The 2005 American Community Survey reported that some 50 million Americans have some type of German ancestry. This number represents around 26 percent of the United States' Caucasian population. Despite being responsible for huge increases in population, German immigrants and their families have been the source of many common traditions and customs in the United States.
German immigrants first came to the United States with Captain John Smith and founded the colonial town of Jamestown in 1608. The first entirely German-American settlement, Germantown, Pennsylvania, was not founded until 1683. Throughout the rest of history, German immigrants and their families have been extremely successful in the United States. In fact, in the early to middle 1800s, the richest man in America, John Jacob Astor, founder of the American Fur Company, was a German immigrant. Success of Astor and other entrepreneurs caused Germans to flood to the United States. By 1980, 52 million Americans were of German descent.
Despite common belief, evergreens were brought into homes during winter well before the advent of Christianity. Christmas tress can be traced to early Nordic people. They brought evergreen boughs into their homes to celebrate the solstice, which occurs on either December 21st or 22nd, depending on the year. Later, early Roman peoples brought evergreens into their homes to celebrate Saturnalia, a feast that honored their god Saturn. Evergreens were not associated with Christmas until German Christians began bringing them into their homes in the 16th century. This tradition was continually passed down through German families. However, German immigrants waited until the 1830s to erect the first Christmas tree in the United States. Non-German Americans thought the Christmas tree was pagan and odd. By 1890, however, Christmas trees gained popularity and became a regular American Christmas custom. Besides Christmas trees, Germans also are credited for bringing the legend of Santa Claus to the United States.
Throughout history, Germans have always had a strong commitment to education. The modern education system that exists in the United States was almost entirely created by German immigrants. Germans were the first to introduce kindergarten-level education. They started the first kindergarten in Wisconsin in 1855. German-Americans also introduced physical education and pushed for the construction of gymnasiums. Perhaps most important of all, German immigrants were on the front lines fighting for universal education, something that hadn't been suggested before in the United States.
Many common American foods were brought to the United States by German immigrants. The hamburger and the frankfurter, more commonly known as the hotdog, are named after the Hamburg America Line, a German shipping company, and Frankfurt, a large city in Germany, respectively. The origin of barbecue, a popular cooking technique, is linked to German-Americans in Texas. While the names of these dishes and cooking techniques have been Americanized, many other German cuisines, such as sauerbraten, a type of pork roast, and sauerkraut, have retained their German identities and are popular dishes in American dining.
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