People, Races, Ethnicity in the U.S. German Americans Part 1

About the German Americans in the U.S. including where they are from, why they left, how many there are, famous German-Americans and more.


Where They Came From: Until the late 1850s, most of these immigrants came from the rural areas of Germany, particularly the agricultural regions in the South and West. Immigration slackened between the late 1850s and the end of the American Civil War, and when it resumed, the large numbers of peasants and farmers who had previously constituted a majority were matched by craftsmen and professional people from the nation's urban areas.

Why They Left: The Germans who came to America in colonial times did so because of crop failure and famine, political and social upheaval, religious persecution, and encouragement from friends and relatives who had already emigrated. Subsequently, the occupation of Germany by Napoleon caused a number of people to flee early in the 19th century; the famine and suffering caused by the world's great potato rot resulted in the emigration of a great many peasants and farmers in the 1840s; the political and social upheaval which surrounded Bismarck's rise to power caused a number to leave in the late 1860s and early 1870s; and the impact of the industrial revolution was a fundamental cause of emigration until the 1890s.

Economic factors continued to be the determining factor in German emigration well into the 20th century, but political persecution--first by the Nazis and later by the Communist--played a major role from the 1930s to the early 1960s.

Where They Settled: Germans arriving in America in colonial times settled primarily in Pennsylvania, though they could be found in each of the other 12 colonies as well. In the 1830s, Germans settled in large numbers in Missouri and southern Illinois; in the 1840s they tended toward Texas; and in the 1850s a great many located in Wisconsin. All told, approximately 50% of all 19th-century German immigrants settled in five states: Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Many occupied farms at first and then moved to cities, particularly New York, St. Louis, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee. Today, more than 75% of all German Americans live in the nation's urban areas; fewer than 5% are still farmers.

Numbers: There were approximately 200,000 Germans in colonial America. More than 430,000 Germans arrived between 1841 and 1850, and 950,000 between 1851 and 1860. Immigration hit a peak of more than 1,450,000 between 1881 and 1890, but it dropped dramatically the following decade, to slightly more than half a million, and has fluctuated considerably since.

The 1970 census recorded slightly more than 3.6 million Americans of German stock (either foreign-born or of foreign or mixed parentage).

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