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.
Prussian general Friedrich W. von Steuben trained Washington’s civilian soldiers in such a way that they became a disciplined force that could defeat the British troops. Some of the most notable Americans from German descent that shaped the U.S. military in a way that they could deal with later challenges are John Pershing (ancestral family name: Pfoerschin), and Dwight ‘Ike’ Eisenhower (grandson of Hans Nikolas Eisenhauer). Eisenhower is one of two U.S. Presidents that were of German descent (the other being Herbert Hoover).
Conestoga wagons were built in Pennsylvania by Germans to carry the American pioneers westward. Some wagons carried ‘Kentucky rifles’ that were also produced by Germans in Pennsylvania. Another leading American wagon builder of German descent, Clement Studebaker, in later years was producing the popular American car that was bearing his name.
Brooklyn Bridge, the famous century-old landmark, was built by John Roebling, a famed German engineer who had emigrated to the U.S. The bridge connected Brooklyn Manhattan, an island bought from the Indians by Peter Minuit, a German-born immigrant.
There are also numerous famous German-American leaders in the world of finance and business. Just look at the list with names like Boeing, Firestone, Astor, Chrysler, Fleischman, Heinz, Guggenheim, Hershey, Rockefeller, Kaiser, Steinway, Strauss (of Levi-Strauss), Singer (first: Reisinger), Wanamaker, Sulzberger, or Weyerhaueser.
And in the world of science and technology, just take a look at the names of some more famous individuals like Bausch, Einstein, Lomb, Wetinghouse, Mergenthaler, or Steinmetz, and also Wernher von Braun, who did a great job in helping the Americans gain a leading role in technology. Read also this post about the first German settlers in America.
When we look at the world of sports, we can find legendary baseball players with German roots such as Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Casey Stengel, or Lou Gehrig, and in swimming we can see champions such as Johnny Weissmuller and Gertrude Ederle.
In literature, we can find celebrities like the inimitable Theodor Seuss Geisel (‘Dr. Seuss’), the author of more than forty children’s books, John Steinbeck, Theodore Dreiser, Thomas Mann, and Kurt Vonnegut. When it comes to noteworthy journalists, we come across named such as Walter Lippmann, H. L. Mencken, Adolph Ochs, Charles Schulz (famed for ‘Peanuts’), Rudolf Dirks (the creator of ‘Katzenjammer Kids’), and Thomas Nast, the cartoonist who was born in Germany and got to world fame for creating the popular images of Santa Claus and Uncle Sam, and who also created the elephant and the donkey, the characteristic symbols for the tow major political parties.
Famous are also the piano and organ builders Steinway, Knabe, and Wurlitzer, but the world of music has given us also Leopold & Walter Damrosch, John Philip Sousa, Bruno Walter, Oscar Hammerstein, Arnold Schoenberg, Kurt Weill, and Paul Hindemith. The field of theater has produced a long list of famous German-American directors, performers, and playwrights, for example, Bertolt Brecht, Fritz Lang, Ernst Lubitsch, Otto Preminger, Billy Wilder, Eric von Stroheim, and the unforgettable Marlene Dietrich.
Also the visual arts have some German geniuses. Famous German-born or German-descent painters Emanuel Leutz (known for ‘Washington Crossing the Delaware’), Albert Bierstadt (who painted the beauty of America’s West), and more present-day celebrities like Max Beckmann, George Grosz, Hans Hofmann, Roy Lichtenstein, Lyonel Feininger, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, and Erwin Panofsky, the famed art critic.
Let’s also not forget to mention a few giants of photography: Alfred Eisenstaedt and Alfred Stieglitz were of German descent, and the architecture in America was strongly influenced by the German immigrants Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius. Pretty important names also include Schaefert Schlitz, Stroh, Miller, Budweiser, Coors, and Anheuser-Busch as they are all synonyms for beer-brewing families in the traditional German way.