving in the United States. In 1867, Germans in New York established the first ever socialist party in the United States. It is claimed in 1880 the majority of members of of the Socialist Labor Party had been born in Germany. In 1889 there were eight socialist daily newspapers printed in German.

Some German immigrants were attracted to anarchism. After being forced out of Germany and Britain, Johann Most, arrived in 1882 and soon emerged as the leader of the movement in the United States. In November 1887, eight German anarchists were indicted for the Haymarket Bombing, Later, four of these men, August Spies, Adolph Fisher, Louis Lingg and George Engel, were sentenced to death for the crime. In 1893, the German born Governor of Illinois, John Peter Altgeld, pardoned the men still in prison.

Several German immigrants became successful businessmen. This included Johann Suter (trading post), Oscar Hammerstein (real estate), Joseph Seligman (banking), Frederick Weyerhaeuser (timber), Solomon Loeb (banking), August Belmont (banking), Paul Warburg (banking), Jacob Schiff (banking), Otto Kahn (banking), Adolphus Busch (brewing), Isidor Straus (department stores), Henry Villard (publishing), Henry Lomb (optical products) and John Jacob Bausch (optical products).

Milwaukee, known as the German Athens, and Cincinnati, became the main centres of German-American culture in the United States. In 1915 a journalist wrote in the Houston Post that "Germany seems to have lost all of her foreign possessions with the exception of Milwaukee, St. Louis and Cincinnati."

In 1901 the National German-American Alliance was formed in an effort to preserve the German language and literature. It also became involved in the campaign against prohibition. By 1914 the organization claimed a membership of over two million.

On the outbreak of the First World War there was a growth of German nationalism in America. However, when the United States entered the conflict in 1917, the vast majority of German-Americans played their full part in the war-effort. This did not stop a hostility to anything German in the United States. Towns, streets and buildings with German names were renamed. During this period a large number of American-Germans changed their surnames in order to hide their origins.

In 1917 the National German-American Alliance, an organization that had campaigned against United States involvement in the war, had its charter withdrawn. Some schools stopped teaching German as a foreign language and radio stations were encouraged not to play the music of German composers. A large number of German language newspapers, starved of advertising, were also forced to close.

In 1890 there were large numbers of German born immigrants in the states of New York (499,000), Illinois (338,000) and Minnesota (117,000). There were also significant communities in New York City (211,000), Chicago (161,000), Milwaukee (55,000), Baltimore (41,000) and Minneapolis (8,000).

There were fewer opportunities for skilled workers in the United States in the early 20th century and emigration from Germany declined. Between 1820 and 1920 over 5,500,000 emigrated from Germany to the United States. Germany therefore contributed more people than any other country including Ireland (4,400,000), Italy (4,190,000) and Austria-Hungary (3,700,000).

Persecution of Jews by the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s once again increased a desire to emigrate to the United States. Arrivals included Albert Einstein, Karen Horney, Erich Fromm, Berthold Brecht, Kurt Weill and Hans Eisler.

An investigation carried out in 1978 revealled that since 1820 over 6,978,000 people emigrated to the United States from Germany. This amounted to 14.3 per cent of the total foreign immigration during this period.

German immigrants in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1897.
German immigrants in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1897.

Primary Sources

(1) Gottfried Duden, Report of a Journey to the Western States of North America (1829)

As long as the settler does not have sufficient meat from domestic animals, the hunting grounds keep in in provisions. There are so many deer, stages, turkeys, chickens, pheasants, snipe and other game that a good hunter without much exertion provides for the needs of a large family. Throughout the entire United States, hunting and fishing are completely free, and in the unenclosed spaces anyone can hunt how and when he pleases.

(2) John Kerler, letter written by a German immigrant after settling in Wisconsin (1849)

I would prefer the civilized, cultured, Germany to America if it were still in its former orderly condition, but as it has turned out recently, and with the threatening prospect for the future of religion and politics, I prefer America. Here I can live a more quiet, and undisturbed life. One lives in such safety here in the country that you seldom lock your door at night, leaving cattle, waggons, plows, everything, out in the open without having to fear thievery.

(3) Gustav Unonius , A Pioneer in Northwest America: 1841-1858, (1861)

Often we had found notices nailed to some tree close to the public road announcing such meetings, and had had private invitations to attend them, especially from zealous partisans of the Democratic Party apparently eager to convert us to their political faith. Notwithstanding these solicitations, we had not as yet even applied for United States citizenship. This would not have prevented us, though, from taking pan in various communal affairs and from voting in the local elections. But we did not consider ourselves well-enough informed in these matters to be willing to take active part in them. Who were to become justices of the peace, road inspectors, constables, tax collectors, and so forth, did not much concern us. We were protected as to person and property and felt fully satisfied with our government, or, rather, we hardly noticed that we had any.

Foreigners are generally inclined to engage in political disputes long before they know what things are all about, and the rashness with which they make use of a citizenship they have gained all too soon is without question harmful to the country.

The American republic will no doubt sooner or later find it necessary to change its naturalization laws. The Germans and especially the Irish have hardly had time to get a roof over their heads before they begin to busy themselves with political affairs of all kinds, become eager partisans, get their hands into everything, and cause no end of trouble and disorder - all of which could be avoided if Americans were left to govern the country alone.

Accustomed perhaps to being of little or no importance before, in a more liberal social order they feel all-important, and the spirit of opposition that led them to political radicalism at home now induces them to oppose almost everything proposed by sane and wise Americans for the good of the country. Many a time I have heard Germans who hardly understood the simplest English sentences say, "We are not going to let the Americans rule over us." Their false conception of liberty and citizenship and that of the Irish gave me an absolute distaste for all politics, and neither then nor later did I meddle with it except in questions where my duty bade me appear quietly and calmly at the ballot box.

I love the democratic social order where the majesty of the people really is a majesty before which a man can stand with the same veneration, yes, with even more, than before a royal throne; and I believe that the American people, left to themselves, will one day reveal that majesty to the world.

(4) Henry Villard wrote about arriving in New York in 1853 in his Memoirs: Journalist and Financier (1904)

My landing upon American soil took place under anything but auspicious circumstances. I was utterly destitute of money, had but a limited supply of wearing apparel, and that not suited to the approaching cold season, and I literally did not know a single person in New York or elsewhere in the Eastern States to whom I could not apply for help and counsel. To crown all, I could not speak a word of English.

A travelling companion who had tried to persuade me to accompany him to California noticed my depression, and guessed its cause from what he had drawn out of me on the voyage about my antecedents and plans. He generously offered to lend me twenty dollars, which I accepted, of course, with joy.

(5) Carl Schurz, Autobiography of Carl Schurz (1906)

Abraham Lincoln appointed General Franz Sigel as the commander of the First Army Corps of the Army of Virginia. The German-American troops welcomed Sigel with great enthusiasm, which the rank and file of the native American regiments at least seemed to share. He brought a splendid military reputation with him. He had bravely fought for liberty in Germany, and conducted there the last operations of the revolutionary army in 1849. He had been one of the foremost to organize and lead that force of armed men, mostly Germans, that seemed suddenly to spring out of the pavements of St. Louis, and whose prompt action saved that city and the State of Missouri to the Union. On various fields, especially at Pea Ridge, he had distinguished himself by personal gallantry as well as by skillful leadership.

(6) Samuel Gompers began involved in the National Union of Cigarmakers soon after arriving in the United States in 1863.

There was a vast difference between those early unions, and the unions of today. Then there was no law or order. a union was a more or less definite group of people employed in the same trade who might help each other out in special difficulties with the employer. There was no sustained effort to secure fair wages through collective bargaining. The employer fixed wages until he shoved them down to the point where human endurance revolted. It was late in the fall of 1879 my attention was called to a Cooper Union meeting at which two Englishmen, A.J. Mundella and Thomas Hughes, M.P., were to speak on the scope and influence of trade unions. Mundella was a manufacturer of Nottingham who established the first voluntary board of conciliation and arbitration for the hosiery and glove trades of that locality. My sense of injustice was stirring and I began going to more labour meetings, seeking the way out.

The cigarmakers employed in New York were practically all Germans - men of keener mentality and wider thought than any I had met before. They talked and read in German, but there was enough English spoken to enable me to understand that the trade union movement meant to those men something vastly bigger than anything I had ever conceived. Many of them were men who had learned the labor movement in Europe and who were refugees because they were active for the struggle for political as well as economic freedom.

(7) Louis Lingg, Autobiography of Louis Lingg (1887)

At thirteen I received my first impressions of the prevailing unjust social institutions, i.e., the exploitation of men by men. The main circumstances which caused this reflection in my youthful mind were the experiences of my own family. It did not escape my observation that the former employer of my father grew continually richer, despite the extravagant life he and his family were leading, whilst, on the other hand, my father, who had performed his respective part in creating the wealth his employer possessed and who had sacrificed his all, which was his health, in his effort to serve his master, was cast aside like a worn-out tool which had fulfilled its mission and could now be spared.

(8) John Peter Altgeld, Forum Magazine (February, 1890)

The question whether immigration shall be encouraged or restricted, and whether naturalization shall be made more difficult or not, must be considered both from the political and from an industrial point of view; and in each case it is necessary to glance back and see what have been the character, the conduct, and the political leaning of the immigrant, and what he has done to develop and enrich our country.

If we look at the political side first, and, as our space is limited, we will go back to 1860, calling attention, however, to the fact that up to that time, no matter from what cause, the immigration had been almost entirely to the Northern and free States, and not to the slave States. These, when carefully examined in connection with election returns, will show that but for the assistance of the immigrant the election of Abraham Lincoln as president of the United States would have been an impossibility, and the nineteenth century would never have seen the great free republic we see, and the shadow of millions of slaves would today darken and curse the continent.

The Scandinavians have always, nearly to a man, voted the Republican ticket. The Germans, likewise, were nearly always Republicans. In fact, the States having either a large Scandinavian or a large German population have been distinguished as the banner Republican States. Notably is this true of Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan, which has a large Scandinavian population; and of Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania, which have a very large German population.

(9) Jane Addams, Twenty Years at Hull House (1910)

An evening similar in purpose to the one devoted to the Italians was organized for the Germans, in our first year. Owing to the superior education of our Teutonic guests and the clever leading of a cultivated German woman, these evenings reflected something of that cozy social intercourse which is found in its perfection in the fatherland. Our guests sang a great deal in the tender minor of the German folksong or in the rousing spirit of the Rhine, and they slowly but persistently pursued a course in German history and literature, recovering something of that poetry and romance which they had long since resigned with other good things. We found strong family affection between them and their English-speaking children, but their pleasures were not in common, and they seldom went out together. Perhaps the greatest value of the Settlement to them was in placing large and pleasant rooms with musical facilities at their disposal, and in reviving their almost forgotten enthusiams. I have seen sons and daughters stand in complete surprise as their mother's knitting needles softly beat time to the song she was singing, or her worn face turned rosy under the hand-clapping as] she made an old-fashioned curtsy at the end of a German poem. It was easy to fancy a growing touch of respect in her children's manner to her, and a rising enthusiasm for German literature and reminiscence on the part of all the family, an effort to bring together the old life and the new, a respect for the older cultivation, and not quite so much assurance that the new was the best.

(10) John Dewey, The School as Social Centre (1902)

It is said that one ward in the city of Chicago has forty different languages represented in it. It is a well-known fact that some of the largest Irish, German, and Bohemian cities in the world are located in America, not in their own countries. The power of the public schools to assimilate different races to our own institutions, through the education given to the younger generation, is doubtless one of the most remarkable exhibitions of vitality that the world has ever seen.

But, after all, it leaves the older generation still untouched; and the assimilation of the younger can hardly be complete or certain as long as the homes of the parents remain comparatively unaffected. Indeed, wise observers in both New York and Chicago have recently sounded a note of alarm. They have called attention to the fact that in some respects the children are too rapidly, I will not say Americanized, but too rapidly de-nationalized. They lose the positive and conservative value of their own native traditions, their own native music, art, and literature. They do not get complete initiation into the customs of their new country, and so are frequently left floating and unstable between the two. They even learn to despise the dress, bearing, habits, language, and beliefs of their parents - many of which have more substance and worth than the superficial putting-on of the newly adopted habits.

One of the chief motives in the development of the new labour museum at Hull House has been to show the younger generation something of the skill and art and historic meaning in the industrial habits of the older generations - modes of spinning, weaving, metal working, etc., discarded in this country because there was no place for them in our industrial system. Many a child has awakened to an appreciation of admirable qualities hitherto unknown in his father or mother for whom he had begun to entertain a contempt. Many an association of local history and past national glory has been awakened to quicken and enrich the life of the family.

What we want is to see the school, every public school, doing something of the same sort of work that is now done by Hull House Settlement. It is a place where ideas and beliefs may be exchanged, not merely in the arena of formal discussion - for argument alone breeds misunderstanding and fixes prejudice - but in ways where ideas are incarnated in human form and clothed with the winning grace of personal life. Classes for study may be numerous, but all are regarded as modes of bringing people together, of doing away with barriers of caste, or class, or race, or type of experience that keep people from real communion with each other.

(11) Jane Addams, Twenty Years at Hull House (1910)

In a recent investigation of two hundred working girls it was found that only five per cent had the use of their own money and that sixty-two per cent turned in all they earned, literally every penny, to their mothers. It was through this little investigation that we first knew Marcella, a pretty young German girl who helped her widowed mother year after year to care for a large family of younger children. She was content for the most part although her mother's old-country notions of dress gave her but an infinitesimal amount of her own wages to spend on her clothes, and she was quite sophisticated as to proper dressing because she sold silk in a neighborhood department store. Her mother approved of the young man who was showing her various attentions and agreed that Marcella should accept his invitation to a ball, but would allow her not a penny toward a new gown to replace one impossibly plain and shabby. Marcella spent a sleepless night and wept bitterly, although she well knew that the doctor's bill for the children's scarlet fever was not yet paid. The next day as she was cutting off three yards of shining pink silk, the thought came to her that it would make her a fine new waist to wear to the ball. She wistfully saw it wrapped in paper and carelessly stuffed into the muff of the purchaser, when suddenly the parcel fell upon the floor. No one was looking and quick as a flash the girl picked it up and pushed it into her blouse. The theft was discovered by the relentless department store detective who, for "the sake of example," insisted upon taking the case into court. The poor mother wept bitter tears over this downfall of her "frommes Mädchen" and no one had the heart to tell her of her own blindness.

(12) Max Eastman, wrote about the persecution of Germans during the First World War in his book, Love and Revolution (1965)

It became a crime to advocate heavier taxation instead of bond issues, to criticize the Allies, to say that a referendum should have preceded the war, or hold that war was contrary to Christ's teaching. German music was banned, German editors and orchestra leaders were mobbed, German fried potatoes were swept from the table or renamed. Robert Prager, accused of pro-Germanism, was lynched in Collinsville, Illinois; the mob leaders were tried and acquitted. The Reverend Herbert S. Bigelow, a noted liberal preacher of Toledo, who spoke for the war but against hating the Germans, was kidnapped and horsewhipped "in the name of the women and children of Belgium".