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1815 - 1865 (Pre-industrialization) A period of family migrations, farmers and craftsmen in pursuit of a better life, mostly from southwestern and western Germany.
1865 - 1895 (Early Industry) Emigration of elements of the lower peasantry from Northeast Germany and small farmers and artisans in danger of becoming part of the lower middle class, now occurring in both family groups and individually. The major goal of emigrants for this period was settlement and land ownership. Single males and females set out looking for jobs.
1895 - early twentieth century (Peak industrial development) Characterized by single women and industrial workers, no longer seeking the frontier areas but locating instead in the cities.
In the second half of the nineteenth century almost ninety percent of Germans emigrating overseas chose the United States.
"Amerika, du hast es besser." --Goethe, 1827
From The German-Language Press in America, by Carl Wittke, University of Kentucky Press, 1957:
The Colonial Period:
Before 1830 - German immigration to the U.S. was small, totals ranged between 200 and 2,000 a year, centered largely on Pennsylvania. Acute distress and discontent in the German states (Thirty Years' War followed by political, social, and economic collapse, crop failures and famine, especially in the Rhine/Pfalz area) induced many to flee. Religious persecution and tyranical rulers were also factors. Many sold themselves as indentured servants to pay for their passage. The first 13 families (from Krefeld) to Pennsylvania arrived in 1763 and Germantown, Pennsylvania "became the distributing center through which the stream of German immigration poured into southeastern Pennsylvania, and finally overflowed down the Valley of Virginia into the back country of the colonies farther south." [page 10] By 1727 there were about 20,000 Germans in Pennsylvania; by 1745, 45,000; and at the start of the Revolution (1776) 110,000 to 125,000. They were mostly farmers, simple rural folk, a few were skilled artisans. They became the forerunners of today's "Pennsylvania German /Dutch" culture, and had almost no subsequent connection with Germany.
There was very little immigration during the Revolutionary War. Some of the Hessian mercenaries brought to the New World by the British stayed on after the War.
Immigration of the 1830's and 1840's before 1848:
By 1832, the figure passed the 10,000 mark; By 1837, nearly 25,000 Germans entered the U.S. in a single year. The revival of German immigration in the 1830's was "due primarily to the economic opportunities which America had to offer to men and women who were eager to get ahead in the world." Cheap land, encouraging transportation companies and land speculators, and "letters home" from the New World spurred this tide, which "not only filled in the older eastern communities, but flowed westward along the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes into the Middle West." [page 37]. Censorship, espionage, and suppression drove German radical liberals out of their world (the universities and the Turner societies) into the New World. By the end of this era, and before the great migration of the 1850's, most of the institutions and social activities considered particularly "German" (the churches, singing societies, literary clubs, sharpshooting clubs, theaters, beer gardens, benevolent societies, etc.) were already well-established in the U.S.
"Nevertheless, the German element as a whole was not highly regarded by the American public before 1850. Although few could deny their ability and thrift as individuals, and politicians angled vigorously for their vote, the Germans as a class were frequently referred to in the press and upon the public platform as the 'damned Dutch.' Furthermore, the reputation of the German element suffered from a lack of self-respect on the part of the Germans themselves, and German farmers and artisans generally were regarded as inferior to the average American. German observers from abroad bemoaned the deterioration of the German language in the United States and commented that many of their countrymen had sunk to the low intellectual level of the Irish." [pages 39-40].
1845 to 1860 - 1.25 million entered the U.S.
The Failed German Revolution of 1848-1849:
The arrival of the "Forty-Eighters" brought about "a unique intellectual and cultural renaissance among the Germans in America, and in two centuries of German immigration no other group made such an impact upon the United States as the few thousand political refugees of 1848." [page 37] "The major portion of the refugees of the revolution came in the 1850's, but in the history of American immigration all of them have been labeled 'Forty-eighters.' The number of actual revolutionaries among this group was relatively small... [4,000-10,000]. The Forty-eighters provided a political and cultural leadership for the German element which was so decisive that it has had no parallel in the whole history of American immigration.... Men of such caliber were steeped in the traditions of Kant, Fichte, and Schiller, and their sojourn to America provided a vitalizing intellectual transfusion which the German element badly needed. Such men provided a proud leadership for their countrymen in a time when foreigners were on the defensive in the United States against the bigoted attacks of nativists. They believed it was their mission to help the Germans to greater self-respect and to persuade them to preserve the best of their culture in their adopted fatherland. It was during the period of the Forty-eighters that the Germans in this country experienced their 'Hellenic Age'.... An unusually large number gave the final proof of their devotion to the democratic institutions of the United States on the battlefields of the Civil War. [pages 72-74]
There was almost no immigration during the American Civil War era (1861-1865).
1870 to 1910 - over 3.25 million German immigrants entered the U.S. "There was a smaller proportion of men of property and social status, and fewer leaders who could be compared with the intelligentsia among the refugees of 1830 and 1848. The bulk of the new immigration were industrial workers, who found employment in America's expanding cities." 1866-1873: they left because of the effects of wars in the German states, the burdens of taxation and military service, and the promise in the U.S. for opportunities and success. 1873-1880: immigration declined as the U.S. experienced hard times. 1880's: immigration rose again; 1882: immigration's peak year (250,630 Germans immigrated). 1890's: immigration fell off again due to the U.S. panic of 1893 and the depression that followed, less available U.S. land, and Germany's rise to a more prosperous industrial state under Bismarck's more progressive social programs, which lessened the pressures which had led to immigration in earlier years. [pages 198-199]
"Many German-Americans insisted that there were other patterns of life besides the Anglo-Saxon and the Puritan, and that each nationality group had a significant contribution to make to the United States. Nationality groups used the hyphen, not to imply a sinister plot against the United States or a divided loyalty, but only as a racial, national, or cultural designation. On many occasions German-American newspapers referred proudly to the fatherland, but they also expressed strong resentment when leaders in Germany referred disparagingly to Germans in this country as culturally inferior blood brothers, 'lost' to the fatherland. Long before the crisis of World War I, leaders of the German element in the United States realized that the Americanization process could not be halted. Their only contention was that not the man who loves two countries, but only he who loves none, is to be feared." [pages 224-225]
of the American spirit, through the German, while the nationalities melt into one."
--Carl Schurz, 1867
From Chapter 3, "The Germans," in Ethnic America: A History, by Thomas Sowell, Basic Books, Inc., New York, 1981:
The Colonial Era
...However they came to America, and whatever their vicissitudes en route or after arriving, the early German settlers quickly established a reputation for hard work, thoroughness, and thriftiness. German farmers cleared frontier land more thoroughly than others and made it more productive. They often began by living in sod houses, then log cabins, then finally stone farmhouses. Their farm animals were not allowed to roam free but were also housed, in huge barns like those of their homeland. In the late eighteenth century, a contemporary observed:
A German farm may be distinguished from the farm of the other citizens of the state, by the superior size of their barns; the plain, but compact form of their houses; the height of their inclosures; the extent of their orchards; the fertility of their fields; the luxuriance of their meadows, and a general appearance of plenty and neatness in everything that belongs to them.
Most of the early German immigrants had none of the highly developed scientific, technical, or intellectual skills associated with German achievements in the vanguard of Western civilization. What they did have were the discipline, thoroughness, and perseverance that made such achievements possible. They were renowned as "the nation's best dirt farmers." The highly successful German farmers were paralleled by the achievements by German skilled craftsmen in colonial America. Glassmaking was--and is--a skill associated with German Americans. The first papermill was also set up by a German. The first Bible published in America was printed by a German, in the German language.
The Pennsylvania Dutch were very un-German in two important respects: they were pacifists and distrusters of government. As Palatines, they were descendants of people from a province that had suffered especially severe and repeated devastations by contending armies during the Thirty Years' War. They were also refugees from autocratic tyranny and religious persecutions. Moreover, the religious freedom of Pennsylvania--rare even in America at that time--had disproportionate attraction to pious and pacific religious sects.... [page 50]
The Revolutionary War
While other Americans split into Tory supporters of England and revolutionaries for independence in 1776, German Americans split into pacifists [e.g. Mennonites] and revolutionaries [including those of the Lutheran and Reformed faiths]...There were about 300,000 Germans in the American colonies--about 10 percent of the total population....The British brought nearly 30,000 Germany mercenary soldiers to the colonies to try to put down the American rebellion....More than half came from...Hesse-Cassell, so all German mercenaries in the Revolutionary War were lumped together by Americans as "Hessians." Some of these soldiers deserted to the American side during the war, and some remained in the United States after the war, settling in existing German communities. Just over half of the "Hessians" returned home. Somewhere between 5,000 and 12,000 eventually became American citizens. [pages 53-54]
...In the years 1830 through 1834, virtually all overseas German emigrants were from southwest Germany, but a decade later, only about one-third were from that region, and in the 1860s, less than one-sixth of the German emigrants were from that region....More than 5 million Germans immigrated to the United States in the nineteenth century--more than from any other country....[A]s late as 1900, most of the farmers in America were of German ancestry....
One of the most important social changes wrought by German immigrants was their promotion of numerous forms of innocent public family entertainment. Music, picnics, dancing, card playing, swimming, bowling, and other physical activities were among the American pastimes, now taken for granted, but introduced or promoted by Germans in the nineteenth century. The Germans organized marching bands, symphony orchestras, and singing groups of all sorts....The saloon, games, and other pastimes were relegated--in theory at least--to the sinners and the riffraff. But nineteenth-century German beer gardens, unlike American saloons, were places where the whole family went on Sunday to hear music and eat pretzels; and parades, plays, and gymnasium sports were considered good clean fun at any time. These German pastimes were viewed with shock and suspicion at first.... [pages 55-60]
[This chapter on the Germans--and indeed, the whole book--is an excellent read containing much of interest, and I highly recommend it. --MS]
From "Emigration from the Palatinate between the 19th and the Middle of the 20th Century" by Roland Paul, in 300 Jahre Pfaelzer in Amerika / 300 Years Palatines in America, Roland Paul, ed., Pfaelzische Verlagsanstalt, Landau/Pfalz, 1984, pp. 83-84:
"Hambach-People" Leave the Palatinate. . .
As one of the many "European discontents[,]" those who were [disappointed] with the Europe in the 1830's and 1840's, Theodore Erasmus Hilgard [father of Julius Erasmus Hilgard and Eugene W. Hilgard], the appellate court judge of Zweibruecken...later one of the most prominent "Latin Farmers" in the U.S.A., stated his decision to emigrate with the following words:
I became clearly convinced that a large family such as mine would not find a suitable domain, nor would thrive happily in a small and close land, one afflicted moreoever with unnatural conditions, such as the Bavarian Rhein-Palatinate; and that on the other hand, the great American union with its vast area, free institutions, and incalculable future would offer every human force the freest and greatest space in which to move about. In addition, there was the consideration that the political convictions animating me and which I wished to instill in my children through upbringing and example were not in favor with the government in my native land. Therefore, I would either need to alter the way in which my children were brought up and be untrue to myself, or expose them forever to the government's disfavor.
Excerpted from Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret, by Steve Luxenberg, Hyperion, New York (2009), pages 200-203:
The Russian Jews weren’t the only ones hungering to leave their country. From Italy, from Germany, from Romania, from Hungary, from Austria, from most of southern and eastern Europe, emigrants crossed the Atlantic in record numbers, peaking at nearly 1.3 million in 1907.... The steamship companies were not just passive players in this ongoing drama: their network of agents and subagents operated throughout Europe, promising cheap transportation to the promised land. Their tactics drew the scrutiny of Philip Cowen, a U.S. immigration inspector sent to Russia in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt to investigate the causes of the mass migration. Cowen described how a minority of agents went beyond propaganda, employing the sort of unscrupulous tactics that might be expected in an unregulated sellers’ market--peddling fraudulent tickets, extorting bribes to arrange passage, luring customers with the promise of nonexistent jobs.
Immigration was the talk--pro and con--of Washington in 1907...a presidential-congressional commission opened the first official U.S. investigation of the migration phenomenon, an effort that lasted three years and included the placement of investigators disguised as steerage passengers on twelve ships crossing the Atlantic. The panel, chaired by U.S. Senator William Dillingham of Vermont, reflected the divided politics of the time. Some members wanted to use the commission as a weapon to restrict immigration, both Asian and European, which they viewed as a threat to the country’s stability. Other members, and many more on the staff, pursued a social reformer’s agenda, seeking broader evidence of the kind of exploitation that Cowen had found in his travels to Russia--recruiters prowling Europe for cheap labor, steamship companies transporting their passengers in inhuman conditions, employers taking advantage of the newcomers upon arrival.
As part of the commission’s investigation, two U.S. immigration inspectors visited southern and eastern Europe and found that poor villages and towns had a surprisingly rich source of information about life in America. Letters from émigrés arrived regularly, often containing money, and these letters had a powerful effect in encouraging more immigration. "The cottage of the recipient becomes at once a place to which the entire male population proceeds, and the letters are read and re-read until the contents can be repeated word for word," wrote an investigator who had gone to Italy. "When instances of this kind have been multiplied by thousands, it is not difficult to understand what impels poor people to leave their homes. The word comes again and again that ‘work is abundant and wages princely in America.’"
Their lines of communication to America gave them some idea of the risks that awaited them at sea and upon arrival. The commission’s investigators found that the emigrants had a basic grasp of U.S. immigration law; most were aware that they stood a better chance at admission if they had money, a skill, a place to go, and no obvious physical or mental problems. The rigors of the journey itself tended to weed out many of those who might not pass muster. In the commission’s words, "emigrating to a strange and distant country, although less of an undertaking than formerly, is still a serious and relatively difficult matter, requiring a degree of courage and resourcefulness not possessed by weaklings in any class."
Courage. Resourcefulness. Not for weaklings.
I would never have associated these words with my discouraged, defeated grandfather, the rail-thin man who had left so little an impression me that I can remember nothing of significance that he said from six years of weekly Saturday visits to his apartment. But that beaten man barely resembled the twenty-year-old who surmounted Russia’s bureaucratic obstacles to emigration and procured the necessary papers to leave, who then scraped together the money (about $30) for a ticket on the S.S. Patricia and negotiated his way to the Hamburg-America line’s Auswandererhallen, a vast complex of dormitories and dining halls that housed and fed as many as four thousand emigrants awaiting inspection before boarding their ship. He then protected his few belongings in the chaos of steerage, which the commission described as an ordeal that leaves the traveler "with a mind unfit for healthy, wholesome impressions and with a body weakened and unfit for the hardships that are involved in the beginning of life in a new land."
What conditions did Chaim confront on his sixteen days in steerage on the S.S. Patricia? I don’t have to imagine it, thanks to the detailed report of commission investigator Anna Herkner. The summer after Chaim’s  journey on the S.S. Patricia, [i.e. in 1908] Herkner disguised herself as a steerage passenger on another Hamburg-America vessel of the same vintage. Her final report, on that voyage and two others, offered first-hand confirmation of "the disgusting and demoralizing conditions which have generally prevailed in the steerage of immigrant ships."
A one-person backpacking tent has nearly twice as much room as the space allowed Chaim and Herkner in steerage. They slept in iron bunks six feet long and two feet wide, with just thirty inches separating the upper and lower berths. At over six feet tall, Chaim would have consumed most of those thirty cubic feet just by putting himself to bed. With no hooks for clothing or bin for luggage, his thirty cubic feet would have served as bed, closet, kitchen cabinet, towel rack, table, chair, and storage compartment for whatever possessions he had brought from Radziwillow. Most likely, he would have slept in his clothes, not only to conserve space but also because the ship-supplied blanket was too small and too thin to keep him warm. His pillow, if he were lucky enough to get one, would have been stuffed with dried seaweed or perhaps straw, just like his mattress.
If the cramped quarters were bad, the smell was worse. The steamship companies considered their immigrant passengers to be little more than freight, Herkner wrote, and they crammed as many beds as possible in the steerage compartments, row upon row, tier upon tier, hundreds of people breathing the same poorly ventilated air. "The vomitings of the sick are often permitted to remain a long time before being removed," Herkner wrote. "The floors, when iron, are continually damp, and when of wood they reek with foul odor because they are not washed . . . When to this very limited space and much filth and stench is added inadequate means of ventilation, the result is almost unendurable."
An earlier outcry about steerage conditions and the competition for passengers had led some steamship lines to make improvements, but only a small percentage of ships had converted or built "new" steerage by the time Chaim and Herkner went on their trans-Atlantic journeys. Twice Herkner traveled in old-style steerage, and once in new, where the berths had amenities comparable to second class--storage space for hand luggage, hooks for clothing, warmer blankets, a drop shelf for a table, and stewards assigned to clean up seasickness.
Unfortunately, most immigrants never saw new steerage, which was not available on most ships in 1907 and 1908. Rebuilding the steerage quarters meant taking the ship out of service, at least for a few months, and as far as I can tell from available records, the S.S. Patricia had no significant interruption in operation between its maiden voyage in 1899 and the 1907 crossing that brought Chaim to America. So it seems likely that Chaim would have seen a version of what Herkner wrote of seeing on her first voyage from Bremen to Baltimore: "During these twelve days in the steerage I lived in a disorder and in surroundings that offended every sense. Only the fresh breeze from the sea overcame the sickening odors, the vile language of the men, the screams of the women defending themselves, the crying of children, wretched because of their surroundings, and practically every sound that reached the ear, irritated beyond endurance. There was no sight before which the eye did not prefer to close."