German Americans Essay, Research Paper
In 1990 the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 57,985,595 people in the
United States claimed some measure of German ancestry. This makes up
almost a quarter of the U.S. population. German immigration started as early
as 1607. The first three Germans to migrate to the U.S. were, F.Unger, H.
Keffer, and F. Volday who were followers of Captain John Smith who settled
in Jamestown, Virginia. They started the first German colony, known as the
?damned dutch.? From 1820-1970 they estimated about 6.9 million Germans
came to the U.S. which were 15% of the total immigrants. The peak years of
migration were 1854, when 215,000 people arrived, and 1882, when 250,000
people arrived. Approximately 90 percent of all the people leaving Germany
between 1835 and 1910 came to the United States. World Wars I and II
interrupted the immigration of Germans to America. After World War I
immigration picked up again from bad economic conditions in Germany, but
during World War II there were immigration restrictions placed on Germans.
The Germans emigrated to the U.S. for different reasons being that
German immigrants were the most diverse in background of all major
immigrant groups. The availability of land and the desire for religious
freedom drew the first Germans to America.
Germans were victims of overpopulation in the wine growing regions.
This caused too much competition for land and jobs. Plus the land wasn?t too
fertile, and the harsh winter of 1708-1709 forced people to leave. The taxes
were high, and the people couldn?t afford to pay. America was often
advertised in Germany as ?In America everything is great!? It was true to
people looking for a lot of fertile land for not a lot of money. In 1829, a
German named Gottfried Duden, who had spent three years living in
Missouri, published a report praising the new land, where food and property
were cheap, nature was beautiful and life was easy. This report enticed
thousands of Duden?s countrymen-including well-educated aristocrats,
scholars, and clergy to migrate.
Other Germans left for religious reasons. Several groups among the
mid-nineteenth century German immigrants saw America as a safe haven for
religious freedom. About ten thousand Jews came to the United States from
Bavaria in 1839 to escape the social and economic restrictions placed on
Jews. Soon Jews from other German states followed. Around 1840, a
number of Lutherans came as a result of their opposition to the forced
unification of the Lutheran and Reformed churches by the state of Prussia. In
the late 1870?s, many Catholics, especially priests and nuns, left to escape
Otto von Bismarck?s anti-Catholic campaign, known as the kulturkampf.
Leaving Germany was not hard to do, but the ride to the new world
was, and it was expensive. Many Germans came to America as
?redemptioners.? They were unable to pay for their own transportation, so
they agreed to redeem their fare after arriving in America by being auctioned
off as servants. Often times families would be split up. The people would
work as servants usually for about seven years, without pay, for people who
would reimburse their transportation costs. After seven years, the people
were free to leave and establish themselves on the frontier by farming. For
children, the time for which they served was much longer. If they were
separated from their parents, they were required to work up until they were
twenty-one. If a husband or a wife died on the trip, the survivor had to pay or
else serve out their spouse?s obligation. Even worse, if a child?s parents died,
they must serve out not only their term, but both parents terms as well.
German-speaking people have been in the U.S. for more than three
hundred years. Lacking political unity, they were only united by culture and
language. At first it was especially the language that separated German
immigrants from their British counterparts. At the end of the Revolutionary
War, it was even suggested that German be the new language to separate us
from Britain. At that time 225,000 people were of German descent out of
about three million. As time went on German communities were all speaking
English, because it was the native tongue, and people needed English to make
economic advancements. Efforts to keep German culture alive lasted very
shortly as the ?Americanization? took over. Germans did contribute many
familiar words into the English language such as blitz, kaffeeklatsch,
kindergarten, pretzel, sauerkraut, and weiner. Also many towns in the U.S.
and Canada are named after places in Germany, like; Heidelberg,
Mississippi, Potsdam, New York, Berlin, Wisconsin, Bismarck, North
Dakota, Bernardsdorf, Massachusetts, Humboldt, Saskatchewan, and
Rhineland are only some of them.
German Americans for the most part are completely assimilated into
the cultural mainstream of America. Being that today twenty-three percent
of the population claims some German descent, proves almost total
assimilation and exogamy. Germans used to be found settling mainly in New
York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and Ohio. They
formed what was known as the ?German Triangle.? Today New York still
has a percentage of Germans(22%) and California are the most ?German?
populated states in the nation. Other states that have a high German
community are Texas, and New Jersey.
Throughout history Germans have experienced a degree of economic
success, and tend to be more conservative. When Germans first came they
were traditionally farmers. Others were musicians, artists, and teachers.
Soon Germans became involved in retail trading. They were involved as
bakers, butchers, and especially bars. Germans established breweries, and
German workers made the beer. Germans brought to America a taste for
their national drink, beer. Today, Germans are found in all social classes, and
at every aspect of the economic ladder.
Germans, traditionally took in high regard to education, introduced
the first Kindergarten to the U.S. in Watertown, Wisconsin, in 1855.
Germans also promoted higher education by establishing free state
universities, which would provide training in scientific and technical skills as
well as the humanities at low prices. Michigan was the first state to establish
such a system, and then Wisconsin. The Johns Hopkins University was also
patterned on German universities. The German practice of research was
stressed, and this set the pattern for graduated programs in America.
The attitude toward Germans is positive being that most people have
some German descent. Germans felt some prejudice during World War I,
when people called Germans ?Huns.? They changed German-derived street
names and even removed the books from famous authors from libraries.
Americans refused to use the word sauerkraut and called it ?liberty cabbage.?
Hamburgers were called ?Salisbury steak,? and dachshunds were called little
?liberty hounds.? This prejudice was did not make sense as many of our
army was of German descent, and served our country loyally and honorably.
Our most famous American air ace was Eddie Richenbacher, who was
German Americans make up the largest group of immigrants from one
country. They have contributed in events ranging from the Revolutionary
War to the building of the United States great cities. They have been leaders
and innovators like Carl Schurz, to Albert Einstein. They have had brilliant
writers such as Kurt Vonnegut and Louise Erdrich, and extraordinary athletes
such as Babe Ruth, and Lou Gehrig. German Americans have worked hard
to become a part of the fabric of the United States, and make up some of the
true roots of being American.
Cook, Bernard.A. German Americans.
Florida: Rourke Corporation, Inc., 1991.
Furer, Howard.B. The Germans in America 1607-1970.
New York: Oceana Publications, Inc., 1973.
Robbins, Albert. Coming to America.
New York: Delacorte Press, 1981.
Schouwiler, Thomas. Germans in America.
Minnesota: Lerner Publications Company, 1994.