German Immigrants in the 1800s

by Nathaniel Williams

More Americans claim to be descendants of German immigrants than those of any other ethnic group. While there were a few small communities of Germans at the founding of the United States, the largest numbers arrived over the course of the 1800s. These immigrants not only increased the population of the young nation, they changed it many ways. By the end of the 19th century, they were an essential part of the United States.

Timeline of Immigration

There were already thousands of Germans in the American colonies at the time of the Revolution, the largest number in Pennsylvania were known as "Pennsylvania Dutch." But Germans remained a distinct minority population and had only moderate influence on the largely English nation. In the 19th century, immigration from Germany continued to increase, particularly after the failed 1848 revolutions that led to a mass emigration of "Forty-Eighters" from Germany. By 1860, there were an estimated 1.3 million Germans living in the United States.

Where They Settled

German immigrants did not disperse equally across the United States. While a large majority of Germans entered the country through New York City and created a large German population in the city for decades, most continued to move west to cities, such as Chicago, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh. Many towns and counties in the Midwest had a German majority, so German-American communities developed a strong cultural and political influence on the growing region. German communities also developed in Texas in towns, such as New Braunfels, Fredericksburg and Luckenbach.

German Influence

Germans had a major influence on the growing nation. Their population fueled the economic and political rise of the Midwest, as states such as Illinois and Wisconsin grew from backwaters to economic powerhouses. Germans also served in the Civil War in large numbers, almost entirely on the side of the Union, helping turn the tide in that formative conflict. Culturally, Germans introduced their beer-making and sausage-making techniques, as well as Lutheranism and Judaism in numbers previously unseen in the United States.

German Assimilation

Distinct German communities continued to exist for decades, especially the isolated Amish and Mennonite religious groups, but Germans proved adept at assimilation into American society. A large number of major 19th century figures, including Levi Strauss, Thomas Nast and John Rockefeller, were either German immigrants or immediate descendants. Many Germans altered their names from Schmidt to Smith, for example, in light of anti-German sentiment during World War I. After World War II, Dwight D. Eisenhower became the first German-American president.

About the Author

Nathaniel Williams has been writing for the web since 2001. He has written for the History News Network, Being There Magazine, Seattle.net and Vote iQ. Williams has a Bachelor of Arts in history from the University of Washington and is a working filmmaker.

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