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).
1731-34 – German Protestants were expelled from the Austrian city of Salzburg and subsequently, they founded the settlement of Ebenezer in Georgia where now is Effingham County. The “Georgia Salzburgers” arrived in 1734 and the group was supported by the Georgia Trustees and the English King George II after they were forced to leave their homes in the Catholic Principality of Salzburg. The Salzburger Georgians had gone through extreme hardships, both in Europe and in Georgia, but succeeded in establishing a culturally unique and prosperous community.
1732 – The Philadelphische Zeitung was the first German-language newspaper to be published in the New World. In Philadelphia, as well as in some other small Pennsylvania communities, the German publications were flourishing.
1733 – The New-York Weekly Journal was founded by John Peter Zenger, a German immigrant from the Palatinate region. A few years later, Zenger was acquitted in a historic landmark trial about freedom of the American press.
1741 – The towns of Nazareth and Bethlehem in Pennsylvania were founded by German Moravian immigrants. See also: the History of German Immigration to the U.S.
1742 – The first American Bible was printed by Christopher Saur, a German printer who lived in Philadelphia.
1778 – Prussian officer General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben was appointed as Inspector General of the American Continental Army.
1783 – The British Army hired some 5,000 Hessian soldiers to fight during the Revolutionary War. Most of them stayed in the New World after the hostilities had come to an end.
1784 – In this year, John Jacob Astor from Waldorf, Germany arrived in America seven flutes and $25 in his pockets. Astor gained a fortune in the fur trade and real estate business and when he dies (in 1848), he was the richest man in America with some $20 million.
1790 – By the end of the 18th century, more than 100,000 Germans are believed to have immigrated to the New World and today, the entire U.S. population claiming some or full German descend is around 17%. In Pennsylvania, that percentage is 33& and in Maryland some 12%.
1804 – A German Protestant group from the city of Wuerttemberg founded the town Harmony, a utopian community, north of Pittsburgh. They called themselves “Rappists” after their great spiritual leader George Rapp.
1814 – In this year, the Rappists acquired land (30,000 acres) in Indiana to establish a new settlement named New Harmony. In 1825, however, they went back to Pennsylvania to establish the settlement of Economy, some 20 miles northwest of what now is Pittsburgh. More religious groups founded towns during this period such as Amana in Iowa, Zoar in Ohio, and St. Nazianz in Wisconsin.
1821 – Germanic are used to have a decorated tree in their homes at Christmas time. Around this period, this tradition was also introduced to the New World. The Pennsylvania Dutch were responsible for introducing a Dutch version of Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas) that later evolved into “Santa Claus.”
1829 – In Germany, Gottfried Duden published an idyllic story about the years that he had spent as a German settler in Missouri. The book became very popular which caused many Germans to emigrate to America.
1837 – The foundation of the German Philadelphia Settlement Society. The Society acquired 12,000 acres of fertile land in Missouri (Gasconade County) to establish the town of Hermann (450 inhabitants) two year later.
1844 – Carl of Solms-Braunfels made the crossing to Texas with 150 families on three ships and a year later, he founded the town of New Braunfels in Texas.
1847 – German immigrants who feared the liberalization of Lutheran principles in America established the Synod of the Lutheran Church in Missouri.
1848-49 – The European revolutions of 1848, that were meant to establish democratic rule across the Old World, had failed so tens of thousands of Germans decided to set out for America. One of the most notable was Carl Schurz who during the Civil War later became a general for the Union. Later, he became U.S. senator for Missouri and served as Secretary of the Interior for President Rutherford Hayes.
1850-60 – During this decade, almost one million German immigrants came to America. In the year 1854 alone, an estimated 215,000 Germans came to the New World.
1856 – The first kindergarten in the U.S. was set up by Carl Schurtz’s wife Margaretha in Watertown, Wisconsin.
1857 – Adolphus Busch left his hometown in the Rhineland region to settle in St. Louis, Missouri. A few years later, Busch married into a prosperous family of brewers. This union led to what is now one of America’s largest industry giants: Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company.
1860 – By now, some 1.3 million German immigrants lived in the New World and there were some 200 newspapers and magazines in the German language published in the country. St. Louis alone was already counting seven newspapers in the German language.
1872 – The Russian Tsarist rulers revoked the century-long standing privileges of German farmers. This caused tens of thousands of these highly skilled farmers to emigrate to America. By the year 1920, we could already find more than 100,000 of these “Black Sea” or “Volga” Germans in the New World. Most of these immigrants settled in Colorado, Nebraska, and the Dakotas. Soon, these immigrants became well-known for their wheat farming skills. By 1990, we could see more than an estimated 1 million of these Russian German descendants living in America.
1880-90 – This is the decade of tremendous increase of German immigration. During these years, almost 1.5 million German emigrants left their homes to build up a new life in the New World. In 1882 alone, there were some 250,000 that came to America, the greatest number ever recorded.
1890 – By now, some 2.8 million German immigrants had made the crossing, and most of them had settled in the so-called “German triangle” in the area between Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and St. Louis.
1894 – By now, there were some 800 journals in German printed across the United States. This was the greatest number in history, and one of the most noteworthy publications was the Staats Zeitung in New York. You can read more about German contributions to the American Society in this article.
1910 – Many German immigrants had returned home, and by now, around 2.3 million immigrants that were born in Germany were living in the U.S. and because of increased assimilation and declining immigration, German-language publications also dropped to some 550.
1920 – All across America, we now could find just some 1.7 million immigrants in the U.S. that were born in Germany and the number of publications printed in German had dropped to around 230. This is also this list of immigrants from Muennichwies in the years 1900-1921.
1933 – The rise of Adolf Hitler’s power and influence caused a huge number of German writers, scientists, scholars, musicians, and other intellectuals and artists to emigrate to the New World to escape the regime’s cruel persecution. Among these new immigrants were many notables as Bruno Walter, Albert Einstein, Walter Gropius, Arnold Schoenberg, Hans Bethe, Thomas Mann, Kurt Weil, Marlene Dietrich, Billy Wilder, Hans Morgenthau, and Hannah Arendt. At the end of the second World War, more than 130,000 of these Austrian and German refugees were living in the New World.
1940 – Some 1.2 million German immigrants that were born in Germany were living in the U.S.
1948 – America signs the Displaced Persons Act into law. This law provided general provisions to allow Eastern European displaced persons (including many ethnic Germans) to immigrate to the United States of America.
1950-60s – During this decade, almost 600,000 Germans were immigrating the the New World.
1960-70s – During these years, 210,000 Germans made the crossing into the New World.
1970-80s – The number of immigrants declined steadily. In these years, about 65,000 Germans left their homes to settle in the United States.
1983 – The U.S. and Germany were celebrating the German-American Tricentennial. It was 300 years ago when the first German immigrants arrived in Pennsylvania.
1987 – A Presidential proclamation (after a Congressional resolution) established German-American Day. This national holiday is on October to celebrate German American heritage.
1990 – As said above, over 55 million Americans claim to be partially or fully of German descent, and there are a few newspapers that still are published in the German language, for example the Staats-Zeitung in California.