German Americans

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Editor: Thomas Riggs
Date: 2014
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German Americans

LaVern J. Rippley


German Americans are immigrants or descendants of people from Germany, a country in Central Europe. Today Germany shares borders with nine countries: Denmark to the north; Poland and the Czech Republic to the east; Austria and Switzerland to the south; and the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France to the west. In the north, Germany borders the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. The country's geography is impressively diverse, from the peaks of the Alps in the south, through forested hills in central Germany, to broad valleys through which flow some of Europe's most important rivers, including the Rhine, Danube, and Elbe. Germany is 138,000 square miles (357,000 square kilometers) in size, approximately the combined size of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The population of Germany was 81,857,000 in 2012. According to the CIA World Factbook, 34 percent consider themselves Protestant (Evangelisch or Lutheran), 34 percent Roman Catholic, and 28 percent unaffiliated. About 3.7 percent are Muslims, and 200,000 are Jewish. Berlin has the fastest growing Jewish community in the world. Germany's standard of living is among the highest in the world, and the distribution of wealth compares favorably with that of the other advanced countries. Incentives in the form of housing subsidies and tax concessions induce savings. Both workers and employers are assured adequate income, vacations, and broad health care coverage. Value-added tax revenues and balanced employer–employee incomes have boosted Germans' satisfaction with their living standards even in the face of the early twenty-first century economic crisis in Europe.

Although a few Germans arrived with the Jamestown settlers in 1608, the first significant group of German settlers were thirteen families of Quakers and Mennonites from Krefeld, who arrived in Philadelphia on October 6, 1683, aboard the Concordia, and founded the city of Germantown, now incorporated into Philadelphia. German immigration was particularly important in the early decades of the United States, and German-speaking districts of American cities were once common. Since the mid-twentieth century most German immigrants have been professionals coming for work reasons.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, German is the leading ancestry group in the United States, with about 50 million people, or 17 percent of the U.S. population, declaring German heritage (of whom only 1.5 million still speak German at home). Another 337,000 identified as “Pennsylvania German” or “Pennsylvania Dutch,” a specific group descended from immigrants from Southwest Germany who continue to live largely in Southeastern and South Central Pennsylvania. The states with two million or more Americans of German descent are Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, New York, Texas, California, Florida, and Wisconsin. More than half of the nation's 3,143 counties reported a plurality of people describing themselves as German American. Today many German Americans are fully assimilated into U.S. culture and may not identify themselves with their ancestral group.


Early History Germany is derived from Germania, a region of Central Europe first mentioned by the Roman historian Tacitus about 98 CE, from which the English appellation Germany developed. The people have referred to themselves throughout history variously as Saxons, Burgundians, Bavarians, or simply as Deutsch, the latter meaning roughly “the people,” hence the country's contemporary name, Deutschland. Recorded German history begins with Tacitus, who recounted a battle involving Arminius, a prince of the Germanic tribe the Cherusci, who vanquished three Roman legions in the Teutoburg Forest in 9 CE near the town of Kalkriese (Oldenburg). The name Deutschland came into use in the eighth century when Charlemagne incorporated German and French speakers into a common nation. As cohesion among the population of the eastern realm increased, the term Deutsch became applicable to all German speakers. Once confined west of the Elbe River, Germans gradually penetrated farther east into former Slavic territory, often peacefully but sometimes by force.

Germany bore versions of the name Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, beginning with the Salian dynasty and proceeding with rule by Hohenstaufens, Habsburgs, and Hohenzollerns. When a Wittenberg Catholic priest named Martin Luther proposed religious reforms in 1517, he initiated the Page 208  |  Top of ArticleProtestant Reformation, which led to pillaging of the country (and many other parts of Europe) by those who profited from the weakened central political, religious, and social ruling structures. The religiously motivated Thirty Years War (1618–1648) that erupted a century after Luther's death devastated both Germany's territory and its moral fiber until the age of French absolutism. During the Age of Enlightenment, Prussian King Frederick the Great (1740–1786) became a patron of the American Revolution. Frederick sent Baron von Steuben, Nikolaus Herchheimer, Johannes DeKalb, and others to train American military novices at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere.

During the Napoleonic period the Holy Roman Empire dissolved and was replaced by the Deutscher Bund (German Confederation), a loose federation of individual sovereign states that functioned with a single central participatory government unit—the Bundestag—a non-elected but delegated parliament in Frankfurt. Often the Bundestag behaved like a monarchical oligarchy, suppressing freedom, enforcing censorship, and controlling the universities and political activity.

Arguments among the liberals arose over whether to establish a “greater Germany” along the lines of Great Britain or a “smaller Germany” that would include only the more traditionally German principalities and leave out Austria. Because Austria wanted to bring its different ethnic groups into the union, the National Assembly opted for the smaller Germany. They offered a constitution to King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia, but his rejection of it triggered popular uprisings in the German states, which were met with military suppression. At this time a significant number of German intellectual liberals, known as Forty-eighters, immigrated to the United States to escape persecution. The contemporary flag of Germany, with its black, red, and gold stripes, derives from the flag used by this Forty-eighter parliament.

Despite reactionary forces at the higher levels of government, an economic entity called the Deutscher Zollverein, or German Customs Union (occasionally considered the precursor of the current European Community), came into being in 1834. It was an inland unitary market system for the whole of Germany, which was facilitated in 1835 by the opening of the first German railway lines. This event was due in part to a return emigrant from the United States, Friedrich List (1789–1846). Exiled to the United States in 1825 for attempting to abolish tariffs and tithes in his native Württemberg, List worked hard to streamline the U.S. economy by offering free trade between the states and also by founding various railroads in Pennsylvania.

In 1870 the new Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck united the remaining German states into the “smaller German” Reich, which lasted until World War I, but its military bluster in foreign affairs led to Germany's downfall in world affairs. Coupled with domestic unrest that erupted when Kaiser Wilhelm II attempted to suppress the domestic socialist working class, Germany in the early twentieth century struck up alliances with Austria and Ottoman Turkey that triggered fear abroad and ultimately the alliance between France, England, and Russia, which concluded with Germany's World War I defeat in November 1918.

Modern Era After the war the German Social Democrats and the Catholic Center Party wrote a constitution that instituted the Weimar Republic. From its outset, burdensome war reparations, inflation, foreign military occupation west of the Rhine, and heavy losses of territory doomed the republic. In 1925 Field Marshal von Hindenburg, a hero during World War I, was elected president. Following the onset of the worldwide economic depression in 1929, Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler to be chancellor in 1933. Hitler promptly banned all political parties, expelled Communists from the government, and restructured the military. Hitler's goals were to purify Germany by removing anyone without pure Teutonic blood and to expand German territory throughout Europe. By 1939 Germany had conquered Poland and was occupying Czechoslovakia and Austria. Germany took France the following year, along with Norway and whole regions of western Russia. In the process the policy was to exterminate unwanted peoples, including Jews, the Roma people, and others.

Hitler's death squads rounded up Jews in Germany and the occupied countries and sent them, along with Communists, clergy, disabled people, homosexuals, and political prisoners from Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Holland, and the Soviet Union, to a series of work camps and death camps where many starved to death and many more were murdered outright. About six million Jews perished, but if Catholic clergy, prisoners of war, and forced work details are included, the figure is at least double that of Jews alone. Germany finally fell to the Allies in 1945, with Hitler dying in his Berlin bunker.

Following the war the Allies occupied the country. The western zones were then consolidated as the Federal Republic of Germany in 1948, and the Soviet-occupied eastern zones became a Russian satellite called the German Democratic Republic. For nearly 40 years distrust between East Germans and West Germans was encouraged by the Soviet Union on the one hand and by the West on the other. Both feared a united Germany. In 1989 demonstrations in East Germany caused the Communist regime to relent, and the Berlin Wall, which isolated West Berlin from East Berlin and Eastern Germany, was opened on November 9. On October 3, 1990, Germany was officially reunited, and Berlin became the nation's capital. In the decades of separation, West Germany had become a modern economic and industrial powerhouse, while East Germany had suffered from economic stagnation and cultural malaise.

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Chancellor Helmut Kohl shepherded the united nation through its first few years, when economic matters were precarious; former West Germans blamed the former East Germans for the problems associated with addressing their aging infrastructure, lack of modernization, and high unemployment rate. Gerhard Schroeder became chancellor in 1998, leading a coalition government of the Social Democratic Party and the Green Party. He instituted the Agenda 2010 program, which sought to curtail the country's broad social welfare policies, lower taxes, and reform employment regulations. This program was decidedly unpopular. In 2002 Germany replaced the Deutsche Mark with the Euro and, as one of the stronger economies in Europe, took a leading role in the European Union.

In 2005 Angela Merkel, leader of the Christian Democratic Union, became chancellor, following a stalemate election that led to a coalition government between the CDU, the Christian Social Union, and the Social Democratic Party of Germany; Merkel was reelected in 2009. During her chancellorship, Merkel became the president of the European Council and was considered the leader of the European Union. Her negotiations during the debt crisis spawned by the global recession of 2008 proved key in keeping Greece from seceding from the European Union. Her leadership in the subsequent sovereign debt crisis led to calls for new austerity measures, which would upset decades of generous government support for most European citizens. While this resulted in her popularity plummeting, Merkel's deft negotiations during the fiscal crisis gained her the reputation as the most powerful woman in the world, according to Forbes magazine, and the second most powerful person in the world. Germany's economic state remained strong as the rest of the eurozone endured a period of austerity and uncertainty.


With their arrival at Jamestown in 1608 and for four centuries thereafter, Germans have been one of the three largest ethnic groups in American society. When Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas in 1492, he did so in the name of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain—that is, with the entitlement of the Habsburgs, who also ruled Germany as part of the Holy Roman Empire. It was a German cartographer, Martin Waldseemüller, who suggested the New World be designated America.

Between 1671 and 1677 Pennsylvania founder William Penn made trips to Germany on behalf of his Quaker faith. His recruiting attracted the Mennonite settlers who founded Germantown in 1683, as well numerous others who created communities that were symbolic in two ways: they were specifically German-speaking and they were comprised of religious dissenters. Pennsylvania has remained the heartland for the various branches of Anabaptists (Old Order Mennonites, Ephrata Cloisters, Brethren, and Amish), but it also became home for many Lutheran refugees from Catholic provinces (e.g., Salzburg), as well as Catholics who had been discriminated against in Protestant provinces.

Significant numbers of Germans immigrated to flee war and poverty. For example, in 1709, 15,000 Palatines fleeing a French invasion of the southwest German region called the Pfalz departed for England at the invitation of Queen Anne, who offered them money and land in the New World. Arriving on ten ships to New York harbor, 850 families settled in the Hudson River Valley, others went to Little Falls on the Mohawk River, and some to the Schoharie Valley. In 1734 another group of religiously persecuted emigrants, around 300 Protestants from the province of Salzburg, accepted Governor Oglethorpe's invitation to Georgia in 1734.

On balance, though, most of the immigration from Germany resulted not from religious persecution but economic conditions, as industrialization and urbanization resulted in widespread social and demographic changes. By the time of the first U.S. census in 1790, over 8.5 percent of the U.S. population was German, although in Pennsylvania it was more than 33 percent. During the Revolutionary War, the German Americans were numerically strengthened by the arrival of about 30,000 Hessian mercenaries who fought for England during the hostilities, of whom some 5,000 choose to remain in the New World after the war.

Until about 1815 Americans and some foreign shippers brought many Germans to the United States under the redemptioner system. The scheme was that a German peasant traveled on a sailing vessel without charge and upon arrival at an Atlantic port was sold to an American businessman to work from four to seven years to redeem his passage and win his freedom. For some of the early sectarians, including the Baptist Dunkers, the Schwenkfelders, and the Moravian Brethren, this was the only way to reach the United States.

Populous as German immigrants to America were by the end of the eighteenth century, the major waves of immigration awaited the conclusion of Napoleonic wars in 1815. Germany's economy began to suffer in several ways: Too many goods were imported, especially cloth, from an industrialized England. Antiquated inheritance laws in southwestern Germany caused land holdings to be subdivided continuously, rendering farms too miniscule for subsistence. Cottage industries collapsed when faced by a flood of foreign products. Finally, the population had skyrocketed and many were dependent on the potato crops. As in Ireland, rural Germany in the 1840s was suddenly hit by famine precipitated by a potato blight.

When the 1848 revolutions Europe failed to bring democracy to Germany, several thousand fugitives left for America in addition to nearly 750,000 Page 210  |  Top of Articlemore who immigrated in the following years. While a mere 6,000 Germans had entered the United States in the decade of the 1820s, nearly one million did so in the decade of the 1850s, the first great influx from Germany. Despite annual fluctuations, especially during the Civil War period when the decadal figure dropped to 723,000, the tide swelled again to 751,000 in the 1870s and peaked at 1,445,000 in the 1880s.

In the nineteenth century religious and political refugees were numerous. During the 1820s, for example, Prussia had forced a union of the Reformed and Lutheran congregations, which by the late 1830s caused many Old Lutherans to emigrate. Saxon followers of Martin Stephan came in 1839 to escape the “wickedness” of the Old World. Other refugees were the Pietists who founded communal societies in Harmony and Economy, Pennsylvania; Zoar, Ohio; St. Nazianz, Wisconsin; and Amana, Iowa.

Societies sponsored by German princes used emigration as a solution to social problems at home. For example, the Giessener Emigration Society (1833) and the Adelsverein of Texas (1843) operated on the principle that a one-way ticket for the downtrodden was cheaper than a long-term subsidy. Also influential in unleashing a tidal wave of German emigration were writers like Gottfried Duden whose 1829 book Bericht über eine Reise nach den westlichen Staaten Nordamerika's (Report of a Journey to the Western States of North America) was a bestseller and compared the Mississippi region to the Rhine region in Germany.

During the 1850s small farmers and their families dominated the first major wave of immigrants, who often came from southwest Germany. Soon after, artisans and household manufacturers were the main arrivals from the more central states of Germany, while day laborers and agricultural workers from the rural northeast states characterized subsequent waves of German immigrants. Not until Germany's industrialization process caught up with the English in the late nineteenth century did Germans no longer have to leave the country to improve their lives. Beginning in the late 1880s and for several decades thereafter, migration from depressed agricultural regions was destined less for America and more for the manufacturing regions of Berlin, the Ruhr, and the Rhine in Germany itself.

Interspersed among these waves of economic emigrants were also those fleeing a variety of oppression, including German Jews who left because of economic and social discrimination. Young men sometimes fled to avoid serving in the Prussian military service. Organized industrial laborers also fled the antisocialist laws enacted when a would-be assassin threatened the life of Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm I, who blamed Socialist labor leaders for the attempt. Catholics, too, were oppressed by Bismarck's infamous May Laws of the 1870s, sometimes called the Kulturkampf, which suppressed the Catholic Center Party and its drive for greater democracy during the first decade of the emperor's reign.

Also during the latter half of the nineteenth century, agents fanned out across Germany to drum up emigration. Some were outright recruiters operating against the law. Others were agencies that took the form of aid societies working to better the lot of the emigrés in Germany, such as the Catholic Raphael Society, the Bavarian Ludwigmissionsverein, the Leopoldinen Stiftung in Vienna, the Pietist society of Herrnhut in Saxony, and the Lutheran support groups of Neuendettelsau in Franconia in northern Bavaria. Frankenmuth, Michigan, for example, traces its roots to such Lutheran groups. Aiding the immigrants on this side of the Atlantic were the Catholic Leo House in New York and the Central-Verein in St. Louis. Much better funded promoters were those established by the North Central states (most prominently Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota) as they joined the Union, many of which had ample support from legislatures for their Immigration Commissioners. Even more influential were the transcontinental railroads that sent agents to the ports of debarkation along the Atlantic and Germany to recruit immigrants either to take up their land grants or to supply freight activity for their lines. Especially active was the Northern Pacific during the time when German immigrant Henry Villard headed the corporation and sought to populate his land grant with industrious German farmers.

In the latter phases of German immigration newcomers joined established countrymen in a phenomenon called chain migration. Chain migration is defined as the movement of families or individuals to join friends and family members already established in a given place. Chain migration strengthened already existing German regions of the United States. One such concentrated settlement pattern gave rise to the so-called “German triangle,” defined by St. Paul, Minnesota; St. Louis, Missouri; and Cincinnati, Ohio, with lines stretching between them so that the triangle incorporated Chicago, Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Milwaukee, Davenport, and other strongly German cities. Other descriptors include the more accurate “German parallelogram,” which stretches from Albany, New York, westward along the Erie Canal to Buffalo and farther westward through Detroit to St. Paul and the Dakotas, then south to Nebraska and Kansas, back to Missouri and eastward along the Ohio River to Baltimore. Except for large settlements in Texas, San Francisco, and Florida, German settlement is still largely contained within this German belt.

Data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that German, Irish, and English are the most frequently reported ancestry groups. According to the Census Bureau's American Community Survey estimates for 2009–2011, about 49 million persons claim German ancestry, many more than the second-place group, the Irish, with 35 million. In terms of distribution, the 2000 census data confirm

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that those of German heritage predominate in the northern half of the country, as well as Florida and Alaska. Those of German heritage form the plurality of the population from Pennsylvania in the east to Oregon and Washington in the West, with every Midwestern and Western state in between (the exceptions being Utah, California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas). States with the highest total population of German Americans include California (3.3 million), Pennsylvania (3.4 million), Ohio (over 3 million), Wisconsin (2.4 million), New York (2.1 million), Michigan (2.1 million), Texas (2.6 million), Florida (2.1 million), and Illinois (2.5 million).


The German language is related to Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic, and English—the so-called Germanic languages. High German, the dialect spoken in the east-west central geographic elevation, differs linguistically from the language spoken in the lower-lying topographical regions of northern Germany, where Low German was once in everyday usage. It is also different from Bavarian and Swiss German that is typically spoken in the southern, more Alpine regions.

According to 2011 American Community Survey estimates, about 1.1 million people speak German at home in the United States; this was down from 1.38 million in the 2000 Census. Of these, only about 188,000 spoke English less than “very well.” Among the Pennsylvania Dutch, roughly 18 percent speak a language other than English at home—for many, a dialect of German known as Deitsch.

German was widely spoken by millions of U.S. immigrants, and many American communities had German-language newspapers until the outbreak of World War I, at which time speaking German fell out of favor (and was sometimes outlawed) in many communities as anti-German sentiments rose. Such sentiments declined following World War II amid increasing American interests in Germany and Germany's increasing economic importance. German is now taught in many American schools as an elective and is the third most popular foreign language to study after Spanish and French.


Religious differences have characterized the German people since 1517, when Martin Luther challenged Catholic papal authority. In the first wave of the nineteenth century, German immigrants to the United States largely came from the conservative Reformed and Old Lutheran denominations. They founded several synods throughout the country, including the Missouri Synod in Chicago in 1847. In 2013 the Missouri Synod had 2.3 million members, most of whom were concentrated in the upper Midwest. Many smaller Lutheran denominations formed by

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During World War I, German “aliens” living in New York City's “Little Germany” (Yorkville) line up to be fingerprinted and registered at the East 68th Street police station, During World War I, German “aliens” living in New York City's “Little Germany” (Yorkville) line up to be fingerprinted and registered at the East 68th Street police station, in 1918. BETTMANN / CORBIS

German and Scandinavian immigrants merged into the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in 1988. Headquartered in Chicago, the relatively liberal synod (as opposed to the Missouri Synod) has about 4 million members. The Wisconsin Synod, most conservative of the three major Lutheran groups, was founded in 1850 in Milwaukee and has roughly 380,000 members. Other Protestant German immigrants, namely Calvinists, formed what later became the United Church of Christ, and some immigrants joined Methodist churches. Mennonite and Quaker groups were among the first encouraged to immigrate to the United States at the behest of William Penn. A number of such families founded Germantown, Pennsylvania, in 1683; the Pennsylvania Dutch followed in the eighteenth century and settled in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

In the nineteenth century, many German immigrants to the United States were Roman Catholic. German churches that used the German language exclusively featured a liturgy rich with ritual and music and offered its parishioners a variety of associations and societies. They also addressed numerous social needs by supporting and operating orphanages and hospitals. By the late twentieth century, however, many German American Catholic parishes experienced attrition, following the national trend for most Catholic parishes and mainline Protestant congregations.

German Americans' views toward religion today reflect those of Americans overall. Most continue to identify as Protestant but do not necessarily practice as devoutly as their ancestors did. For instance, while its membership includes many Scandinavian Americans and people of other ethnicities, the ELCA—the nation's largest Lutheran sect—reported a 21 percent decline in church attendance from 2001 to 2008. Declines were also reported in the more German American-dominated LCMS and Wisconsin Synod sects of the Lutheran Church. Many German Americans were following religious trends among Americans overall, including larger numbers gravitating toward large nondenominational Christian churches, and many were also abandoning religious practice altogether.


In many respects Germans were slower to assimilate than their fellow immigrants from other countries. This was due in part to their size and percentage of the population. With most of their needs provided by their own ethnic communities, assimilation was not urgent. Germans had their own professionals, businesses, churches, and schools. However, second generation German immigrants were drawn more quickly into the mainstream, and the survival of German communities depended upon immigration. Assimilation hastened during World War I, when some communities passed laws that prevented people from speaking German in public.

In the post–World War II era, the days of mass immigration from Germany were long over, and German Americans' perception of their heritage became associated with certain icons and costumes, notably Oktoberfest celebrations, high-quality sports cars, sausage and sauerkraut, and Bavarian folk music. In the United States, Bavarian culture is regarded as synonymous with all of German culture, even though Bavarian customs and language are confined to the southeastern regional state of Bavaria and its capital, Munich. German Day festivals almost always feature Bavarian dance and clothing such as lederhosen (men's leather shorts with suspenders) and the dirndl (women's full skirt). Replicas of German cities—such as Leavenworth, Washington, or Frankenmuth, Michigan—assume an air of Alpine Bavaria.

Traditions and Customs In addition to customs discussed elsewhere, one of German Americans' most enduring customs has been a tradition of social beer drinking. In the nineteenth century many American cities had great numbers of German pubs, and the brewing industry was dominated by German Americans. At that time, many German Americans also would imbibe at German societies, clubs, or family-friendly beer gardens, where they could speak German and mingle with fellow immigrants. Though the tradition of German clubs largely died by World War I, the tradition of saluting one's host or guests with a toast of “Prost!” endures. However, although German American culture, especially for men, is still often associated with heavy beer drinking and attendant rowdiness—and Germany continues to have one of the highest rates of alcohol consumption in the world—there is little evidence that German Americans consume more alcohol than other ethnic groups in the United States today.

German Americans also have strong traditions of physical activity, particularly in the outdoors. Activities like skiing, skating, shooting, and hiking have long Page 213  |  Top of Articlebeen popular among German Americans as they are in Germany, with whole families often enjoying such activities together. Some claim that the concept of a picnic was brought to the United States by Germans.

Cuisine German American cuisine has been called a “forgotten cuisine” in American culture. This is not because its dishes are no longer enjoyed, but because they have become so ubiquitous in American culture—and in many cases global culture—that they are no longer recognized as being of German origin. Such dishes, introduced to this continent by German Americans, include hamburgers, frankfurters (hot dogs), jelly doughnuts, cheesecake, and potato salad. Other German American-introduced foods and drinks include lager beer (America's most heavily-consumed beer), pretzels, sauerkraut, and several kinds of sausages and breads. To varying extent, these foods have been so Americanized that they bear only a passing resemblance to dishes still eaten in Germany.

German American restaurants are common in most major American cities as well and can also be found in rural areas with a large German American population like the Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Wisconsin, or Iowa. Typically, their menus are heavy on meat dishes, including schnitzels (fried pork and chicken), sausages, and sauerbrauten, a German pot roast that is typically marinated for several days in vinegar with seasonings. Common sides at these restaurants include spätzle, a soft egg and flour noodle; boiled potatoes; and potato pancakes—the latter of which is rarely seen in Germany. Also common at these restaurants are biergartens, or beer gardens, outdoor drinking areas with a wide selection of beers from Germany and other European nations. German American cuisine is especially common at Oktoberfest celebrations in communities of all sizes, and “sausage feeds,” or sausage dinners, are common in many rural communities as well.

Traditional Dress Being a nation of many distinct regional customs, Germany has a wide array of traditional dress and costumes. Most German Americans do not wear any traditional clothing, except during festivals like Oktoberfest, when Bavarian clothing is common. This includes lederhosen for men, which are shorts and suspenders often made of leather, and dirndl for women, an outfit featuring a bodice, blouse, skirt, and apron, usually in bright colors.

Dances and Songs German-produced instruments that remain popular in the United States include the Chemnitzer concertina, which looks like a small accordion, and the accordion itself, first as made by Hohner and today made by Weltmeister. While the waltz and the polka might have had their origins in Austria and Bohemia respectively, other eastern European immigrants are likewise fond of these dances performed to their regional folk tunes. Especially folkloric for Germans are the oompa bands of the upper Plains and the industrial heartland, from Chicago, Illinois, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Germans in the United States continued the tradition of the Sängerfest, a gathering of competitive choirs (called a Sängerbund) who performed competitively in events that sometimes lasted for days. These events reached their zenith at the turn of the twentieth century and waned after World War I. Today Sängerfests are still held in areas with high number of people of German heritage, such as Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Holidays In addition to traditional American holidays, many German American Catholic communities celebrate Corpus Christi, which includes outdoor processions to altars decorated with flowers. On Epiphany (January 6), children dressed as the three wise men, adorned with paper crowns, carry a star on a short pole and sing traditional songs in exchange for treats as they go door to door. Catholic Christmas traditions served as the basis for American celebrations—the exchange of gifts, as well as the Christmas tree, a custom deriving from early modern Germany and sometimes still illuminated by real candles as widely practiced in Germany. December 6 was the traditional visit of St. Nicholas, a custom that evolved into the Americanized jolly form of Santa Claus. Similarly, the Easter Bunny (Osterhase) originated in German folklore, though like the Christmas traditions, it is so well absorbed into general American holiday celebrations that it is not typically recognized as a German American contribution.

In the United States, Bavarian culture is regarded as synonymous with all of German culture, even though Bavarian customs and language are confined to the southeastern regional state of Bavaria and its capital, Munich.

Groundhog Day, February 2, is a custom carried on by the Pennsylvania Dutch immigrants who brought it with them from the Palantinate region, where Candlemas Day was held to brighten the dark days of winter. Many immigrants, who were farmers, looked for signs of spring on this day and took stock of the supplies that had to last the rest of the winter. Looking for an animal's shadow—initially a bear or a hedgehog, which became standardized as a groundhog in the United States—became a tell-tale sign of six more weeks of winter.

October 6 was declared German American Day by President Reagan in 1983, the three hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the first Germantown settlers. Congress made the designation permanent in 1987. Several American cities feature German American parades on or around this date. Often called a “Von Steuben Parade” in honor of Friedrich Wilhelm Von Steuben, a general in the Revolutionary

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Gymnastics are another popular activity that German immigrants brought to the United States. In Germany in the nineteenth century, athletic clubs called turnvereine (from turnen, meaning to perform gymnastics, and verein, meaning club) were popular. German immigrants in the United States established their own societies, which became known as “Turners,” and some cities built large facilities to host games and practice. The Turners had a slight political bent to them, and many were active in labor causes and hosted large festivals for gymnastic competitions. Their slogan frisch, fromm, frölich, frei (fresh, pious, happy, free) promoted the idea of maintaining a sound body and mind. Like many other German traditions, the turnvereine declined in popularity after World War I, but several dozen Turner groups are still active in the United States in the early twenty-first century.

War, the parades typically feature traditional German music and dress, dancing, and associated banquets and galas. New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago have the nation's largest Von Steuben parades. The tradition of the parades began in New York in 1957.

Oktoberfest is also a very popular German American festival. Originating in 1810 in Munich as a wedding party for Crown Prince Ludwig, Oktoberfest is still Germany's largest annual festival. German American immigrants brought the Oktoberfest tradition to the United States in the nineteenth century, and today Oktoberfests are celebrated in many American cities in late September or early October. Though the original was a two-week festival, most in the United States last for a weekend at most. They are an opportunity for German Americans and Americans generally to celebrate German culture and feature a wide selection of beers, typically in German styles if not of German origin; German music, usually from the Bavaria region; and some German costumes, as noted above. The largest Oktoberfests in the United States are in Cincinnati (about 500,000 annual attendees) and Denver (about 450,000 attendees), but they are common in communities large and small; by some counts, there several hundred annual Oktoberfest celebrations in the United States.

Death and Burial In the nineteenth century many German American cemeteries were quite elaborate, including Prospect Hill Cemetery in Washington, D.C., the German Lutheran Cemetery in Philadelphia, and Union Cemetery in Milwaukee. Use of cast iron grave markers was once common. Traditional German American headstone epitaphs included Hier Liegt (“Here Lies”) and Hier Ruht (“Here Rests”). Markers also long included symbols intended to ward off evil spirits, like rosettes, stars, and pentagrams, though these are less common today. At one time the deceased was dressed by the family; today this is generally handled by funeral home professionals. For some conservative German Americans, particularly Mennonites, cremation is still viewed as inappropriate. In earlier times, German Americans visited the burial sites of their relatives frequently, often at least monthly. This is less common today.


Early German immigrants who were farmers tried to purchase land and homes as soon as they were able. As a result, few were tenant farmers. German Americans placed a high value on home ownership and often constructed their houses of brick or stone. Such an attitude about financial security persists among German Americans today, though many aspects of their culture are hard to separate from American culture generally.

Gender Roles The traditional German American family was patriarchal, with women taking care of the home and children. Farm families were large, and wives and daughters worked with the sons and fathers to manage the harvest and livestock. Children frequently left school early to help with farm work full-time. According to the 1880 U.S. Census figures, a smaller proportion of German American women were part of the work force than women in other immigrant groups. Some who worked outside the home worked in factories or in jobs where knowledge of English was necessary.

Many nineteenth-century German Americans held fairly rigid attitudes toward gender roles, with adult males working outside the home and women rearing children and looking after household affairs. Fathers were considered the stricter parent, and families were considered to be more emotionally reserved than other ethnic groups. Today gender roles among German Americans reflect those of American society at large.

According to American Community Survey estimates from 2010, a majority of German American households with children and two parents had both parents working—66 percent in households with children under 6 years of age, rising to 74 percent in households with older children. German American women were about five times as likely to be a single parent than German American men, reflecting the fact that child-rearing still falls predominantly on women; this difference between women and men was true for Americans overall. German American women participated in the labor force at roughly the same rates as men and had roughly the same educational attainment, though they were more likely to work in business or service occupations than men, who were more evenly spread across industries, including manual occupations.

Education German Americans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries maintained their own German-language schools, first by establishing their Page 215  |  Top of Articleown institutions and later by pressuring school districts to offer curriculum in German. Additionally, parochial schools operated by Catholics and Lutherans enrolled thousands of the children of German immigrants. Some German-language schools were sponsored by nonreligious organizations, such as a local German school society. Sometimes these schools offered new pedagogical principles that had a lasting impact on the American school system. For example, they introduced the German concept of kindergarten as a transition year between home and full-time school, and at higher grades they instituted sports programs that stemmed from the German Turner societies. The German immigrants of the Moravian Protestant denomination founded Salem College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in 1772, which was the first institution of higher education devoted exclusively to girls and women. Many religious colleges, including Wartburg, Wittenberg, and Capital University, were founded by German immigrants.

In 1890 the Wisconsin legislature passed the Bennett Law. This required that children attend school more regularly and added the stipulation that at least some subjects be taught in English. In Illinois a similar measure surfaced as the Edwards Law. As a result, the Lutheran and Catholic constituents of these states campaigned to defeat Wisconsin's governor William Dempster Hoard and to free the German language schools of state intervention. Over time, despite their efforts, German faded in favor of English instruction. To supply teachers for these many schools, German Americans maintained a teachers' college, while Turner gymnastic societies developed their own teacher preparation institute. After the turn of the twentieth century, the German American Alliance promoted teaching German in part to preserve their culture and to maintain an audience for German-language newspapers and books.

Elementary German language school enrollments reached their zenith between 1880 and 1900. In 1881 more than 160,000 pupils were attending German Catholic schools, and almost 50,000 were in Missouri Synod Lutheran schools. Of the roughly half million people attending school with a curriculum partly or all in German, 42 percent were attending public schools, more than a third were in Catholic schools, and 16 percent were in Lutheran private schools. However, when World War I broke out, legal action was brought against some organizations not only to dampen considerable German cultural activities but also to eliminate the German language from American schools. The flagship case was the Mockett Law in Nebraska, which anti-German enthusiasts repealed. Eventually 26 other states followed suit, banning instruction in German and of German. On June 4, 1923, the Supreme Court ruled that a mere knowledge of German could not be regarded as harmful to the state, and the majority opinion added that the right of parents to have their children taught in a language other than English was within the liberties guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. Nevertheless, as a language of instruction in schools, during church service, and at home, German was gradually overshadowed by English as assimilation accelerated.

Today most German American children attend public schools and learn in English. They continue to have high levels of academic achievement. According to American Community Survey estimates from 2011, 90 percent—both male and female—earn high school diplomas, about 7 percent points higher than the general population. About 34 percent of German Americans earn college degrees, higher than the national average of roughly 28 percent.

Courtship and Weddings Except in more closed religious or rural communities, German Americans have intermarried with other ethnic groups fairly frequently since the eighteenth century. Weddings among Lutheran or Catholic German Americans generally follow American customs: couples generally marry for love, choosing their own partners, although the groom may formally ask permission from the bride's father first. Weddings are often held in churches, followed by lively celebrations with dancing, drinking, and a formal dinner.

Until the mid-twentieth century, some Mennonite and other conservative German American religious communities practiced a more secretive form of courtship, wherein a couple's plans to marry were kept secret until a few weeks before the wedding, when the plans were announced or “published” in church. Sexual relations before marriage were strictly forbidden, and divorce was very rarely allowed. Wedding ceremonies often did not include many elements that have long been common among Protestants: rings were not used until the 1950s, hymns were sung by a choir in place of more common wedding music, and even kissing at the end of the ceremony remained uncommon until the twentieth century. After World War II, however, these differences largely disappeared. Still, among Mennonites and other Anabaptist groups today, wedding attire is often simpler, but the ceremony and reception are very similar—except the absence of alcohol, which is often forbidden among these groups.


Many German immigrants of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, in addition to being farmers, were skilled in trades such as baking, carpentry, brewing, and machinery. Others were musicians, merchants, and builders. According to the 1870 census figures, 27 percent of German Americans were employed in agriculture, 23 percent in the professions, and 13 percent in trades and transportation. By 1890, however, around 45 percent reportedly were laborers or servants, perhaps as a result of recent immigration by industrial workers rather than farmers. This may explain why the labor movement in the United States Page 216  |  Top of Articlegained considerable impetus from German immigrants. The mid-nineteenth century witnessed the introduction of the Communist ideologies of Wilhelm Weitling (1808–1871) and Joseph Weydemeyer (1818–1866), which gave rise to early struggles for social and economic reform. The International Workingmen's Association in America was founded in 1869 as the first of the Communist and socialist groups in the United States, and its membership was predominately German American. In 1886 German American anarchists were also instrumental in the labor movement implicated in the Chicago Haymarket bombing during the labor strikes of that period.

Had it not been for the greater need for workers to unite against their employers and join the American Federation of Labor (AFL), German trade unions might have been consolidated in the late 1880s. In future years many leaders of American labor were German American, including Walter Reuther, who fought on the picket lines during the 1930s before becoming president of the AFL-CIO following World War II. For German immigrants, labor union membership led to improved working conditions and helped them form solidarity with workers from other ethnic backgrounds as well. In the twenty-first century only a minority of workers belong to labor unions, and many German-owned companies operating in the United States, including Daimler AG, Siemens, BASF, and BMW of North America, have followed the trend in declining union membership among its employees. Reflecting their size within the American populace, in 2011 German Americans' economic and employment conditions closely mirrored those of Americans overall. According to the American Community Survey's estimates from that year, German Americans were split among occupations and industries almost exactly along the same percentages as Americans overall, and their median household income was very close to the national average. Significantly fewer German Americans received supplemental food assistance or food stamps—about 5.4 percent versus 10.2 percent for the country overall. Similarly, poverty rates were roughly half those of the American average.


As the German American population swelled in the nineteenth century, both the Democratic and Republican parties made overtures to them, through such policies as allowing German language schools, ease of naturalization, and lower fees and taxes for German-dominated industries such as brewing. Although the Democratic Party had generally been more successful at attracting German Americans and other immigrant groups before the Civil War, loyalty to Abraham Lincoln and the Union brought many Northern German Americans to the Republican Party in the late nineteenth century.

Throughout the nineteenth century, many German Americans maintained distinct love for their

In Amana, Iowa, a worker makes furniture at the Amana Furniture & Clock Shop. The shop was opened when German immigrants established the communal Amana Colonies in 1855. In Amana, Iowa, a worker makes furniture at the Amana Furniture & Clock Shop. The shop was opened when German immigrants established the communal Amana Colonies in 1855. JIM WEST / ALAMY

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German homeland in addition to their allegiance to the United States. As German American politician Carl Schurz put it, it was like loving one's mother along with one's wife: the two are not incompatible. But as World War I erupted, such a dual loyalty was suddenly called into question. Many leading German Americans opposed the United States' entry into the war, though after Congress declared war, most German Americans expressed uncompromised loyalty to the United States. This was not enough to satisfy many nativists, who persecuted German Americans regardless of their position on the war and renamed streets, stores, and even sauerkraut (“liberty cabbage”) in an attempt to erase German Americans' considerable influence on American society.

After the war these tensions abated for the most part, but it signaled the end of German language politics and education. Stunned and perhaps resentful of the bitter treatment they had received, German Americans helped oust Democrat Woodrow Wilson and then shunned major leaders in both parties for a time, supporting third-party candidates for Congress and the presidency in elections during the 1920s. During this period, fearing threats to their success in the brewing industry (as well as their culture of consuming beer), German Americans also fiercely protested Prohibition and temperance reforms as they swept the country. The Democratic Party also opposed Prohibition, and by the 1930s many German Americans had returned to the party, with great numbers supporting Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who campaigned for repeal of Prohibition. Yet some German Americans continued to be thoroughly isolationist, as it appeared that the country was headed toward another European war. When the United States declared war against the Axis powers in 1941, the vast majority of German Americans supported this choice.

After the war German American political allegiances were less cohesive than they had been in the past. Many supported Harry Truman in 1948, resulting in Truman's surprise upset of Thomas E. Dewey. Truman had taken a stand against Joseph Stalin at the Potsdam Conference in 1945, implemented the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe (including Germany) in 1946, steadily opposed Communism in Europe, and initiated the Berlin Airlift in May 1948, all of which endeared Truman to the German Americans. Later in the twentieth century, however, some German Americans supported liberal candidates, while others supported conservative candidates. By the late twentieth century, German Americans had ceased to be a significantly visible voting bloc.


Academia Hannah Arendt (1906–1975) was a Jewish, German-born writer and professor. Her most notable publication is The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). She taught at University of California Berkeley, Princeton University, and the University of Chicago.

Franz Boas (1858–1942) has been called the “father of modern anthropology.” Trained as a geographer in Germany, he became known for detailed studies of the Inuit and other native peoples of Canada and became a professor at Columbia University in 1896. As an organizer of the American Anthropological Association, he was instrumental in shaping the discipline.

Architecture Walter Gropius (1883–1969) was a German architect and founder of the Bauhaus School who immigrated to the United States in 1934 and influenced postwar architecture by popularizing International Modernism. He taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969) was an architect and guided the Bauhaus movement after its move to Chicago and Boston. In Chicago he was head of the school of architecture at the Armour Institute of Technology and ushered in the International Style that became omnipresent in the 1950s.

Helmut Jahn (1940–), born in Nuremberg, is an architect whose works include the Citigroup Center tower in Chicago, terminals at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, and the Veer Towers in Las Vegas. He is also famous for the Kemper Center in Kansas City and the Auraria Library in Denver, in addition to the Potsdam Platz structures in Berlin, the Weser Tower in Bremen, and Munich Airport.

Art Albert Bierstadt (1830–1902) immigrated to the United States as a child and later founded the Hudson River School and painted dramatic scenes of the American West.

Josef Albers (1888–1976) was a graphic artist and member of Germany's Bauhaus school of architecture and design who immigrated to the United States to teach at North Carolina's Black Mountain College when the Nazis closed down the Bauhaus in 1933. Later he taught design at Yale.

Thomas Nast (1840–1902) was an artist who created both the donkey and the elephant mascots that have long symbolized the American Democratic Party and the Republican Party, respectively.

Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946) was a pioneering photographer in New York City at the turn of the twentieth century. He was born in New Jersey to German Jewish immigrants.

Hilla Von Rebay (1890–1967) was born in Germany and became a notable abstract painter in the early twentieth century. She immigrated to the United States in 1927 and helped her friend Solomon Guggenheim collect the works of art that created the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Anni Albers (born Annelise Fleischmann, 1899–1994) was one of the twentieth century's most notable textile artists, known especially for her weaving. Born in Berlin, she married famous glass artist Josef Albers (1888–1976) in 1925, and the two immigrated to the Page 218  |  Top of ArticleUnited States in 1933. She and her husband became important collectors and teachers of art, and her books on textiles and design were highly acclaimed. In 1980 she was awarded the American Craft Council's Gold Medal for “uncompromising excellence.” Her life's work elevated the field of fiber and textile arts considerably in the United States.

Business Eberhard Anheuser (1805–1880), a candle maker born in Germany, was the founder of what became the Anheuser-Busch Company, one of the world's largest breweries.

Adolphus Busch (1839–1913) was a German-born businessman and cofounder of the Anheuser-Busch Company with his father-in-law.

Adolph Kohrs (1847–1929), also spelled Coors, was born in Barmen, Germany, and immigrated to the United States in 1868, moving to Denver in 1872. In 1873 he cofounded the Golden Brewery and by 1880 was its sole owner, changing its name to Coors Brewing.

John D. Rockefeller (1839–1937) was the founder of the Standard Oil Company and a philanthropist who founded the Rockefeller University and the University of Chicago. He was born in New York to parents with German ancestry.

Peter Thiel (1967–) is a venture capitalist and hedge fund manager who was an early investor in Facebook. He was born in Germany but raised in California.

Donald Trump (1946–) is a real estate developer and television personality. As head of the Trump Organization, he has engaged in real estate ventures around the world. His paternal grandparents were German immigrants.

Commerce and Industry Eric Schmidt (1955–) was the CEO of Google from 2001 to 2011, during which time he worked closely with founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin to turn the Internet search company from an upstart into one of the most successful companies in the world.

Walter P. Chrysler (1875–1940) founded the Chrysler Corporation in 1925, soon becoming one of the world's most successful automobile companies.

John Roebling (1806–1869) was a German-born civil engineer. He and his son Washington built the Brooklyn Bridge based on a revolutionary new design for building bridges that incorporated wire suspensions.

Levi Strauss (1829–1902) was born in Bavaria and immigrated to America at the age of 18, where he joined his brothers' dry goods business. In 1853 he opened a West Coast branch of the company in San Francisco and in 1872 began manufacturing his signature jeans.

John Jacob Astor (1763–1848) immigrated to the newly independent United States from Germany after the Revolutionary War. He became the young country's first millionaire due to his business ventures in fur trading and real estate.

Friedrich Weyerhauser (1834–1914) was the country's most powerful timber baron in the nineteenth century, creating an empire that controlled timber production in much of the upper Mississippi basin and the Pacific Northwest. His company remains the largest seller of timber in the world. Born to a farming family in Germany, he immigrated to western Pennsylvania at the age of 18, joining family members there before branching out on his own.

Culinary Arts Irma Rombauer (1877–1962), who lived her entire life in St. Louis, is credited with shaping American home cooking to a greater extent than almost any other American. Her Joy of Cooking cookbook, originally self-published in 1931, went on to become one of the world's most-published cookbooks, passing through several editions and still in print today. The first edition was illustrated by Rombauer's daughter, Marion Rombauer Becker (1903–1976), who was credited as a coauthor for later editions.

Education Maria Kraus-Boelté (1836–1918) was a major proponent of formalized kindergartens in the United States. Born in Germany, she moved to New York in 1872 and established a model kindergarten while also promoting the concept through widely read books.

Ruth Westheimer (1928–) is a German-born psychologist and sex therapist who escaped Nazi Germany at the outbreak of World War II. She immigrated to the United States in 1956, where she received several degrees in sociology, education, and human sexuality. In the 1980s, she gained renown as a radio personality through her syndicated talk show, Sexually Speaking.

Fashion Heidi Klum (1973–) is a model, designer, and television personality. After rising to prominence in the 1990s as a Victoria's Secret model, she appeared in a wide range of advertisements well beyond the fashion industry, and by 2011 she was ranked second on Forbes' list of top-earning models. She was also a host and judge on the popular reality television show Project Runway. Born and raised near Cologne, Germany, she became an American citizen in 2008.

Government Carl Schurz (1829–1906) served as ambassador to Spain, became a general in the Civil War, was elected U.S. senator from Missouri, and finally was appointed Secretary of the Interior under Rutherford Hayes.

John P. Altgeld (1847–1902), a German who became a Progressive Democrat, was elected in 1893 governor of Illinois, where he favored labor activists and other progressive causes.

Herbert Hoover (1874–1964), born to Quaker parents in Iowa, was the first American president (1929–1933) of German descent (on his father's side).

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Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower (1890–1969) was the first American president with a German surname. His ancestors originally settled in Pennsylvania but later moved to Texas and then Kansas. Eisenhower did not necessarily identify with his German heritage; during World War II he served as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe and was instrumental in defeating the German-led Axis Powers.

Richard Milhous Nixon (1913–1994) served as U.S. president from 1969 to 1974. He began his political career as a Republican representative and then senator from California.

Chester W. Nimitz (1885–1966) was a five-star admiral of the U.S. Navy and the commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet during World War II.

Norman Schwarzkopf (1934–2012), commander of the coalition forces in the Persian Gulf War, was of German lineage.

John Boehner (1949–) was elected to U.S. Congress in 1991 and served as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives beginning in 2011.

Henry Kissinger (1923–) was born in Bavaria and immigrated with his family to New York in 1938. A noted diplomat and the Secretary of State under President Nixon and President Ford, Kissinger received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for his work in bringing peace to Vietnam.

Literature Theodore Dreiser (1871–1945) was an American novelist known especially for Sister Carrie (1900) and An American Tragedy (1925). His father was a German immigrant.

John Steinbeck (1902–1968) was the author of the novels Of Mice and Men (1937) and The Grapes of Wrath (1939) and received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.

Kurt Vonnegut (1922–2007) was the author of many well-regarded novels, including Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), which was influenced by his experience as a prisoner of war in World War II.

Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904–1991), better known as the children's writer Dr. Seuss, was a second-generation German American who worked in advertising and as a cartoonist for the U.S. Army during World War II before he wrote such classics as Green Eggs and Ham and The Cat in the Hat.

Charles Bukowski (born Heinrich Karl Bukowski, 1920–1994) was born in Germany shortly after World War I; his father, whose parents had immigrated to the United States in the 1880s, had returned to Germany as a soldier in the U.S. Army, while his mother was from the local community. Raised in Los Angeles, Bukowski became a noted countercultural poet and novelist who published prolifically and remains a cult favorite.

Gertrude Stein (1874–1946) was born in Pennsylvania to German-Jewish parents but lived for much of her life in France, where she led a group of vanguard expatriate American writers and artists. She published her most famous work, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, in 1933; Toklas was her partner for much of her life. She was also a major collector of art.

Sylvia Plath (1932–1963) was born in Boston to an Austrian American mother and a German father. She published a number of highly acclaimed collections of poetry and short stories exploring themes of nature, death, resurrection, and mental illness. She was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 1982.

Kathy Acker (1947–1997) was a noted feminist novelist, playwright, critic, and literary theorist who explored themes of sex, punk culture, and gender. Among her most famous works was Blood and Guts in High School (1984), an explicit novel that was banned in Germany.

Music Walter Johannes Damrosch (1862–1950) was a conductor and composer born in Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland), who was the conductor of the NBC symphony orchestra from 1928 to 1942. His father Leopold and brother Frank were also prominent musicians.

Oscar Hammerstein (1847–1919) was born in Stettin, Pomerania (now part of Poland). He arrived in New York during the Civil War in 1864. Best known as an opera promoter, Hammerstein was also an inventor, writer, editor, publisher, composer, and showman, whose nickname is the “Father of Times Square.”

Oscar Hammerstein II (1895–1960) was born in New York in 1895 and later became famous as half of the Broadway musical production team of Rodgers and Hammerstein. The duo created a string of popular musicals, including Oklahoma!, South Pacific, and The Sound of Music.

John Denver (born Henry Deutschendorf, Jr., 1943–1997) was a folk singer-songwriter popular in the 1970s and 1980s. He adopted his stage name in honor of his favorite state, Colorado. Among his most famous songs were “Country Roads, Take Me Home” (1971), “Sunshine On My Shoulders” (1972), and “Rocky Mountain High” (1972).

Alison Krauss (1971–) is a bluegrass and country singer-songwriter. Performing with the band Union Station since the late 1980s, she is well known for her performances on the soundtracks of Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? and Cold Mountain. By 2012 she had won 27 Grammy Awards. Her father was a German immigrant and language teacher who came to the United States in 1952.

Religion Reinhold Niehbur (1892–1971) was among the most important Protestant theologians of the twentieth century. Beginning as a pastor in a German-speaking church in Detroit, he became a significant figure in American public affairs from the 1930s through the 1960s, introducing Christian Realism, articulating the concept of “just war,” and supporting the fight for equal opportunity regardless Page 220  |  Top of Articleof race or religion. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964.

Paul Tillich (1886–1965) was also one of the most important Protestant theologians of the twentieth century. He was born in Germany and lived much of his life there, immigrating to the United States in 1933 on the invitation of Reinhold Niehbur. He is best known for his work on the idea of Christian existentialism, a personal approach to understanding how belief works and humans' place in the universe. The Courage to Be (1957) was his most popular book and had major influence even for non-Christians.

Science and Medicine George Westinghouse (1864–1914) invented electrical equipment and air brakes for trains and trucks.

Albert Einstein (1879–1955) was a German-born physicist who immigrated to the United States as World War II loomed in Europe. He developed the general theory of relativity, upon which modern physics is based. He received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Julius Robert Oppenheimer (1904–1967), known as the “father of the atom bomb,” was born to German immigrants, who sent their son back to Germany to earn his Ph.D. at the University of Göttingen. During World War II Oppenheimer was the top ranking scientist of the Manhattan Project, which designed and built the atom bombs that were dropped on Japan in 1945. After the war he directed the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University.

Wernher von Braun (1912–1977) was a German rocket scientist who surrendered to the Allies near the end of World War II. He began the second half of his career working for the United States, designing rockets for the newly formed NASA that enabled the United States to land the first human on the moon.

Maria Goeppert-Mayer (1906–1972) was a pioneering German American scientist, the second woman to win a Nobel Prize for Physics in 1963 for her work modeling the nucleus of a cell. She followed her husband, German American physicist Joseph Edward Mayer (1904–1983), to the University of Chicago.

Sports Lou Gehrig (1903–1941) was born Ludwig Heinrich Gehrig in New York City. Gehrig, known as “The Iron Horse,” played first base for the New York Yankees from 1923 to 1939.

George Hermann (1895–1948), better known as Babe Ruth, was known as the “Sultan of Swat” and was in 1927 the first player to hit 60 home runs in one season. He began his major league career with the Boston Red Sox in 1914 and retired in 1934 after many years with the New York Yankees.

Jack Nicklaus (1940–), known as “the Golden Bear,” is a professional golfer who has won 18 major championships and designed many prestigious golf courses.

Steffi Graf (1969–) is believed by many to be the best female tennis player of all time. Her 22 Grand Slam titles are the most won by any tennis player since the 1960s, and she was ranked Number 1 among women for a record 377 weeks in a row. Born in Mannheim, Germany, she moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, with her husband, tennis champ Andre Agassi, and their two children.

Abby Wambach (1980–) is a two-time Olympic gold medalist soccer player. She grew up in New York State and attended the University of Florida, where she helped the Gators win the NCAA championship in 1998. A forward, she joined the U.S. National Team in 2003; her header goal gave the U.S. National Team a gold medal against Brazil at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. Although an injury prevented her from playing in the 2008 Olympics, she returned for another gold medal in 2012 in London. Also in 2012, she was named the FIFA World Player of the Year.

Stage and Screen Fred Astaire (born Frederick Austerlitz, 1899–1987) was one of the most famous dancers and musical actors of the twentieth century, making a total of 31 musical films. Born in Nebraska to second-generation German Americans, he grew up in New York and first became famous on stage in several Gershwin operettas on Broadway and in London in the 1920s. With Ginger Rogers, he achieved movie fame at RKO Pictures in the 1930s. In 1960 he received the Cecil DeMille Lifetime Achievement award at the Golden Globes, and he was named the Fifth Greatest Male Star of All Time by the American Film Institute.

Jon Voight (1938–) is an actor who won an Academy Award for his portrayal of a paraplegic Vietnam War veteran in Coming Home (1978). He was also nominated for Academy Awards for his work in Midnight Cowboy (1969), Runaway Train (1985), and Ali (2001). His other notable films include Deliverance (1972), Mission: Impossible (1996), and Varsity Blues (1999). His maternal grandparents were German immigrants.

Meryl Streep (1949–) is one of the most successful actors of her generation. Some of her most notable films are The Deer Hunter (1978) Sophie's Choice (1982), and The Iron Lady (2011). She has been nominated for seventeen Academy Awards and won three.

Sandra Bullock (1964–) is an actor whose mother was a German opera singer. Her best-known films include The Blind Side (2009), for which she won an Academy Award for Best Actress.

Marlene Dietrich (1901–1992) was born in Berlin and became a U.S. citizen in 1939. She was one of the most famous actors of her day, beginning her career during the silent era. She was best known for her roles in Josef von Sternberg's The Blue Angel (1930), Blonde Venus (1932), and Destry Rides Again (1939).

Leonardo DiCaprio (1974–) is an actor best known for his roles in Titanic (1997), Catch Me if Page 221  |  Top of ArticleYou Can (2002), Gangs of New York (2002), Inception (2010), J. Edgar (2011), and The Great Gatsby (2013). His mother immigrated to the United States from Germany, and his father is of German descent.

Kirsten Dunst (1982–) holds dual citizenship in the United States and Germany. She is an actor best known for her work in the Spider-Man trilogy (2002–2004). Other notable films include Marie Antoinette (2006), Interview with a Vampire (1994), and Melancholia (2011).

Katherine Heigl (1978–) is an actress who played Dr. Stevens on the television show Grey's Anatomy, for which she won an Emmy Award in 2007. She also starred in Knocked Up (2006), and produced and starred in Life As We Know It (2010).


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German American newspapers were common beginning in the mid-nineteenth century in communities large and small; many rural counties with a population of one or two thousand German Americans had their own German-language newspaper. For example, in Iowa in the 1880s at least one German-language paper was published in fifteen of sixteen counties with more than 2,000 German American residents. New York had four German language dailies in 1850, more than Berlin. Weekly circulation nationwide was in the millions, and German language publications made up as much as 80 percent of the nation's immigrant press. After the 1890s, however, the German American press declined rapidly, as the group became more assimilated and as World War I led to suppression of German language activities in the United States. Few German language papers remain.

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Amerika Woche

Newspaper with text in English and German.

ONA Publishing Corp
P.O. Box 391
Gladwyne, Pennsylvania 19035
Phone: (516) 771-3181
Fax: (516) 771-3184

Atlantic Times

This monthly “newspaper from Germany” is devoted to issues of German American national relations and business ties, as well as culture and politics for an American audience. The main publishing office is in Germany, but it also maintains editorial offices in Washington and New York.

Rüdinger Lentz
2000 M Street NW
Suite 335
Washington, D.C. 20036
Phone: (703) 981-2215

Das Fenster

German- and English-language magazine that has been published in Athens, Georgia, since 1904.

Susanne Petermann, Chief Editor
103 E. Meadow Dr.
Athens, Georgia 30605
Phone: 1-800-398-7753
Fax: (706) 548-8856

German Life

Bimonthly magazine on German culture, history, and travel, which also focuses on the German American experience.

Mark Slider, Editor
P.O. Box 3000
Denville, New Jersey 07834-9723
Phone: 1-866-867-0251

German World

Billing itself as the only bilingual German American magazine, German World has been published bimonthly to a national audience from Los Angeles since 2002. The magazine focuses on events, business, and news for German, Swiss, and Austrian Americans. Total paper circulation is around 100,000.

Petra Schürmann, Publisher
PO Box 3541
Los Angeles, California 90078
Phone: (323) 876-5843


Monthly publication of the Institute for German American Relations that promotes friendly German American relations through education.

Marianne Bouvier, Executive Director
9380 McKnight Road
Suite 102
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15237-5951
Phone: (412) 364-6554

Nordamerikanische Wochen-Post

This weekly carries a front page directly from Germany, reports on many German American organizations, and includes coverage of business activity in Germany. It is the most widely distributed such publication in America.

Knuth Beth, Publisher
1300 W. Long Lake Road
Troy, Michigan 48098
Phone: (248) 641-9944
Fax: (248) 641-9946

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Society for German-American Studies—Newsletter

Quarterly publication of the society that focuses on German immigration and settlements in the United States and on German American history and culture.



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DW-TV North America

A branch of Germany's international broadcasting service, DW-TV is available on American cable and satellite networks. The channel features programming in both English and German, including news, documentaries, serials, and children's shows.

Deutsche Welle
Kurt-Schumacher-Strausse 3
Bonn, 53113 Germany
Phone: +49 228-429-0

WNWI AM Chicago

Broadcasting at 1080 AM, this mostly Polish language station broadcasts the “Deutschland Echo” program on Saturday and Sunday mornings from 9:00 until 11:00 am, hosted by Armin Homann and featuring German music. The program may also be streamed online.

Mr. Sima Birach, Operations Manager
934 W 138th Street
Riverdale, Illinois 60827
Phone: (708) 201-9600

“Continental Showcase” WJYI AM Milwaukee

This long-running German music program, on the air for nearly 60 years, broadcasts on 1340 AM in the Milwaukee area on Saturdays from 1:00 to 4:30 pm. It may also be streamed online.

Robert Deglau, Host
JOY 1340
5407 W. McKinley Ave.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53208
Phone: (414) 761-9402


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German-American Heritage Foundation of the USA

The organization was founded in 1977 in Philadelphia by Hans R. Haug and is now based in Washington, D.C. It is the first national organization, as opposed to local community organization, dedicated to representing German Americans and protecting their common heritage.

Ruediger Lentz, Executive Director
719 Sixth St. NW
Washington, D.C. 20001
Phone: (202) 467-5000
Fax: (202) 467-5440

Max Kade Foundation, Inc.

The foundation, which Kade founded in 1944, promotes Germanic studies in the United States and the exchange of information between the United States and German-speaking countries through undergraduate, graduate, and faculty exchange programs. Max Kade Houses exist at 30 locations in the United States and at 17 in Germany. The foundation also bestows grants on nonprofit organizations.

Lya Friedrich Pfeifer, President
6 E 87th Street, Floor 5
New York, New York 10128

German American National Congress (Deutsch Amerikander National Kongress, DANK)

Founded in 1959 in Chicago, DANK aims “to inspire people with Germanic heritage and those interested in Germanic cultures and language to recognize and celebrate that culture.” The organization publishes the German-American Journal six times yearly, maintains a blog on issues of interest to German Americans, facilitates genealogy research, and organizes language classes. Local chapters are primarily clustered in Illinois, but others can be found across the Midwest and North Atlantic states and in Phoenix, Arizona.

Eva Timmerhaus, Executive Secretary
4740 N. Western Ave.
Suite 206
Chicago, Illinois 60625
Phone: (773) 275-1100

German American Citizens League of Greater Cincinnati (GACL)

Founded in 1895, GACL is an umbrella organization for 33 German American groups in the Ohio Valley. It organizes social events, cultural activities, and advocacy for German American groups in the area and is an example of German American collaborative organizations that exist in many American metropolitan areas.

Dr. Heinrich Tolzmann, President
Phone: (513) 574-1741

Society for German-American Studies (SGAS)

This professional organization promotes the study of German language, history, and literature in the United States. The society organizes an annual symposium and publishes the annual Yearbook for German-American Studies.

Randall P. Donaldson

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German-American Heritage Museum

The German-American Heritage Foundation, which boasts a membership of 18,000 nationwide, is headquartered in Washington, D.C. The organization runs the museum, which opened in 2010.

Ruediger Lentz, Executive Director
719 Sixth Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20001
Phone: 1-866-868-8422

DANK Haus German American Cultural Center

Located in Chicago and operated by DANK, the DANK Haus offers classes and lectures in German culture and language, historical exhibits, and exhibitions by German and German American artists.

4740 North Western Ave.
Chicago, Illinois 60625
Phone: (773) 561-9181


Adams, Willi Paul. The German-Americans: An Ethnic Experience. Translated by LaVern J. Rippley and Eberhard Reichmann. Indianapolis: Max Kade German-American Center, 1993.

Bank, Michaela. Women of Two Countries: German-American Women, Women's Rights, and Nativism, 1848–1890. New York: Berghahn Books, 2012.

Fogelman, Aaron Spencer. Hopeful Journeys: German Immigration, Settlement, and Political Culture in Colonial America, 1717–1775. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996.

Fox, Stephen. America's Invisible Gulag: A Biography of German American Internment and Exclusion in World War II. New York: Peter Lang, 2000.

Haller, Charles. Across the Atlantic and Beyond: The Migration of German and Swiss Immigrants to America. Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 1993.

Honck, Mischa. We Are the Revolutionists: German-Speaking Immigrants and American Abolitionists after 1848. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2011.

Kamphoefner, Walter D., Wolfgang Helbich, and Ulrike Sommer, eds. News from the Land of Freedom: German Immigrants Write Home. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991.

Miller, Judith. A Bond Never Broken: A Novel. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011.

Rippley, LaVern J. The German-Americans. Lanham: MD: University Press of America, 1984.

Tolzmann, Don Heinrich. The German-American Experience. Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 2000.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3273300078