The American Census Bureau estimates that more than 55 million Americans claim partial or sole German descent. Most German Americans, though, are highly assimilated causing the use of the German language to have declined drastically in the United States. Here is a (limited) chronological overview of important dates and periods when it comes to Germans in America.
1608 – The first German settlers arrived in Jamestown.
1626 – Peter Minuit (Minuit meaning “Midnight”), also named Peter Minnewit was from the German town of Wesel (North Rhine-Westphalia). He became the governor of the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam and later, he became the governor of the Delaware Swedish colony.
1683 – Franz Pastorius, led a group of 13 families from Krefeld (Westphalia) to Pennsylvania in pursuit of religious freedom. They established Germantown.
1700s – More and more German-speaking freedom seeking religious groups settled in the British colonies. These groups included Baptist Dunkers, Swiss Mennonites, Schwenkfelders, Amish, Moravians, and Waldensians and the majority of the German immigrants were part of the Lutheran and Reformed church. Most immigrants settled in Pennsylvania as redemptioners, meaning they got passage across the Atlantic Ocean if they agreed to work in the New Land for a four to seven year period of time. Most German settlers were skilled agricultural workers and craftsmen and the also were responsible got building the Conestoga wagon (famed for the American Frontier).
Every year, on October 6, the United States is celebrating German-American Day to commemorate the establishment of Germantown, Pennsylvania in 1683. The day is mostly celebrated by the largest ancestry group in America with almost 50 million US citizens claiming full or part German heritage.
Former President Barack Obama said some years ago on German-American Day that the US citizens of German descent are excelling in practically all disciplines and that they have their minds open to expanding human development and possibilities. We are reminded of German achievements when we’re driving across suspension bridges, when we’re listening to a Steinway piano, or when we’re sending our children to kindergarten. In all these circumstances, we’re surrounded by their unique customs and traditions.
So how come there so many people of German descent in the United States? Well, it all started in the 1680s when a steady stream of German immigrants came to settle in the U.S. and the number of Germans made up almost ten percent of the total American population at the end of the 18th century. It all began on October 6th, 1683, when thirteen German Quaker families from the Krefeld region arrived in Philadelphia, and the place where they settled, on the northern portions of the city, became known as Germantown.
Thanks to, among others, obituaries in the monthly editions of the Karpatenpost, and a phenomenal article by Kurt Sauter (“Gustav Adolf Weiss & der Zipser Bund von Amerika“) in the 1986 Karpatenjahrbuch (pages 110-115), we now know more about that period. After World War I ended, and mail services started to function again, Carpathian German-Americans learned about dislocation and the atrocities and incredible hunger in their home region.
Relief was not an easy thing to organize. Like other German-Americans, the Carpathian Germans had been vilified and attacked as “hyphenate Huns”, and many of them were surely intimidated so they wouldn’t express their concern publicly with fellow groups of individuals who were German as well. David Kennedy describes that hate-filled atmosphere very well in his work Over Here: The First World War and American Society (1980), and also Joan Jensen in The Prince of Vigilance (1968) sets a clear picture. Many Carpathian Germans were discreetly and directly helping their families in a great way.
It could well be that Anton Schmidt, a Pressburg tinsmith, was the first Germany-based immigrant from the area that today is Slovakia in Central-eastern Europe. Already in the mid-1750s, Schmidt married into the Pennsylvania community of the Moravian Brothers. Anton Schmidt was born in Pressburg in 1725 and died in Berks County, Pennsylvania, in 1793. Most probably, some more individuals immigrated to America as well in that period of time.
Later, between the 1860s and the start of World War I in 1914, tens of thousands of Carpathian Germans left Europe and emigrated to the New World. After 1900, many families immigrated to the area around Charleroi, Pennsylvania, especially people from the town of Muennichwies. Around 1940, Thomas Kendrick, a Muennichwies descendant, estimated the number at families in that area around three hundred.
More Carpathian Germans came to America, and families from the village of Metzenseifen settled in Cleveland, Ohio, to work at the factory of Theodor Kundtz (1852-1937). Kundtz was also from Metzenseifen who had gotten wealthy in the late 1800s manufacturing wooden cases for the sewing machines produced by White, at least that’s the story on a website of one of these immigrants’ granddaughter. Quite a few descendants of these Carpathian German families, with names like Eiben, Kundtz, and Mueller, still live in the Cleveland area.
The first immigrants from Germany went to America because of the German ‘Thirty Years War’. This war broke out 1618 due to religious conflicts between Catholics and Protestants.
Between 60 thousand and one hundred thousand German speaking immigrants are estimated to have fled their home lands to set out for America during that colonial era. The first and earliest German settlement was one that was named Germantown, located in Pennsylvania.
The history of Germantown started in October 1683, when thirteen German-speaking families came to Pennsylvania on their ship named Concord.
The families originated from the Krefeld region in the German state of Rhineland. Francis Daniel Pastorius was the leader of these early German immigrants who were predominantly Mennonites, and he had obtained a piece of land from Pennsylvania’s founder, William Penn.
The first Germantown settlers were craftsmen and farmers. Initially, they survived in the settlements by selling their crafted tools and farm produce on the streets and markets in Philadelphia, and it wasn’t long before they established a linen-weaving and production business at their location. By 1870, the Germantown population had already increased to over 3,000.
The contributions and achievements of German-Americans have through the centuries had a deep and lasting effect on how the United States has become the country that it is today. German immigrants, known for their hard work, thrift, practical skills, interest in the arts, crafts, and enjoyment of the good life, have definitely left their mark on American life and culture. Here we will highlight a few of the many German-Americans that played a prominent role in creating the United States as we know it today.
Many German immigrants contributed to transmitting and winning the freedoms that Americans are enjoying today. In 1735, the first key victory to gain freedom of the American press happened when John Peter Zenger, a journalist and printer with German-American roots, was granted the right by a jury to criticize the colonial government, and a Philadelphia-based German newspaper published the American Declaration of Independence first.
American food is heavily influenced by the Germans, though this influence is largely hidden because it has been around for such a long time. The most reliable accounts state that around 25 percent of the American population is in some way of German descent. In earlier days, German restaurants and their food guaranteed a top notch culinary standard across most major American cities. Nowadays, German restaurants are pretty hard to come by, even in cities that have strong German ties and traditions such as Milwaukee, Cincinnati, or St. Louis. and Milwaukee. Nevertheless, both the hamburger and the
Anyway, both the frankfurter and the hamburger and many other cured meat and sausage varieties, egg noodles, and numerous other so-called “typical American dishes have “their roots in the German cuisine. Strong German influences are even found in the proud barbecue cooking styles of many central Texas areas that house some major German influence pockets.
Some very popular American dishes, such as sauerbraten (the famous sweet and sour roast) retain their German names, just like sauerkraut, knackwurst (the sausage often referred to as knockwurst), leberwurst (that was slightly altered into liverwurst), and the always highly popular bratwurst. Americans are using the original German names comfortably, regardless whether they are of German descent or not.
By the mid-18th century, a steady stream of German immigrants came to America and they took a central place in everyday American life. German immigrants were accounting for more than 30% of the entire population of the new American colonies, only outnumbered by the English. In practically every colony, German was a widely spoken language.
In the 19th century, the flow of German immigrants was booming, after wars in both America and Europe had slowed down the stream of new immigrants for a couple of decades, a period that started in the mid-1770’s, but around the mid-1830’s the German immigration flow had increased again dramatically.
By the time they were established in the new country and in their new home, the German settlers started to wrote to their friends and families in Europe and told them about all opportunities that were available in America.
Because the Germans had become such a predominant immigrant group during the 19th century, it is no surprise that they had such a strong influence over all sorts of development in America and determined the culture in their new home land considerably.
There are quite a few German contributions to American life that are easy to indicate: for example bear brewing facilities across the U.S., sauerkraut, or the tuba. Yet German influences on life in America run much deeper, they have influenced many of the traditions, the institutions, and also many daily habits that Quite a few Americans today consider to be American.