In 2000, people of German descent comprised the largest nationality or ethnic group (group of people who are not from the majority culture in the country in which they live and who keep some part of their former culture, language, and institutions) in the United States. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 46.5 million people, or 15.2 percent of the population, claimed German ancestry. About seven million Germans have immigrated to North America since the eighteenth century. Some left the Old World in response to the many historical events in Europe over the last two centuries. Most Germans came to the United States seeking economic opportunities or religious or political freedom. There were many different motivations behind the mass migrations (the movement of thousands, or even millions, of people from one country to another within a relatively short period of time) from Germany that took place between 1800 and 1920.
Diversity (difference) among the people called German Americans is great. When many of them left the Old World, there was no nation called Germany. They came from nation-states in the large German-speaking area of Western
Europe. German immigrants came from three religious backgrounds: Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish. They moved to many parts of the United States, some becoming farmers and others entering trades in the cities and towns. Some lived in German American communities in which the German language was spoken and German customs prevailed; others assimilated (blended) quickly into the American mainstream. German immigrants had a high rate of returning to the old country. Though the German states of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries experienced political and economic turmoil, many Germans came from far better circumstances than the Irish Catholics who were migrating to the United States in large numbers at the same time because of faminePage 223 | Top of Article and oppression in Ireland. Unlike the Irish Catholics, many Germans had professional skills and capital with which to get started in America.
Until 1871, Germany as a nation did not exist. At the time of the voyage to the New World in 1492 by explorer Christopher Columbus (1451–1506), the cities and states where Germanic-speaking people lived were part of the Holy Roman Empire. In earlier centuries, an emperor had ruled over the entire empire with the approval of the Roman Catholic pope. The empire's territory roughly included present-day Germany, Austria, Bohemia, Moravia, and parts of northern Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. But in the thirteenth century the central rule of the emperor weakened, and local rulers became powerful in their districts. One royal family line, the House of Habsburg, took over and then held onto the crown, but the princes of the large towns and districts had more control of their people than the central monarch. At that time, many of the German nation-states were flourishing, becoming major European centers of finance and the arts. The people of the empire were Roman Catholics, but a time of reform of the church was at hand.
On October 31, 1517, German priest and scholar Martin Luther (1483–1546) nailed to the church door in Wittenberg, a city in the state of Saxony in eastern Germany, his list of ninety-five theses, or statements, questioning the practices of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther believed that people should live their lives by following the Bible, not the pope. Pointing to the corruption he had witnessed in the church, he urged people to find their own salvation through faith; they did not need the Catholic church. His call for reform brought about the rise of Protestant churches throughout Europe. As it would in other European countries, the era of reformation and Protestantism brought about widespread religious dissension (disagreement and conflict) and led to war in the German states of the Holy Roman Empire. From 1517 to 1555, the Roman Catholics warred against the Lutherans. In the peace accord that ended these wars, Lutheranism (a Protestant church following the teachings of
Martin Luther) was finally accepted, and each German state was allowed to choose its own religion.
After the peace of Augsburg in 1555, the biggest German nation-states grew very powerful, wealthy, and militaristic. The states of Bavaria, Brandenburg (later known as Prussia), Saxony, and Hanover all formed their own governments and economies. Austria acquired Hungary and parts of the Balkan countries. Later Prussia and Austria would become fierce rivals for power.
After these wars, other forms of Protestantism arose, many of which were not accepted. One of the largest was Calvinism. Established by John Calvin (1509–1564) in Geneva, Switzerland, Calvinism applied more rigid "puritanical" interpretations to Luther's Reformation. Calvin felt that the purpose of life was to know or understand God as well as possible and then to follow God's will. Calvinism demanded that all people strive to live a moral lifestyle. The church was to be an instrument of strict moral discipline. Calvinism also believed that the world had been a corrupt place since the time of the original sin (when Adam and Eve fell from grace in Eden). In the Calvinists' view, churches, with their rituals and bishops, could not bring about religious enlightenment. They believed that only elite persons, through the grace of God, could be saved. Calvinism spread quickly among the German peoples, as did several other forms of Protestantism, including the "plain" churches, called the Anabaptists, the Mennonites and the Amish, the German Brethren, or Dunkards, so called for the way they baptized members by dunking them, most likely in a stream; and the Society of Friends, or the Quakers. All these groups believed in nonviolence and in simple worship based on readings of the Bible. They believed that knowledge of God must come from within oneself and that the rituals and politics of existing churches were a hindrance to true faith and worship. The Anabaptists believed that an individual should decide to be baptized as an adult, when he or she fully understood what baptism meant, rather than in infancy as was the custom in the Roman Catholic Church. These beliefs brought persecution upon the Anabaptists, particularly the Mennonites, especially those living near the shores of the Rhine River in a region known as the Rhineland.
With more Protestants taking control in their countries in the late sixteenth century, Catholic rulers armed themselves for war. The complicated, long, and terrible Thirty
Years' War began in 1618, with the German states forming opposing alliances. It is estimated that one-third of the population of the German states died during and after these wars. When the Peace of Westphalia ended the fighting, there were three hundred independent German states, many only the size of a small city. Unfortunately, the small states were often unable to defend themselves against neighbors and were vulnerable to armed attacks. Fearing the ongoing violence and uncertainty, some Germans began to emigrate.
Colonial immigration and the Pennsylvania Dutch
From sixty-five thousand to one hundred thousand German-speaking people made their way to the United States during the colonial era (before 1776). One of the first points of settlement was Germantown in the British colony of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania's founder, William Penn (1644–1718), was a member of the Quakers, a radical Protestant sect in EnglandPage 228 | Top of Article founded by George Fox (1624–1691) in the late 1640s. The British king had awarded Penn a proprietorship in the American colonies. The proprietorship made him the owner of a large tract of land and gave him the authority to create the government and make the laws. Penn set out to establish a holy commonwealth, characterized by peace, brotherly love, and religious toleration. (A commonwealth is a form of government based on the common good of the citizens rather than the rule of a monarch.) As a member of the Society of Friends, he rejected formal creeds and worship. Like other proprietors in the New World, Penn hoped to profit from the sale or rent of land in his colony, but his primary aim in setting up a colony was a religious one. His search for settlers started among English people, especially Quakers. Before long, he was recruiting among the Mennonites (an Anabaptist group founded by Menno Simons [1496–1561], a Dutch priest) in the Rhineland, where Anabaptists were experiencing persecution.
The founding of Germantown
In 1683 thirteen families from Krefeld, Rhineland, boarded the ship Concord and sailed for Philadelphia, arriving in October. Most were Mennonites who wished to participate in Penn's noble experiment. An agent for a German land investment company, Francis Daniel Pastorius (1651–1720), though not a Mennonite, became their leader. He obtained from Penn a large tract of land close to Philadelphia, which he split, giving half to the Krefelders and keeping half for the land investors. This was the settlement of Germantown.
The settlers in Germantown quickly built stone houses and a church. Most of these early German settlers were farmers or craftspeople. Besides selling their farm produce in Philadelphia, the Mennonites in Germantown also established a successful linen-weaving business. They were the first known group to formally protest the institution of slavery in the American colonies. More and more families came to join the original settlers, and by 1790 the Germantown population had grown to three thousand.
Germantown was just the beginning of the settlement of large portions of Pennsylvania by German-speaking people. ThePage 229 | Top of Article Germans in Pennsylvania have come to be known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. Despite the name, they are not from the Netherlands. In the German language, the word for "German" is "Deutsch" (pronounced doytch), and it is likely that other settlers mistook the German word for the English "Dutch." Although many people associate the Pennsylvania Dutch with the Amish (another Anabaptist sect), the term "Pennsylvania Dutch" includes all German-speaking immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania and areas immediately surrounding. Many of the Pennsylvania Dutch came from the Rhineland states, especially the Palatinate (Pfalz).
Immigrants from the Palatinate started arriving in larger numbers after 1710. The first settlers sent home flattering reports of the new colony, leading to more people making the journey and settling in the increasingly German areas. Pennsylvania's population was one-third German by the time of the American Revolution (1775–83). Living in a dense concentration of German-speaking people, the Pennsylvania Dutch maintained old-world language and customs. Their language was, and in some places still is today, the same basic language used in the Palatinate in Germany, with a little standard German and English mixed in. Many of the new German Americans successfully resisted assimilating into American culture for many years. Since many of the Anabaptist settlers had come to the new country to lead a simpler life according to their religion, they often isolated themselves and their children from American culture and society, even rejecting public schooling. The Amish and the Mennonites were pacifists, meaning they favored peace and would not fight in wars. The Amish were especially separatist (wanting to live apart from other people) and strict about how they dressed, what kinds of tools and machines they could use, the language they spoke, and their methods of worship. The Amish in areas like Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who make up aPage 230 | Top of Article very small portion of the Pennsylvania Dutch, have maintained a culture apart from mainstream Americans right up to modern times. They are well known for not using electricity or driving cars and living a simple, rural life.
Germans who were not Anabaptists were arriving in the British colonies as well. The shipping companies hired recruiters to travel through the German states. They would arrive in a village or a town in brightly colored wagons with a fanfare of trumpets and drums. When a crowd had assembled, the recruiters would describe the wonders of the New World and urge the people to migrate. Their advertising campaign was successful. Many Germans, seeking better opportunities, contracted themselves out as indentured servants, people who agreed to work for a colonist for a set period of time in exchange for payment of their passage from Europe to the New World. At the end of the service term (usually seven years), the indentured servant was given a small piece of land or goods to help set up a new life in the colony. By 1790 the German American population in the American colonies had reached about 360,000.
Passage to America
Although political turbulence and religious repression in Europe triggered small waves of German migration to the United States, most historians note that the mass migrations were mainly motivated by the desire for economic opportunity and prosperity. For many years rural Germans had lived on small family farms. As the German states faced industrialization (the change from a farm-based economy to an economic system based on the manufacturing of goods and distribution of services on an organized and mass-produced basis), the old way of rural life was quickly disappearing. Many were forced to move into cities and learn new skills. Yet, with unemployment in Germany rising, the cities did not always hold much hope. Among those who emigrated, some had few options left in Germany and sought more opportunity. Steady migrations were ongoing starting in the early nineteenth century.
It was a dangerous and difficult trip across the Atlantic. Germans began the journey by making their way to a port city. During the high peaks of emigration there was a steady flow of traffic on the roads to the ports made up of families pushing carts loaded with their belongings. In Germany, most emigrants left from Bremerhaven or Hamburg. Some made their way to Britain in the early eighteenth century, hoping to find passage to North America from there. Others went to Rotterdam, Holland, or Le Havre, France, and sought a ship there. They were often robbed or swindled when they arrived in ports.
The conditions on the sailing ships that took the German immigrants across the Atlantic were terrible. Many people could not afford to purchase a first- or second-class ticket, and so they traveled in steerage, in the lower decks of the ship that were designed to carry cargo. Aside from being miserably overcrowded, the accommodations often lacked clean drinking water and adequate toilet and washing facilities. Rats, head lice, and bedbugs were common, and infectious diseases spread quickly. In the years after, steamships would shorten the voyage and regulations on ships would correct some of the worst abuses of travelers. Even so, throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many immigrants faced misery and even death to get to the United States. DespitePage 232 | Top of Article the hard trip, for over a century Germans immigrated by the hundreds of thousands to the United States.
Mass immigration begins
Immigration from Europe to the United States overwhelmingly increased in the mid-1800s. The U.S. population recorded in the census of 1860 was 31,500,000; of that population, 4,736,000, or 15 percent, were of foreign birth. The greater part of these immigrants had come from two countries: 1,611,000 from Ireland, and 1,301,000 from Germany (principally from the southwestern states of Württemberg, Baden, and Bavaria). The mass migration from Germany had begun in the 1830s, but the peak decades were the 1850s, with more than 950,000 immigrants, and the 1880s, with nearly 1.5 million.
By the 1850s, New York had become the principal port of arrival for German immigrants. Many chose to stay in the East, while others moved westward along the Erie Canal through Buffalo and out to Ohio. By the 1840s large numbers of German immigrants went to New Orleans on cotton ships from Le Havre, France. The majority moved to the valleys of the upper Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. By 1880, Wisconsin had more German Americans than any other state. Here, as in the East, those who settled in urban centers brought a range of crafts and professional skills, while others setting up farms brought their farming skills from Germany. In the years between 1860 and 1890, three-fifths of German immigrants moved to rural areas, while two-fifths moved to the cities. When they settled, they often established German-speaking communities, setting up their own churches, schools, newspapers, and other institutions, and keeping their cultural traditions alive in the New World.
Most of the German immigrants were Protestants, and among them Lutherans were the majority. About one-third of German immigrants were Catholics. A substantial segment—about 250,000—of the German immigrants were Jews. Jews had lived in Germany since the fourth century, many having settled in the Rhine area. Jews had long beenPage 233 | Top of Article assimilated in German cultures when suddenly, from the 1830s into the 1880s, several German states began to pass anti-Semitic laws (laws hostile toward Jews). In southern Germany, these laws prohibited young Jews from marrying or starting a family in their communities. Some decided to immigrate to the United States. The first Jews from Bohemia, Bavaria, Baden, Württemberg, and Alsace-Lorraine came in the 1820s. Many of these immigrants were young, aspiring, and middle class, skilled at a trade or a profession. Often they were equipped with savings to get themselves started in a trade in the new country. A significant portion were well educated. Many of the Jewish immigrants settled in New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, but other cities, including San Francisco, Chicago, and New Orleans, had large Jewish communities as well. (For more information, see chapter 15 on Jewish immigration to the United States.)
Political dissidents: the forty-eighters
In the early 1800s many people hoped that the German states would unify under a democratic, constitutional government. Some organized into groups of resistance to fight against the tyrannical princes of the various German states. In 1848 the rebels, or the "forty-eighters," so nicknamed because of the year of their uprising, set off a series of uprisings in Vienna, Berlin, Baden, and southwest Germany. For a time after the uprisings, the princes of the states worked with the rebels toward establishing a constitutional government for a united Germany. Within months, though, the process had fallen apart. The rebels faced arrest and persecution at the hands of the German princes. Between four and ten thousand bitterly disappointed forty-eighters immigrated to the United States at that time. The forty-eighters were an elite group; many had been educated at the finest European universities and had highly prestigious careers ahead of them.
The forty-eighters had little in common with the farmers and craftspeople who had preceded them to America. German American farmers had tended to live quietly in German-speaking communities. The forty-eighters came from a world of radical politics, idealism, debate, and activism. Conflicts arose between the old immigrants, called the "Grays,"
and the new immigrants, known as the "Greens." However, the intellectuals' presence gave a new depth and vitality to the German American community and gave them a more powerful voice in national politics.
In the 1840s, nativist groups (organizations that promoted the rights of the native-born as opposed to immigrants)Page 236 | Top of Article took up an anti-immigrant, particularly anti-Catholic, campaign. One of the primary nativist organizations was the American Party, which promoted "traditional American ideals" and claimed that immigrants were threatening to destroy American values and democracy. The party, originally called the Know-Nothing Party (because when asked what their political agenda was, members of the secretive party would say they knew nothing about it), mounted very successful political campaigns across the nation. Nativist politicians called for restricting the rights of aliens (who live and work legally in the country but are not citizens) and foreign-born citizens, especially with respect to voting and holding political office. Their primary target was the Irish Americans who were immigrating in great numbers at the same time as the Germans. German Americans probably became the targets of the nativists because of their large numbers. With a different language, customs, and in some cases, a different set of religious or political beliefs, Germans were viewed by some as foreign and therefore dangerous. Many German Americans were Catholics, another target of the Know-Nothings, who claimed that the pope was conspiring to get political control in the United States. Some Americans, too, were beginning to feel the intense competition from German American tradesmen and merchants.
Among the Germans who immigrated after the 1848 revolutions, there were quite a few politically radical intellectuals who continued to pursue their ideals in the United States. Some of these people had come from socialist or anarchist groups in the old country. (Socialists believe in a society in which no one owns private property, but rather, the government or public owns all goods and the means of distributing them among the people. Anarchists believe that governments are unnecessary and should be eliminated, and that the social world should be organized through the cooperative efforts of the people.) Although their goals were usually right in line with the American values of equality, justice, and personal freedom, the political reformers were viewed as radical extremists. The Know-Nothings seized some of the radical political beliefs to stir up the public against German Americans.
By the mid-1850s, the Know-Nothing Party was so popular that its candidates had been elected to important politicalPage 237 | Top of Article offices throughout the United States. German Americans, who were typically divided amongst themselves, united in their efforts to fight back against the discrimination directed at them. They were greatly aided by mounting tensions over the issue of slavery in the United States, which divided the Know-Nothing supporters and weakened them as a political group.
German Americans in the labor movement
German Americans were instrumental in the labor-union movement of the late 1880s. (Labor unions are organizations that bring workers together to advance their interests in areas such as work benefits, wages, and working conditions.) German American craftspeople had brought their guild system (associations of craftspeople or merchants) along with them to America. These craft guilds evolved into trade unions, giving rise to the general labor-union movement. Some of the German Americans in the labor movement were influenced by German political philosopher Karl Marx (1818–1883), whose theories of socialism had swept through European intellectual and working-class circles. The more radical German Americans in the labor movement drew criticism from the American public, but in later years their demands would not seem radical. Into the twentieth century, the labor movement in the United States had elements of Marxism. The leaders of the large unions, such as the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), usually tried to steer clear of the radical political agendas. The work of German American union leaders eventually led to many reforms in the workplace in the areas of benefits, pensions, working conditions, and safety. The well-known president of the United Automobile Workers (UAW) from 1946 to 1970, Walter Reuther (1907–1970), was German American.
The World Wars and German Americans
In 1871, after a series of wars, Prussian prime minister Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898) brought about the union of the German states (with the exception of Austria) into the
Second Empire, or Reich. Germany quickly became the strongest military, industrial, and economic power in Europe. While Bismarck governed, an elaborate system of alliances (unions among groups for a special purpose) with other European powers was created. In 1888, however, Wilhelm II (1859–1941) took over the rule of Germany and the delicate international balance was disturbed. After a series of crises, in 1914 World War I began. Despite initial successes, the German armies—allied with Austria-Hungary and Turkey against the Allies (United Kingdom, France, Russia, and eventually the United States)—were defeated in 1918. About 1.6 million Germans died during the war. In the Treaty of VersaillesPage 239 | Top of Article (1919) following the war, the Allies stripped Germany of its colonies (many of them in Africa), demanded the nation's almost complete disarmament, and imposed harsh reparations (payments to the other side for damages and expenses attributed to the war). Germany became a republic, governed under a liberal constitution. But the nation was devastated by the serious economic and social dislocations caused by the military defeat and by the subsequent economic depression.
Despite the harassment of the Know-Nothings and the business elite, German Americans had, as a whole, settled quietly into American life, often creating large German American
enclaves (distinct ethnic communities within a city or other social environment) in which they could maintain their language and culture. Their days of peaceful obscurity in the United States were numbered, however. With the start of World War I, German Americans suddenly became the face of the enemy in the United States, and they suffered through violent harassment. Anything remotely "German" was attacked and/or destroyed. Books were burned, street names changed,Page 241 | Top of Article and German businesses boycotted. Music by German composers like Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) was removed from public performances. Hamburgers, sauerkraut, and dachshunds were renamed "liberty burgers," "liberty cabbage," and "liberty hounds." German Americans were physically attacked, tarred and feathered, and even killed. Robert Paul Prager, a German-born coal miner who was lynched by a mob in 1918, became the symbol of anti-German violence. On April 5, 1992, the first annual Prager Memorial Day was held in remembrance of all the victims of anti-German hysteria during World War I.
After World War I ended, thousands fled the resulting economic disaster in Germany. Between 1919 and 1933, some 430,000 Germans immigrated to the United States. Many were Jewish people fleeing from the anti-Semitism of the rising Nazi Party. (For more information, please see chapter 15 on Jewish immigration.) As a result of the anti-German sentiment in the United States, German Americans started to hide their ethnicity, attempting to blend in as much as possible. Many Americanized their names. German heritage festivals were suspended for a number of years. New immigrants arriving from Germany joined in the drive to be assimilated, losing their German characteristics as quickly as possible.
When Nazi leader Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) came to power in Germany, another surge of intellectuals, many of them Jewish, fled his regime and came to the United States. A total of 130,000 Germans immigrated between 1933 and 1945. It is worthwhile noting that although the United States understood that the Jews who were fleeing Nazi Germany were in grave danger, the government hesitated to change the number of German immigrants it would allow to enter the country. Some fleeing Jews were turned back at American ports and forced to face the cruel conditions in Germany. During World War II (1939–45), the freedom and rights of thousands of German American citizens were restricted. Certain citizens were labeled enemy aliens and required to carry identification cards. Their property was often searched or seized. They could not travel freely, and some were placed in internment camps as possible enemies. Although not as many German Americans or Italian Americans were interned as Japanese Americans, it was a very difficult time for many.Page 242 | Top of Article Still, German Americans made up one-third of U.S. armed forces during the war and served bravely in the war.
Although the wartime hostilities toward German Americans passed quickly after the world wars, it has not been until recent decades that German Americans began to reclaim their ethnic heritage in large numbers nationwide. The 1990s brought about a climate of multiculturalism in the United States.
German American culture
Until World War I, many German Americans lived in German-speaking communities throughout the United States. The communities ranged from tiny rural villages to city districts. Although they are far too numerous to list, a small sampling demonstrates the wide scope. The village of Maeystown, Illinois, was settled exclusively by German immigrants of the forty-eighter movement. New Braunfels, Texas, was established by one of the princes of Prussia for German settlement. Shipshewana, Indiana, was settled by the German Amish. Frankenmuth, Michigan, was founded by German Lutheran missionaries in 1845. The German colonists who established farms in Frankenmuth pledged to keep the community exclusively German Lutheran and to remain faithful to Germany and the German language. German communities or "Little Germanies" developed in many large cities, such as New York, New York; Chicago, Illinois; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Baltimore, Maryland; St. Louis, Missouri; and Cincinnati, Ohio.
Although not all Germans lived in a German-speaking environment, it was very important to many of them to maintain their native language. German Americans took political action to make sure their children could be educated in the German language. Parochial (religious-based) schools, whether Lutheran or Catholic, taught students in German and English, or only in German. In the public schools, the German American parents succeeded in several states to get laws passed that mandated German instruction when a quota of parents in the community wanted it.
Another means for German Americans to maintain their culture was their sophisticated and widespread press.
There were more German American newspapers than any other foreign papers in the country. The forty-eighters had come from a tradition of journalism, and many of the papers were liberal, intellectual, and very well written.
Germany has always been known for its brilliant musicians, such as Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), Georg Frederic Handel (1685–1759), Franz Joseph Haydn
(1732–1809), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791), Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827), Franz Schubert (1797–1828), Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847), and Robert Schumann (1810–1856). German Americans established a multitude of music halls, opera societies, and choral festivals after arriving in the New World. The symphony orchestras in Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston were founded by German Americans. In 1890 eighty-nine of the ninety-four performers with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra were German born. Sängvereine, or singing societies, across the nation provided a forum for amateurs to gather for sophisticated musical entertainment and competitions.
German Americans were abundant in the arts not only in large cities but also in small rural Midwestern towns as well. Unlike many immigrants at the time, many Germans came to the United States well educated and steeped in the cultural achievements of the German people. In fact, non-German Americans often accused them of snobbery.
In the years during and after World War I, anti-German backlash was severe, causing German Americans to lose many of the cultural traditions they prized. Roger Daniels comments in Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life, that the sudden end of German instruction in schools "hastened the death of most of the other cultural institutions of German America." Nonetheless, German language and culture have had an obvious influence on U.S. vocabulary. German words now in common usage in the United States include kindergarten, gesundheit, ouch, delicatessen, blitz, sauerkraut, and wiener. Many of the Christmas traditions now seen as standard in America, such as Christmas trees (tannenbaum) and Santa Claus (Kris Kringle), were introduced by German Americans, as were New Year's Eve festivities. Early German settlers also brought with them a much more relaxed attitude toward the Sabbath (the day of rest and worship; for Christians, Sunday; for Jews, from Friday evening to Saturday evening) than that preached by the Puritans. German Americans transformed Sundays in America from days of rigid observances to days of rest and relaxation.
German Americans love to gather to eat and drink. Beer, a German specialty, has become one of the favorite beverages in America. Most of the big American brewing companies were founded by German Americans. Foods introduced by German Americans that are now common fare in the American diet include frankfurters, hamburgers, sauerkraut (although some credit Polish Americans with this addition), potato salad, bratwurst, liverwurst, and pretzels.
German American holidays and celebrations
In the middle of September each year, German Americans and many non-German Americans in Philadelphia, New York City, Chicago, and a variety of small towns nationwide gather for the Steuben Day Parade. Baron Friedrich von Steuben (1730–1794) was a German general in the time of the American Revolution (1775–83). He offered his services to George Washington. He is credited with transforming the untrained group of rebels into a disciplined military force and thus helping the Americans win their battle against England. The popular parade features German music, dancing, marching, costumes, and elaborate floats.
German American Day was officially proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan (1911–) in 1987 to be celebrated on October 6, the date on which Germantown, Pennsylvania, was founded in 1683. Oktoberfests and other cultural festivals help promote an understanding of German American heritage and traditions among German and non-German Americans alike.
For More Information
Daniels, Roger. Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life. New York: HarperCollins, 1990.
Frost, Helen. German Immigrants, 1820–1920. Mankato, MN: Blue Earth Books, an imprint of Capstone Press, 2002.
Hoobler, Dorothy, and Thomas Hoobler. The German American Family Album. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Sampson, Robert D. "Governor John Peter Altgeld Pardons the Haymarket Prisoners," Illinois Labor History Site. http://www.kentlaw.edu/ilhs/prisoner.htm (accessed on February 26, 2004).
Wurst, Klaus, and Norbert Muehlen. "Forty-eighters and Nativists," Part 3. German Corner. http://www.germanheritage.com/Essays/1848/forty-eighters_part3.html (accessed on February 26, 2004).