German Americans


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.

German Americans


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.

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