- German American
Marlene Dietrich · John Pershing · Baron von Steuben
Dwight D. Eisenhower · Babe Ruth · John Jacob Astor
Norman Schwarzkopf · Meryl Streep · Albert Einstein
John Steinbeck · Frederick Muhlenberg · Sandra Bullock
Total population 50,707,758
16.5% of the U.S. population (2009)
Languages Religion Related ethnic groups
German Americans are citizens of the United States of German ancestry and comprise about 51 million people, or 17% of the U.S. population, the country's largest self-reported ancestral group. California, Texas and Pennsylvania have the largest numbers of German origin, although upper Midwestern states, including Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and the Dakotas, have the highest proportion of German Americans at over one-third.
None of the historical German states had overseas colonies, so not until the 1680s did the first significant groups of German immigrants arrive in the British colonies, settling primarily in New York and Pennsylvania. Immigration continued in very large numbers during the 19th century, with some eight million arrivals from Germany. They were pulled by the attractions of land and religious freedom, and pushed out of Europe by shortages of land and religious or political oppression. Many arrived seeking religious or political freedom, others for economic opportunities greater than those in Europe, and others simply for the chance to start fresh in the New World. The arrivals before 1850 were mostly farmers who sought out the most productive land, where their intensive farming techniques would pay off. After 1840, many came to cities, where "Germania"—German-speaking districts—soon emerged.
German Americans have been influential in almost every field in American society, including science, architecture, industry, sports, entertainment, theology, government, and the military. German American generals Baron von Steuben, John Pershing, Dwight Eisenhower, and Norman Schwarzkopf commanded the United States Army in the American Revolutionary War, World War I, World War II, and the Persian Gulf War, respectively. Many German Americans have played a prominent role in industry and business, including John D. Rockefeller, William Boeing, Walter Chrysler, George Westinghouse, and Donald Trump. Some, such as Brooklyn Bridge engineer John A. Roebling and architect Walter Gropius, left behind visible landmarks. Others, including Albert Einstein and Wernher von Braun, set intellectual landmarks. Still others, such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jack Nicklaus, Doris Day, and Leonardo DiCaprio, became prominent athletes or actors.
German Americans established the first kindergartens in the United States, introduced the Christmas tree tradition, and originated popular American foods such as hot dogs and hamburgers. German Americans have also dominated beer brewing for much of American history, beginning with breweries founded in the 19th century by German immigrants Eberhard Anheuser, Adolphus Busch, Adolph Coors, Frederick Miller, Frederick Pabst, Bernhard Stroh and Joseph Schlitz. German American celebrations are held throughout the country, one of the most well-known being the German-American Steuben Parade in New York City, held every third Saturday in September. There are also major annual events in Chicago, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, St. Louis and other cities. Like many other immigrants that came to the United States, an overwhelming number of people of German or partial German descent have essentially become Americanized.
- 1 History
- 2 19th century
- 3 20th Century
- 4 Demographics
- 5 Culture
- 6 Assimilation
- 7 German American influence
- 8 German-American communities
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Bibliography
- 12 External links
The first English settlers arrived at Jamestown, Virginia in 1607, and were accompanied by the first German American, Dr. Johannes Fleischer. He was followed in 1608 by five glassmakers and three carpenters or house builders. The first permanent German settlement in what became the United States was Germantown, Pennsylvania, founded near Philadelphia on October 6, 1683.
Large numbers of Germans migrated from the 1680s to 1760s, with Pennsylvania the favored destination. They migrated to America for a variety of reasons; Push factors involved worsening opportunities for farm ownership in central Europe, persecution of some religious groups, and military conscription; pull factors were better economic conditions, especially the opportunity to own land, and religious freedom. Often immigrants paid for their passage by selling their labor for a period of years as indentured servants.
Large sections of Pennsylvania and upstate New York attracted Germans. Most were Lutheran or German Reformed; many belonged to small religious sects such as the Moravians and Mennonites. German Catholics did not arrive in number until after the war of 1812.
In 1709, Protestant Germans from the Pfalz or Palatine region of Germany escaped conditions of hardship, traveling first to Rotterdam and then to London. Queen Anne of Great Britain helped them get to her colonies in America. The trip was long and difficult to survive because of the poor quality of food and water aboard ships and the infectious disease typhus. Many immigrants, particularly children, died before reaching America in June 1710.
The Palatine immigration of about 2100 people who survived was the largest single immigration to America in the colonial period. Most were first settled along the Hudson River in work camps, to pay off their passage. By 1711, seven villages had been established in New York on the Robert Livingston manor. In 1723 Germans became the first Europeans allowed to buy land in the Mohawk Valley west of Little Falls. One hundred homesteads were allocated in the Burnetsfield Patent. By 1750, the Germans occupied a strip some 12 miles (19 km) long along both sides of the Mohawk River. The soil was excellent; some 500 houses were built, mostly of stone, and the region prospered in spite of Indian raids. Herkimer was the best-known of the German settlements in a region long known as the "German Flats".
The most famous of the early German Palatine immigrants was editor John Peter Zenger, who led the fight in colonial New York City for freedom of the press in America. A later immigrant, John Jacob Astor, who came from Baden after the Revolutionary War, became the richest man in America from his fur trading and real estate investments in New York City.
The Mississippi Company settled thousands of German pioneers in French Louisiana during 1721. It encouraged Germans, particularly Germans of the Alsatian region who had recently fallen under French rule, and the Swiss to immigrate. Alsace was sold to France within the greater context of the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648).
The Jesuit Charlevoix went from Canada to Louisiana. His letter said "these 9,000 Germans, who were raised in the Palatinate (Alsace part of France) were in Arkansas. The Germans left Arkansas en masse. They went to New Orleans and demanded passage to Europe. The Mississippi Company gave the Germans rich lands on the right bank of the Mississippi River about 25 miles (40 km) above New Orleans. The area is now known as 'the German Coast'."
A thriving population of Germans lived upriver from New Orleans, Louisiana, known as the German Coast. They were attracted to the area through pamphlets such as J. Hanno Deiler's "Louisiana: A Home for German Settlers".
In North Carolina, German Moravians living around Bethlehem, Pennsylvania purchased nearly 100,000 acres (400 km2) from Lord Granville (one of the British Lords Proprietor) in the Piedmont of North Carolina in 1753. They established German settlements on that tract, especially in the area around what is now Winston-Salem). They also founded the transitional settlement of Bethabara, North Carolina (translated as House of Passage), the first planned Moravian community in North Carolina) in 1759. Soon after, the German Moravians founded the town of Salem in 1766 (now a historical section in the center of Winston-Salem) and Salem College (an early female college) in 1772.
German Jews immigrated to the American South throughout the 19th century until the early 20th century. They formed small German-Jewish communities in many parts of the South, especially in cities and towns, where they most often worked as local and regional merchants, cattle/livestock dealers, agricultural commodity traders, bankers, and business owners. Henry Lehman, who founded Lehman Brothers in Alabama with his brother, is a particularly prominent example of such a German-Jewish immigrant. German Jews settled in cities such as Charleston, South Carolina, where they founded the first Reform synagogue (Congregation Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim) in the country. German Jews also settled in other Southern cities and towns, where they built German-Jewish synagogues.
Between 1742 and 1753, roughly 1,000 Germans settled in Broad Bay, Massachusetts (now Waldoboro, Maine). Many of the colonists fled to Boston, Nova Scotia, and North Carolina after their houses were burned and their neighbors killed or carried into captivity by Native Americans. The Germans who remained found it difficult to survive on farming, and eventually turned to the shipping and fishing industries.
The tide of German immigration to Pennsylvania swelled between 1725 and 1775, with immigrants arriving as redemptioners or indentured servants. By 1775, Germans constituted about one-third of the population of the state. German farmers were renowned for their highly productive animal husbandry and agricultural practices. Politically, they were generally inactive until 1740, when they joined a Quaker-led coalition that took control of the legislature, which later supported the American Revolution. Despite this, many of the German settlers were loyalists during the Revolution, possibly because they feared their royal land grants would be taken away by a new republican government, or because of loyalty to a British German monarchy who had provided the opportunity to live in a liberal society. The Germans, comprising Lutherans, Reformed, Mennonites, Amish, and other sects, developed a rich religious life with a strong musical culture. Collectively, they came to be known as the Pennsylvania Dutch (from Deutsch). There were few German Catholics in Pennsylvania before the 1810s.
The Studebaker brothers, forefathers of the wagon and automobile makers, arrived in Pennsylvania in 1736 from the famous blade town of Solingen. With their skills, they made wagons that carried the frontiersmen westward; their cannons provided the Union Army with artillery in the American Civil War, and their automobile company became one of the largest in America, although never eclipsing the "Big Three", and was a factor in the war effort and in the industrial foundations of the Army.
When the American Revolutionary War broke out, Britain made arrangements with German princes to hire some 30,000 "Hessian" soldiers to fight against the American army. The largest group came from the country of Hesse, and the soldiers are often referred to as Hessians. Many became prisoners on American farms, some of whom permanently settled in America.
From names in the 1790 U.S. census, historians estimate Germans constituted nearly 9% of the white population in the United States.
The largest flow of German immigration to America occurred between 1820 and World War I, during which time nearly six million Germans emigrated to the United States. From 1840 to 1880, they were the largest group of immigrants. Following the Revolutions of 1848 in the German states, a wave of political refugees fled to America, who became known as Forty-Eighters. They included professionals, journalists, and politicians. Prominent Forty-Eighters included Carl Schurz and Henry Villard.
The cities of Milwaukee, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Chicago, New York, and Baltimore were favored destinations of German immigrants. By 1900, the populations of the cities of Cleveland, Milwaukee, Hoboken, and Cincinnati were all more than 40% German American. Dubuque and Davenport, Iowa had even larger proportions, as did Omaha, Nebraska, where the proportion of German Americans was 57% in 1910. In many other Northern cities, such as Fort Wayne, Indiana, German Americans were at least 30% of the population. Many concentrations acquired distinctive names suggesting their heritage, such as the "Over-the-Rhine" district in Cincinnati and "German Village" in Columbus, Ohio.
A favorite destination was Milwaukee, known as "the German Athens". Radical Germans trained in politics in the old country dominated the city's Socialists. Skilled workers dominated many crafts, while entrepreneurs created the brewing industry; the most famous brands included Pabst, Schlitz, Miller, and Blatz.
Whereas half of German immigrants settled in cities, the other half established farms in the Midwest. From Ohio to the Plains states, a heavy presence persists in rural areas into the 21st century. Few Germans settled in the Deep South, apart from some in New Orleans.
Texas attracted many Germans who entered through Galveston, both those who came to farm, and later immigrants who more rapidly took industrial jobs in cities such as Houston. As in Milwaukee, Germans in Houston built the brewing industry. By the 1920s, the first generation of college-educated German Americans were moving into the chemical and oil industries.
Texas had about 20,000 German Americans in the 1850s. They did not form a uniform bloc, but were highly diverse and drew from geographic areas and all sectors of European society, except that very few aristocrats or upper middle class businessmen arrived. In this regard, Texas Germania was a microcosm of the Germania nationwide.
The Germans who settled Texas were diverse in many ways. They included peasant farmers and intellectuals; Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and atheists; Prussians, Saxons, and Hessians ; abolitionists and slave owners; farmers and townsfolk; frugal, honest folk and ax murderers. They differed in dialect, customs, and physical features. A majority had been farmers in Germany, and most arrived seeking economic opportunities. A few dissident intellectuals fleeing the 1848 revolutions sought political freedom, but few, save perhaps the Wends, went for religious freedom. The German settlements in Texas reflected their diversity. Even in the confined area of the Hill Country, each valley offered a different kind of German. The Llano valley had stern, teetotaling German Methodists, who renounced dancing and fraternal organizations; the Pedernales valley had fun-loving, hardworking Lutherans and Catholics who enjoyed drinking and dancing; and the Guadalupe valley had atheist Germans descended from intellectual political refugees. The scattered German ethnic islands were also diverse. These small enclaves included Lindsay in Cooke County, largely Westphalian Catholic; Waka in Ochiltree County, Midwestern Mennonite; Hurnville in Clay County, Russian German Baptist; and Lockett in Wilbarger County, Wendish Lutheran.
Germans from Russia
Germans from Russia were the most traditional of German-speaking arrivals. They were Germans who had lived for generations throughout the Russian Empire, but especially along the Volga River in Russia, near the Crimea in the current Ukraine. Their ancestors had come from all over the German-speaking world, invited by Catherine the Great in 1762 and 1763 to settle and introduce more advanced German agriculture methods to rural Russia. They had been promised by the manifesto of their settlement the ability to practice their respective Christian denominations, retain their culture and language, and retain immunity from conscription for them and their descendants. As time passed, the Russian monarchy gradually eroded the ethnic German population's relative autonomy. Conscription eventually was reinstated; this was especially harmful to the Mennonites, who practice pacifism. Throughout the 19th century, pressure increased from the Russian government to culturally assimilate. Many Germans from Russia found it necessary to emigrate to avoid conscription and preserve their culture. About 100,000 immigrated by 1900, settling primarily in the Dakotas, Kansas and Nebraska. The southern central part of North Dakota was known as "the German-Russian triangle". A smaller number moved farther west, finding employment as ranchers and cowboys.
Negatively influenced by the violation of their rights and cultural persecution by the Tsar, the Germans from Russia who settled in the northern Midwest saw themselves a downtrodden ethnic group separate from Russian Americans and having an entirely different experience from the German Americans who had immigrated from German lands; they settled in tight-knit communities that retained their German language and culture. They raised large families, built German-style churches, buried their dead in distinctive cemeteries using cast iron grave markers, and created choir groups that sang German church hymns. Many farmers specialized in sugar beets—still a major crop in the upper Great Plains. During World War I, their identity was challenged by anti-German sentiment. By the end of World War II, the German language, which had always been used with English for public and official matters, was in serious decline. Today, German is preserved mainly through singing groups and recipes, with the Germans from Russia in the northern Great Plains states speaking predominantly English. German remains the second most spoken language in North and South Dakota, and Germans from Russia often use loanwords, such as Kuchen for cake. Despite the loss of their language, the ethnic group remains distinct, and has left a lasting impression on the American West.
Sentiment among German Americans was largely anti-slavery, especially among Forty-Eighters. Hundreds of thousands of German Americans volunteered to fight for the Union in the American Civil War (1861–1865). The Germans were the largest immigrant group to participate in the Civil War; over 176,000 U.S. soldiers were born in Germany. A popular Union commander among Germans, Major General Franz Sigel was the highest-ranking German officer in the Union Army, with many German immigrants claiming to enlist to "fight mit Sigel".
Although only one in four Germans fought in all-German regiments, they created the public image of the German soldier. Pennsylvania fielded five German regiments, New York eleven, and Ohio six.
Western railroads, with large land grants available to attract farmers, set up agencies in Hamburg and other German cities, promising cheap transportation, and sales of farmland on easy terms. For example, the Santa Fe railroad hired its own commissioner for immigration, and sold over 300,000 acres (1,200 km2) to German-speaking farmers.
Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the German Americans showed a high interest in becoming farmers, and keeping their children and grandchildren on the land. While they needed profits to stay in operation, they used profits as a tool "to maintain continuity of the family." They used risk-adverse strategies, and carefully planned their inheritances to keep the land in the family. Their communities showed smaller average farm size, greater equality, less absentee ownership and greater geographic persistence. As one farmer explained, "To protect your family has turned out to be the same thing as protecting your land."
Relatively few German Americans held office, but the men voted once they became citizens. In general, the Protestants and Jews leaned toward the Republican party and the Catholics were strongly Democratic. When prohibition was on the ballot, the Germans voted solidly against it. They strongly distrusted moralistic crusaders, whom they called "Puritans", including the temperance reformers and many Populists. The German community strongly opposed Free Silver, and voted heavily against crusader William Jennings Bryan in 1896. In 1900, however, many German Democrats returned to their party and voted for Bryan, perhaps because of President William McKinley's foreign policy.
World War I anti-German sentiment
During World War I, German Americans were sometimes accused of being too sympathetic to the German Empire. Former president Theodore Roosevelt denounced "hyphenated Americanism", insisting that dual loyalties were impossible in wartime. A small minority came out for Germany, or ridiculed the British (as did H. L. Mencken). Similarly, Harvard psychology professor Hugo Münsterberg dropped his efforts to mediate between America and Germany, and threw his efforts behind the German cause.
About 1% of the 480,000 enemy aliens of German birth were imprisoned in 1917-18. The allegations included spying for Germany, or endorsing the German war effort. Thousands were forced to buy war bonds to show their loyalty. The Red Cross barred individuals with German last names from joining in fear of sabotage. One person was killed by a mob; in Collinsville, Illinois, German-born Robert Prager was dragged from jail as a suspected spy and lynched. A Minnesota minister was tarred and feathered when he was overheard praying in German with a dying woman.
In Chicago, Frederick Stock temporarily stepped down as conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra until he finalized his naturalization papers. Orchestras replaced music by German composer Wagner with French composer Berlioz. In Cincinnati, the public library was asked to withdraw all German books from its shelves. German-named streets were renamed. For example, in Indianapolis, Germania Avenue was renamed Pershing Avenue — for a World War I general of German descent. Even the name of the town, Berlin, Michigan, was changed to Marne, Michigan (honoring those who fought in the Battle of Marne). In Iowa, in the 1918 Babel Proclamation, the governor prohibited all foreign languages in schools and public places. Nebraska banned instruction in any language except English, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the ban illegal in 1923 (Meyer v. Nebraska). The response of German Americans to these tactics was often to "Americanize" names (e.g. Schmidt to Smith, Müller to Miller) and limit the use of the German language in public places, especially churches.
World War II
Between 1931 and 1940, 114,000 Germans moved to the United States, many of whom—including Nobel prize winner Albert Einstein—were Jewish Germans or anti-Nazis fleeing government oppression. About 25,000 people became paying members of the pro-Nazi German American Bund during the years before the war. German aliens were the subject of suspicion and discrimination during the war, although prejudice and sheer numbers meant they suffered as a group generally less than Japanese Americans. The Alien Registration Act of 1940 required 300,000 German-born resident aliens to register with the Federal government and restricted their travel and property ownership rights. Under the still active Alien Enemy Act of 1798, the United States government interned nearly 11,000 German immigrants between 1940 and 1948. Most were not American citizens. Some of these were United States citizens; some were the parents of active military men. Civil rights violations occurred. Five hundred were arrested without warrant. Others were held without charge for months or interrogated without benefit of legal counsel. Convictions were not eligible for appeal. An unknown number of "voluntary internees" joined their spouses and parents in the camps and were not permitted to leave.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not hesitate to name Americans of German ancestry to top war jobs, including General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, and General Carl Andrew Spaatz. He appointed Republican Wendell Willkie as a personal representative. German Americans who had fluent German language skills were an important asset to wartime intelligence, and they served as translators and as spies for the United States.
In the aftermath of World War II, millions of ethnic Germans were forcibly expelled from their homes within the redrawn borders of Eastern Europe, including the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Hungary and Yugoslavia. Most resettled in Germany, but others came as refugees to the United States in the late 1940s, and established cultural centers in their new homes. Some Danube Swabians, for instance, ethnic Germans who had maintained language and customs after settlement along the Danube in Hungary, later Yugoslavia (now Serbia), immigrated to the U.S. after the war.
After 1970, anti-German sentiment aroused by World War II faded away. Today, German Americans who immigrated after World War II share the same characteristics as any other Western European immigrant group in the U.S. They are mostly professionals and academics who have come for professional reasons. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and reunification, Germany has become a preferred destination for immigrants rather than a source of migrating peoples.
In the 1990 U.S. Census, 58 million Americans claimed to be solely or partially of German descent. According to the 2005 American Community Survey, 50 million Americans have German ancestry. German Americans represent 17% of the total U.S. population and 26% of the non-Hispanic white population.
Of the four major U.S. regions, German was the most-reported ancestry in the Midwest, second in the West, and third in both the Northeast and the South. German was the top reported ancestry in 23 states, and it was one of the top five reported ancestries in every state except Maine and Rhode Island.
At the 2000 census, this was the breakdown of German Americans by state, including the District of Columbia. States in bold have a German plurality:
- North Dakota 46.9
- Wisconsin 43.9
- South Dakota 44.5
- Nebraska 42.7
- Minnesota 38.4
- Iowa 35.7
- Montana 27.0
- Wyoming 25.9
- Kansas 25.8
- Pennsylvania 25.4
- Ohio 25.2
- Missouri 23.5
- Indiana 22.6
- Colorado 22.0
- Oregon 20.5
- Michigan 20.4
- Illinois 19.6
- Idaho 18.8
- Washington 18.8
- Maryland 15.7
- Arizona 15.6
- Delaware 14.3
- Alaska 14.2
- Nevada 14.1
- West Virginia 14.0
- Kentucky 12.7
- Oklahoma 12.6
- New Jersey 12.6
- Florida 11.8
- Virginia 11.7
- Utah 11.5
- New York 11.2
- Texas 9.9
- California 9.8
- Connecticut 9.8
- New Mexico 9.8
- North Carolina 9.5
- Arkansas 9.3
- Vermont 9.1
- New Hampshire 8.6
- Maine 8.6
- South Carolina 8.4
- Tennessee 8.3
- Georgia 7.0
- Louisiana 7.0
- Massachusetts 5.9
- Hawaii 5.8
- Alabama 5.7
- Rhode Island
- District of Columbia 4.8
- Mississippi 4.5
By absolute number
- California 5,517,470
- Pennsylvania 3,491,269
- Ohio 3,231,788
- Illinois 2,668,955
- Texas 2,542,996
- Wisconsin 2,455,980
- Michigan 2,271,091
- New York 2,250,309
- Florida 2,270,456
- Minnesota 1,949,346
- Indiana 1,629,766
- Missouri 1,576,813
- Washington 1,319,975
- Iowa 1,169,638
- New Jersey 1,092,054
- Colorado 1,090,983
- North Carolina 1,020,432
- Arizona 977,613
- Virginia 973,438
- Maryland 937,887
- Kansas 856,348
- Oregon 811,780
- Georgia 757,769
- Nebraska 738,894
- Kentucky 638,231
- Tennessee 612,669
- Oklahoma 531,375
- South Carolina 425,455
- Louisiana 403,222
- Massachusetts 402,176
- Connecticut 365,727
- Arkansas 358,764
- West Virginia 354,704
- Nevada 338,717
- South Dakota 334,068
- Idaho 317,536
- Utah 313,733
- Alabama 354,259
- North Dakota 290,452
- Montana 282,130
- New Mexico 219,278
- Mississippi 172,456
- Wyoming 144,972
- Delaware 133,757
- New Hampshire 124,430
- Alaska 121,832
- Maine 109,401
- Hawaii 83,967
- Vermont 67,706
- Rhode Island
- District of Columbia 27,450
The Germans worked hard to maintain and cultivate their language, especially through newspapers and classes in elementary and high schools. German Americans in many cities, such as Milwaukee, brought their strong support of education, establishing German-language schools and teacher training seminaries (Töchter-Institut) to prepare students and teachers in German language training. By the late 19th century, the Germania Publishing Company was established in Milwaukee, a publisher of books, magazines, and newspapers in German.
"Germania" was the common term for German American neighborhoods and their organizations. Deutschtum was the term for transplanted German nationalism, both culturally and politically. Between 1875 and 1915, the German American population in the United States doubled, and many of its members insisted on maintaining their culture. German was used in local schools and churches, while numerous Vereine, associations dedicated to literature, humor, gymnastics, and singing, sprang up in German American communities. German Americans tended to support the German government's actions, and, even after the United States entered World War I, they often voted for antidraft and antiwar candidates. 'Deutschtum' in the United States disintegrated after 1918.
Beginning in 1741, the German-speaking Moravian Church Settlements of Bethlehem, Nazareth and Lititz, Pennsylvania, and Wachovia in North Carolina had highly developed musical cultures. Choral music, Brass and String Music and Congregational singing were highly cultivated. The Moravian Church produced many composers and muscicians. Haydn's Creation had its American debut in Bethlehem in the early 1800s.
The spiritual beliefs of Johann Conrad Beissel (1690–1768) and the Ephrata Cloister - such as the asceticism and mysticism of this Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, group - are reflected in Beissel's treatises on music and hymns, which have been considered the beginning of America's musical heritage.
In most major cities, Germans took the lead in creating a musical culture, with popular bands, singing societies, operas and symphonic orchestras.
A small city, Wheeling, West Virginia could boast of 11 singing societies - Maennerchor, Harmonie, Liedertafel, Beethoven, Concordia, Liederkranz, Germania, Teutonia, Harmonie-Maennerchor, Arion, and Mozart. The first began in 1855; the last folded in 1961. An important aspect of Wheeling social life, these societies reflected various social classes and enjoyed great popularity until anti-German sentiments during World War I and changing social values dealt them a death blow.
The Liederkranz, a German-American music society, played an important role in the integration of the German community into the life of Louisville, Kentucky. Started in 1848, the organization was strengthened by the arrival of German liberals after the failure of the revolution of that year. By the mid-1850s the Germans formed one-third of Louisville's population and faced nativist hostility organized in the Know-Nothing movement. Violent demonstrations forced the chorus to suppress publicity of its performances that included works by composer Richard Wagner. The Liederkranz suspended operations during the Civil War, but afterward grew rapidly, and was able to build a large auditorium by 1873. An audience of 8,000 that attended a performance in 1877 demonstrated that the Germans were an accepted part of Louisville life.
The Imperial government in Berlin promoted German culture in the U.S., especially music. During the late 19th century and early 20th century, the preponderance of German music on American symphony stages went hand in hand with the Kaiser's agenda for Germany's global expansion. After Germany's unification in 1871, German cultural diplomacy aimed increasingly to convince Anglo-American elites of the superiority of German culture to win political allies in the United States. A steady influx of German-born conductors, including Arthur Nikisch and Karl Muck, spurred the reception of German music in the United States, while German musicians seized on Victorian Americans' growing concern with 'emotion'. The performance of pieces such as Beethoven's Ninth Symphony established German serious music as the superior language of feeling, filling audiences with awe for the superiority not just of German art, but also of Germany in general - precisely the respect for German greatness and emotionalism that William II wanted to convey.
Turner societies in the United States were first organized during the mid-19th century so German American immigrants could visit with one another and become involved in social and sports activities. The National Turnerbund, the head organization of the Turnvereine, started drilling members as in militia units in 1854. Nearly half of all Turners fought in the Civil War, mostly on the Union side, and a special group served as bodyguards for President Lincoln.
By the 1890s, Turners numbered nearly 65,000. At the turn of the 21st century, however, with the ethnic identity of European Americans in flux and Americanization a key element of immigrant life, there were few Turner groups, athletic events were limited, and non-Germans were members. A survey of surviving groups and members reflects these radical changes in the role of Turner societies and their marginalization in 21st-century American society, as younger German Americans tended not to belong, even in strongholds of German heritage in the Midwest.
As for any immigrant population, the development of a foreign-language press helped immigrants more easily learn about their new home, maintain connections to their native land, and unite immigrant communities. By the late 19th century, Germania published over 800 regular publications. The most prestigious daily newspapers, such as the New Yorker Staats-Zeitung, the Anzeiger des Westens in St. Louis, and the Illinois Staats-Zeitung in Chicago, promoted middle-class values and encouraged German ethnic loyalty among their readership. The Germans were proud of their language, supported many German-language public and private schools, and conducted their church services in German. They published at least two-thirds of all foreign language newspapers in the U.S. The papers were owned and operated in the U.S., with no control from Germany. As Wittke emphasizes, press. it was "essentially an American press published in a foreign tongue." The papers reported on major political and diplomatic events involving Germany, with pride but from the viewpoint of its American readers. For example, during the latter half of the 19th century, at least 176 different German-language publications began operations in the city of Cincinnati alone. Many of these publications folded within a year, while a select few, such as the Cincinnati Freie Presse, lasted nearly a century. Other cities experienced similar turnover among immigrant publications, especially from opinion press, which published little news and focused instead on editorial commentary.
By the end of the 19th century, there were over 800 German-language publications in the United States. German immigration was on the decline, however, and with subsequent generations integrating into English-speaking society, the German language press began to struggle. The periodicals that managed to survive in immigrant communities faced an additional challenge with anti-German sentiment during World War I and with the Espionage and Sedition Acts, which authorized censorship of foreign language newspapers. Prohibition also had a destabilizing impact on the German immigrant communities upon which the German-language publications relied. By 1920, there were only 278 German language publications remaining in the country.
Germans brought organized gymnastics to America, and were strong supporters of sports programs. They used sport both to promote ethnic identity and pride and to facilitate integration into American society. Beginning in the mid-19th century, the Turner movement offered exercise and sports programs, while also providing a social haven for the thousands of new German immigrants arriving in the United States each year. Another highly successful German sports organization was the Buffalo Germans basketball team, winners of 762 games (against only 85 losses) in the early years of the 20th century. These examples, and others, reflect the evolving place of sport in the assimilation and socialization of much of the German-American population.
German immigrants who arrived before the 19th century tended to have been members of the Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Germany, and created the Lutheran Synods of Pennsylvania, North Carolina and New York. The largest Lutheran denominations in the U.S. today – the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod – are all descended from churches started by German immigrants among others. Calvinist Germans founded the Reformed Church in the United States (especially in New York and Pennsylvania), and the Evangelical Synod of North America (strongest in the Midwest), which is now part of the United Church of Christ. Many immigrants joined different churches from those that existed in Germany. Protestants often joined the Methodist church. In the 1740s, Count Nicolas von Zinzendorf tried to unite all the German-speaking Christians - (Lutheran, Reformed, and Separatists) - into one "Church of God in the Spirit". The Moravian Church in America is one of the results of this effort, as are the many "Union" churches in rural Pennsylvania.
Before 1800, communities of Amish, Mennonites, Moravians and Hutterites had formed and are still in existence today. Some still speak dialects of German, including Pennsylvania German, informally known as Pennsylvania Dutch (from Deutsch). The Amish, who were originally from southern Germany and Switzerland, arrived in Pennsylvania during the early 18th century. Amish immigration to the United States reached its peak between the years 1727 and 1770. Religious freedom was perhaps the most pressing cause for Amish immigration to Pennsylvania, which became known as a haven for persecuted religious groups.
The Hutterites are another example of a group of German Americans who continue a lifestyle similar to that of their ancestors. Like the Amish, they fled persecution for their religious beliefs, and came to the United States in 1870. Today, Hutterites mostly reside in Montana, the Dakotas, and Minnesota, and the western provinces of Canada. Hutterites continue to speak German. Most are able to speak Standard German in addition to their dialect.
Immigrants from Germany in the mid-to-late-19th century brought many different religions with them. The most numerous were Lutheran or Catholic, although the Lutherans were themselves split among different groups. The more conservative Lutherans comprised the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Other Lutherans formed a complex checkerboard of synods, most of which merged with Scandinavian-based synods in 1988, forming the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Some 19th century immigrants, especially the "Forty-Eighters", were secular, rejecting formal religion. About 250,000 German Jews had arrived by the 1870s, and they sponsored reform synagogues in many small cities across the country. About 2.0 million Eastern European Jews arrived from the 1880s to 1924, bringing more traditional religious practices.
After two or three generations, German Americans adopted mainstream American customs—some of which they heavily influenced—and switched their language to English. As one scholar concludes, "The overwhelming evidence … indicates that the German-American school was a bilingual one much (perhaps a whole generation or more) earlier than 1917, and that the majority of the pupils may have been English-dominant bilinguals from the early 1880s on." By 1914, the older members attended German-language church services, while younger ones attended English services (in Lutheran, Evangelical and Catholic churches). In German parochial schools, the children spoke English among themselves, though some of their classes were in German. In 1917–18, after the US entry into World War I on the side of the British, nearly all German language instruction ended, as did most German-language church services.
About 1.5 million Americans speak German today. From 1860-1917, German was widely spoken in German neighborhoods; see German in the United States. There is a false myth, called the Muhlenberg legend, that German was almost the official language of the U.S. There was never any such proposal. The U.S. has no official language, but use of German was strongly discouraged during World War I and fell out of daily use in many places.
There were fierce battles in Wisconsin and Illinois around 1890 regarding proposals to stop the use of German as the primary language in public and parochial schools. The Bennett Law was a highly controversial state law passed in Wisconsin in 1889 that required the use of English to teach major subjects in all public and private elementary and high schools. It affected the state's many German-language private schools (and some Norwegian schools), and was bitterly resented by German American communities. The German Catholics and Lutherans each operated large networks of parochial schools in the state. Because the language used in the classroom was German, the law meant the teachers would have to be replaced with bilingual teachers, and in most cases shut down. The Germans formed a coalition between Catholics and Lutherans, under the leadership of the Democratic Party, and the language issue produced a landslide for the Democrats, as Republicans dropped the issue until World War I. By 1917, almost all schools taught in English, but courses in German were common in areas with large German populations. These courses were permanently dropped.
"Assimilation" in this context means the steady loss of distinctive characteristics (especially language), as the Germans melted into a common American nationality. By 1910 German Americans had created their own distinctive, vibrant, prosperous German-language communities, called "Germania". The transition to an English language world was abrupt, forced by World War I. After 1917 the German language was seldom heard in public; most newspapers and magazines closed; churches and parochial schools switched to English. Youth increasingly attended high schools, where they mingled, in English, and dated (and later married) people of other ethnicities. The Catholic high schools were deliberately structured to commingle ethnic groups so as to promote intermarriage. German-speaking taverns, beer gardens and saloons were all shut down by prohibition; those that reopened in 1933 spoke English. By the 1940s Germania had largely vanished outside remote areas and the Germans were thoroughly assimilated.
Historians have tried to explain what happened. Kazal (2004) looks at Germans in Philadelphia, focusing on four ethnic subcultures: middle-class Vereinsdeutsche, working-class socialists, Lutherans, and Catholics. Each group followed a somewhat distinctive path toward assimilation. Lutherans, and the better situated Vereinsdeutsche with whom they often overlapped, after World War I abandoned the last major German characteristics and redefined themselves as old stock or as "Nordic" Americans, stressing their colonial roots in Pennsylvania and distancing themselves from more recent immigrants. On the other hand, working-class and Catholic Germans, groups that heavily overlapped, lived and worked with Irish and other European ethnics; they also gave up German characteristics but came to identify themselves as white ethnics, distancing themselves above all from African American recent arrivals in nearby neighborhoods. Well before World War I, women in particular were becoming more and more involved in a mass consumer culture that lured them out of their German-language neighborhood shops and into English language downtown department stores. The 1920s and 1930s brought English language popular culture via movies and radio that drowned out the few surviving German language venues.
German American influence
Germans have contributed to a vast number of areas in American culture and technology. Baron von Steuben, a former Prussian officer, led the reorganization of the U.S. Army during the War for Independence and helped make the victory against British troops possible. The Steinway & Sons piano manufacturing firm was founded by immigrant Henry E. Steinway in 1853. German settlers brought the Christmas tree custom to the United States. The Studebakers built large numbers of wagons used during the Western migration; Studebaker, like the Duesenberg brothers, later became an important early automobile manufacturer. Carl Schurz, a refugee from the unsuccessful first German democratic revolution of 1848 became an influential politician first in the Republican then in the Democratic party, and served as U.S. Secretary of the Interior.
After World War II, Wernher von Braun, and most of the leading engineers from the former German V-2 rocket base at Peenemünde, were brought to the U.S. They contributed decisively to the development of U.S. military rockets, as well as rockets for the NASA space program.
The influence of German cuisine is seen in the cuisine of the United States throughout the country, especially regarding pastries, meats and sausages, and above all, beer. Frankfurters (or "wieners", originating from Frankfurt am Main and Vienna, respectively), hamburgers, bratwurst, sauerkraut, and strudel are common dishes. German bakers introduced the pretzel. Germans have been the dominant ethnic group in the beer industry since 1850.
Milwaukee was once the home to four of the world's largest German breweries (Schlitz, Blatz, Pabst, and Miller), and was the number one beer producing city in the world for many years. Almost half of all current beer sales in the United States can be attributed to German immigrants, Capt. A. Pabst, Eberhard Anheuser and Adolphus Busch, who founded Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis in 1860. Later German immigrants figured prominently in the rebirth of craft brews following prohibition, culminating in the microbrew movement that swept the U.S. beginning in the late 1980s.
German-American celebrations, such as Oktoberfest, German-American Day and Von Steuben Day are held regularly throughout the country. One of the largest is the German-American Steuben Parade in New York City, held every third Saturday in September. There are also major annual events in Chicago's Lincoln Square neighborhood, a traditional a center of the city's German population, in Cincinnati, where its annual Octoberfest Zinzinnati is the largest Oktoberfest outside of Germany and in Milwaukee, which celebrates its German heritage with an annual German Fest.
There have been two presidents whose fathers were of German descent: Dwight Eisenhower (original family name Eisenhauer and maternal side is also German/Swiss) and Herbert Hoover (original family name Huber). Presidents with maternal German ancestry include George Washington and Richard Milhous Nixon (Nixon's maternal ancestors were Germans who anglicized Melhausen to Milhous).
Today, most German Americans have assimilated to the point that they no longer have readily identifiable ethnic communities, though there are still many metropolitan areas where German is the most reported ethnicity, such as Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis – Saint Paul, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis.
U.S. communities with high percentages of people of German ancestry
The 25 U.S. communities with the highest percentage of residents claiming German ancestry are:
- Monterey, OH 83.6%
- Granville, OH 79.6%
- St. Henry, OH 78.5%
- Germantown, IL (township) 77.6%
- Jackson, IN 77.3%
- Washington, OH 77.2%
- St. Rose, IL 77.1%
- Butler, OH 76.4%
- Marion, OH 76.3%
- Jennings, OH and Germantown, IL (village) 75.6%
- Coldwater, OH 74.9%
- Jackson, OH 74.6%
- Union, OH 74.1%
- Minster, OH and Kalida, OH 73.5%
- Greensburg, OH 73.4%
- Aviston, IL 72.5%
- Teutopolis, IL (village) 72.4%
- Teutopolis, IL (township) and Cottonwood, MN 72.3%
- Dallas, MI 71.7%
- Gibson, OH 71.6%
- Marshfield, Fond du Lac County, WI 71.5%
- Santa Fe, IL 70.8%
- Recovery, OH 70.4%
- Brothertown, WI 69.9%
- Herman, Dodge County, WI 69.8%
U.S. communities with the most residents born in Germany
The top 25 U.S. communities with the most residents born in Germany are:
- Lely Resort, FL 6.8%
- Pemberton Heights, NJ 5.0%
- Kempner, TX 4.8%
- Cedar Glen Lakes, NJ 4.5%
- Alamogordo, NM 4.3%
- Sunshine Acres, FL and Leisureville, FL 4.2%
- Wakefield, KS 4.1%
- Quantico, VA 4.0%
- Crestwood Village, NJ 3.8%
- Shandaken, NY 3.5%
- Vine Grove, KY 3.4%
- Burnt Store Marina, FL and Boles Acres, NM 3.2%
- Allenhurst, GA, Security-Widefield, CO, Grandview Plaza, KS, and Fairbanks Ranch, CA 3.0%
- Standing Pine, MS 2.9%
- Millers Falls, MA, Marco Island, FL, Daytona Beach Shores, FL, Radcliff, KY, Beverly Hills, FL, Davilla, TX, Annandale, NJ, and Holiday Heights, NJ 2.8%
- Fort Riley North, KS, Copperas Cove, TX, and Cedar Glen West, NJ 2.7%
- Pelican Bay, FL, Masaryktown, FL, Highland Beach, FL, Milford, KS, and Langdon, NH 2.6%
- Forest Home, NY, Southwest Bell, TX, Vineyards, FL, South Palm Beach, FL, and Basye-Bryce Mountain, VA 2.5%
- Sausalito, CA, Bovina, NY, Fanwood, NJ, Fountain, CO, Rye Brook, NY and Desoto Lakes, FL 2.4%
- Ogden, KS, Blue Berry Hill, TX, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, FL, Sherman, CT, Leisuretowne, NJ, Killeen, TX, White House Station, NJ, Junction City, KS, Ocean Ridge, FL, Viola, NY, Waynesville, MO and Mill Neck, NY 2.3%
- Level Plains, AL, Kingsbury, NV, Tega Cay, SC, Margaretville, NY, White Sands, NM, Stamford, NY, Point Lookout, NY, and Terra Mar, FL 2.2%
- Rifton, NY, Manasota Key, FL, Del Mar, CA, Yuba Foothills, CA, Daleville, AL. Tesuque, NM, Plainsboro Center, NJ, Silver Ridge, NJ and Palm Beach, FL 2.1%
- Oriental, NC, Holiday City-Berkeley, NJ, North Sea, NY, Ponce Inlet, FL, Woodlawn-Dotsonville, TN, West Hurley, NY, Littlerock, CA, Felton, CA, Laguna Woods, CA, Leisure Village, NJ, Readsboro, VT, Nolanville, TX, and Groveland-Big Oak Flat, CA 2.0%
- Rotonda, FL, Grayson, CA, Shokan, NY, The Meadows, FL, Southeast Comanche, OK, Lincolndale, NY, Fort Polk South, LA, and Townsend, MA 1.9%
- Pine Ridge, FL[disambiguation needed ], Boca Pointe, FL, Rodney Village, DE, Palenville, NY, and Topsfield, MA 1.8%
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- The Pennsylvania German Society
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- Some German Contributions to Wisconsin Life
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- Deutschtown (East Allegheny), Pittsburgh, PA
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