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The Germans in America

Chronology

1608 - Several Germans were among the settlers at Jamestown.

1626 - Peter Minuit, a German, came to New Amsterdam to serve as the governor of the Dutch colony, New Netherlands. Later he governed the Swedish colony in Delaware.

1683 - Thirteen families of German Mennonites seeking religious freedom arrived in Pennsylvania; led by Franz Pastorius, they purchased 43,000 acres of land and founded Germantown, six miles north of Philadelphia.

An elderly Amish couple, c. 1940.
An elderly Amish couple, c. 1940.
Prints and Photographs Division
Conestoga wagon
The Conestoga wagon was first designed and built by German settlers in Pennsylvania.
Prints and Photographs Division
LC-USZ62-24396.

1700s - The settling of the British colonies by small German-speaking religious groups continued. The groups included Swiss Mennonites, Baptist Dunkers, Schwenkfelders, Moravians, Amish, and Waldensians; most German immigrants belonged to the main Lutheran and Reformed churches. The central colonies received the greatest part of this immigration, especially Pennsylvania. As many as half of these immigrants came as redemptioners, that is, they agreed to work in America for four to seven years in exchange for free passage across the Atlantic. German settlers designed and built the Conestoga wagon, which was used in the opening of the American Frontier.

1731 - Protestants were expelled from Salzburg, Austria, in this year. They subsequently founded Ebenezer, Georgia.

German 18th-century map of Ebenezer, Georgia. German 18th-century map of Ebenezer, Georgia.
Two German 18th-century maps of Ebenezer, Georgia.
Prints and Photographs Division

Paradisisches Wunder- Spiel... (Ephrata, Pennsylvania, 1754) The title page to the music manuscript Paradisisches Wunder- Spiel... (Ephrata, Pennsylvania, 1754) is a fine example of the intricate German Fraktur script used at the Ephrata, Pennsylvania religious community.
Music Division

1732 - The first German-language newspaper, Philadelphische Zeitung, was published in the United States. German publishing flourished in Philadelphia and in smaller communities such as Ephrata, Pennsylvania.

1733 - John Peter Zenger, who came to America as an indentured servant from the Palatinate region of Germany, founded a newspaper, The New-York Weekly Journal; two years later he was acquitted in a landmark trial involving freedom of the press.

Philadelphische Zeitung
An early edition of the Philadelphische Zeitung. The lead story is about a peace treaty between Persia and the Turkish Empire.
Serial and Government Publications Division

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, founded by Moravians in 1741, is shown here in an illustration from the late 18th century.
Prints and Photographs Division

1741 - Moravians founded Bethlehem and Nazareth, Pennsylvania.

1742 - Christopher Saur, a German printer in Philadelphia, printed the first Bible in America.

1778 - General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, a Prussian officer, became inspector general of the Continental Army.

1783 - As many as 5,000 of the Hessian soldiers hired by Britain to fight in the Revolutionary War remained in America after the end of hostilities.

John Jacob Astor (1763-1848)
John Jacob Astor (1763-1848)
Prints and Photographs Division

1784 - John Jacob Astor (1763-1848) left his village of Waldorf in Germany and arrived in the United States in 1784 with $25 and seven flutes. He amassed a fortune from real estate dealings and the fur trade, and at his death was by far the richest man in the country, worth an estimated $20 million.

1790 - By this date as many as 100,000 Germans may have immigrated to America; they and their descendants made up an estimated 8.6 percent of the population of the United States; in Pennsylvania they accounted for 33 percent of the population; in Maryland for 12 percent.

1804 - A Protestant group from Wuerttemberg, named Rappists after their leader George Rapp, founded Harmony, Pennsylvania, a utopian community.

1814 - The Rappists purchased 30,000 acres of land in Indiana and founded a new settlement, New Harmony. In 1825 they returned to Pennsylvania and founded Economy, 20 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. Other towns founded by religious groups in this period included Zoar, Ohio, Amana, Iowa, and St. Nazianz, Wisconsin.

Thomas Nast (1840-1902)
Thomas Nast (1840-1902) came to America as a child and became famous as a political cartoonist, especially for his drawings during the 1870s of the notoriously corrupt New York politician William Marcy "Boss" Tweed.
Prints and Photographs Division

Santa Claus
This Nast drawing of Santa Claus is seen even today during the Christmas season.
Prints and Photographs Division

1821 - The Germanic custom of having a specially decorated tree at Christmas time was introduced to America by Pennsylvania Dutch in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Later in the century, the Pennsylvania Dutch version of St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas, evolved into America's Santa Claus, popularized by a German immigrant and influential political cartoonist, Thomas Nast. The Easter bunny and Easter eggs were also brought to this country by German immigrants.

1829 - Gottfried Duden published in Germany his idyllic account of the several years he spent as a settler in Missouri; so popular that it appeared in three editions, the book caused numerous Germans to leave for the New World.

John Nepomucene Neumann (1811-60)
John Nepomucene Neumann
(1811-60)

Prints and Photographs Division

1836 - John Nepomucene Neumann (1811-60) arrived in the United States in 1836 from his native Bohemia to work as a priest in the country's German-speaking Roman Catholic communities. He founded the first American diocesan school system, and in 1852 became Bishop of Philadelphia. In 1977 he was canonized as a saint by Pope Paul VI.

1837 - The German Philadelphia Settlement Society was founded and purchased 12,000 acres of land in Gasconade County, Missouri; two years later the society's town of Hermann was incorporated with 450 inhabitants.

1844 - Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels sailed to America with three ships and 150 families to settle in Texas; the following year, New Braunfels, Texas, was established.

1847 - The Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church was founded by German immigrants to combat what they saw as the liberalization of Lutheranism in America.

Carl Schurz (1829-1906)
In addition to being a man of action, Carl Schurz (1829-1906) was also an able writer of biographies: his own and one of Henry Clay, a politician he much admired.
Prints and Photographs Division

1848-49 - The failure of the revolutions of 1848 to establish democracy caused thousands to leave Germany to settle in America; the most famous of these refugees was Carl Schurz. He later served as a Union general in the Civil War, a United States senator from Missouri, and secretary of the interior under President Rutherford B. Hayes.

1850s - Nearly one million Germans immigrated to America in this decade, one of the peak periods of German immigration; in 1854 alone, 215,000 Germans arrived in this country.

1856 - Margaretha Meyer Schurz, a German immigrant and wife of Carl Schurz, established the first kindergarten in America at Watertown, Wisconsin.

Adolphus Busch (1839-1913)
Adolphus Busch
(1839-1913)
Prints and Photographs Division

1857 - Adolphus Busch (1839-1913) left the Rhineland and settled in St. Louis, Missouri. Four years later, he married the daughter of a prosperous brewer. In addition to children, this union resulted in the founding of what was soon to become an industry giant with holdings across the country: the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Association.

1860 - An estimated 1.3 million German-born immigrants resided in the United States; 200 German-language magazines and newspapers were published in this country; in St. Louis alone, there were seven German-language newspapers.

1872 - The century-old privileges granted to German farmers settled in Russia were revoked by the Tsarist government, causing thousands of the farmers to emigrate. By 1920, there were well over 100,000 of these so-called Volga and Black Sea Germans in the United States, with the greatest numbers in the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Colorado. Black Sea Germans soon became known for their skill as wheat farmers. In 1990 an estimated one million descendants of these Russian Germans lived in America.

German immigrants boarding a ship for America in the late 19th century
German immigrants boarding a ship for America in the late 19th century.
Prints and Photographs Division

1880s - In this decade, the decade of heaviest German immigration, nearly 1.5 million Germans left their country to settle in the United States; about 250,000, the greatest number ever, arrived in 1882.

1890 - An estimated 2.8 million German-born immigrants lived in the United States. A majority of the German-born living in the United States were located in the "German triangle," whose three points were Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and St. Louis.

Front page of the July 18, 1886 Sunday edition of the  N.Y. Staats-Zeitung.
Front page of the July 18, 1886 Sunday edition of the  N.Y. Staats-Zeitung.
Serials and Government Publications Division

1894 - About 800 German-language journals were being printed in the United States, the greatest number ever. A typical newspaper was the New York Staats Zeitung.

1910 - In this year, an estimated 2.3 million German-born immigrants lived in the United States. With declining immigration and increasing assimilation, the number of German-language publications fell to about 550.

United States--Proportion of Natives of Germany to Total Population
United States--Proportion of Natives of Germany to Total Population, 1914
Geography and Map Division

1920 - Roughly 1.7 million German-born immigrants lived in the United States; the number of German-language publications fell to about 230.

1933 - The coming to power of Adolf Hitler in Germany caused a significant immigration of leading German scientists, writers, musicians, scholars, and other artists and intellectuals to the United States to escape persecution. Among them were such notables as Albert Einstein, Bruno Walter, Arnold Schoenberg, Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Hans Bethe, Thomas Mann, Marlene Dietrich, Kurt Weil, Billy Wilder, Hannah Arendt, and Hans Morgenthau. By the end of World War II, there were some 130,000 of these German and Austrian refugees living in America.

1940 - An estimated 1.2 million German-born immigrants lived in the United States.

1948 - The Displaced Persons Act made general provisions for the immigration of displaced persons in Eastern Europe, including ethnic Germans, to the United States.

1950s - Between 1951 and 1960, 580,000 Germans immigrated to the United States.

1960s - Between 1961 and 1970, 210,000 Germans immigrated to the United States.

Recent edition of the California Staats-Zeitung
Recent edition of the
California Staats-Zeitung

Serial and Government Publications Division

1970s - Between 1971 and 1980, 65,000 Germans immigrated to the United States.

1983 - The United States and Germany celebrated the German-American Tricentennial, marking the 300th anniversary of German immigration to Pennsylvania.

1987 - German-American Day was established by Congressional resolution and presidential proclamation.

1990 - According to the Bureau of the Census, 58 million Americans claimed to be solely or partially of German descent. German Americans were highly assimilated, and the use of German in the United States had declined dramatically. Some German language newspapers continued to be published in the United States, for example the California Staats-Zeitung.

 

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  September 21, 2010
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