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German's Immigrate to America

The first large group of German immigrants to America, came from the Rhineland area of Germany. Thirteen families from the town of Krefeld arrived in Philadelphia on 6 October 1683. These first German immigrants established a community called Germantown which still exists today within the city of Philadelphia. The first paper mill in America was built by Wilhelm Rittenhouse, a German immigrant, in 1690 in Roxboro, Pennsylvania.

The journey to America during colonial times was far from comfortable and often times deadly. Depending on the time of year, the time it took to cross the Atlantic was sometimes as long as six months if the voyage were made during the winter season. Food and water was of the poorest quality. Because of this many passengers did not survive the journey to America. Many ships are known to have sunk mid-way and when possible, this fact was concealed so as not to discourage future immigrants. Emigrants in every port of departure faced swindlers who would try to rob them of their life savings. The same was true once the emigrants arrived at American ports. Most emigrants traveled in the cheapest births, steerage. This meant a journey made under poor ventilation, overcrowding, unsanitary water, and a minimum of food. These conditions lead to the onset and spread of diseases such as cholera and scurvy. In 1853 a New York newspaper called immigrant vessels "plague ships and swimming coffins." These conditions improved only after the advent of steamships in the late 19th century. Steamships made the voyage in two to three weeks, half the time it took previous to this.

Germans came to America to seek relief from poverty and famine. Some came to seek religious tolerance. Approximately 65,000 to 100,000 Germans were to have arrived in America during colonial times. From 1790 to 1815 German immigration slowed. At this time the Napoleonic Wars engulfed Europe. After Napolean's defeat Germans once again emmigrated to America. In the early 19th century young unmarried males made up the majority of emigrants. The second wave of German immigration occured between the years 1850-1859. During this time nearly one million Germans arrived in America. Guidebooks for emigrants and letters from those who had already arrived in America continued to spread the word of the fertile land and free society. From 1860-1870 another 700,000 to 1,000,000 German immigrants arrived in America.

In 1873 the Northern Pacific Railroad built tracks accross the sparsely populated Dakota Territory. A land company laid out a new town in what is today North Dakota. To attract German immigrants to settle and populate the town, the land company named it Bismarck, the only state capital named for a foreign ruler. Otto Van Bismarck had achieved what the German people had hoped to have for hundreds of years-he had unified the nation under one ruler.

The last peak was reached between 1880-1890 when more than 1.4 million German immigrants arrived. Many German immigrants in 1880-1890 were Catholics seeking refuge from Bismarck's cultural struggle. Otto Van Bismarck felt threatened by the Roman Catholic political party which had gained a large number of seats in the parliment. To protect Germany from what he saw as an external power, he proceeded to close the Catholic schools and also had some bishops and priests imprisoned.

Before immigrating to America, the German States required all family members to obtain emigration visa's. Emigrants had to provide baptismal and marriage certificates from their parish church, evidence of a trade or profession and proof that adult males had fulfilled their military service. All of this made the process of emigration difficult for those Germans wishing to start a new life in America.

Some emigrants were supplied with travel guides, maps of railroad lines in America and a list of German settlements where they would be welcomed. All this was provided by Charitable Organizations in cooperation with Government Agencies.

Most emigrants sailed from the Dutch port of Rotterdam or the French city of Le Havre before and up to 1830. After this point in time German ports became major departure ports. Emigrants from southern and western Germany departed from the port of Bremerhaven in Bremen. By the mid- 19th century Bremen was known as "the suburb of New York".

So many emigrants left from the port of Hamburg that a village was built to give them temporary housing. Hamburg, located on the Baltic Sea, was a port used by emigrants from southern and eastern Germany. During the 20th century Hamburg had become the chief port of emigration. This was due in part to large passenger carrying steamships.

German immigration exceeded 300,000 in every decade until 1930 and except between 1910 and 1919 due to World War I. Between 1890 and 1920 many of the German immigrants were industrial workers seeking better wages and jobs. Many of them left their families behind and intended to return to Germany. From 1923 to 1963 the number of German arrivals to America outnumbered those from any other country.

In the three centuries since the first German American settlement was founded in 1683, seven million German-speaking emigrants have come to America. They and their descendants form the largest single ethnic group in the American population.

Source, The German American Family Album, Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler

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