German Influence and American Culture

German Influence and American Culture

By the mid-18th century, quite a few German immigrants were occupying central places and positions in American life and society. In those days, German immigrants were accounting for around 35 percent the entire population of the colonies in the New World. Only the English outnumbered the Germans at that time and German was a common language in practically all colonial cities.

In the 19th century, German immigration increased drastically after several wars, both in America and Europe, had slowed down the arrival of German immigrants for a number of decades. This process started around the 1770s, but around the 1830’s, immigration from Germany had picked up considerably again.  As soon as these new settlers had set up their homes, they started writing to their families and friends in the Old World about opportunities the New World was offering.

The German immigrants became a predominant immigrant group around the mid-19th century, so it goes without saying that they had a very powerful influence on American culture and other aspects of life in the New World. There are, of course, some easy-to-pinpoint German influences related to life in America such as the introduction of beer, the tuba, and sauerkraut, just to mention a few, but the influence these German immigrants had on the daily life in America is running much deeper. They heavily influenced many American traditions, institutions, and everyday habits that are thought to be original American by many folks.

The American education system, for example, would be totally unrecognizable without all the ideas the German immigrants championed. Traditionally, German culture has always been cultivating a very strong commitment to good education, and the German immigrants were bringing this commitment with them into the New World. In Wisconsin, it was a group of German immigrants who established the first American kindergarten, based on the German kindergarten system. The German immigrants additionally introduced vocational and physical education into the American public school system and they also included gymnasiums in the American school buildings. It is noteworthy that these German immigrants were also frontrunners in the call for education on a universal scale, a notion that was pretty uncommon at those days in the U.S.

Some people even argue that the Germans were the inventors of the “American weekend” as long before the Germans came to the New World in large numbers, quite a few American colonies were observing the Sabbath for family activities and relaxation. The German immigrants were also respecting a long-standing tradition of Sunday community recreation and by the time the German immigrants arrived in America on a large scale, recreational grounds and facilities started to emerge in America. All across the country, sports clubs, picnic grounds, concert halls, bandstands, playground, and bowling alleys were established that were perfectly suited for weekend excursions with the entire family. All Americans and visitors who use one of America’s contemporary public swimming pools, civic orchestras, theme parks, or urban parks, owe a great debt to these German immigrants and their passion for education, sports, and recreation.

Many of the traditions that we consider to be fundamentally and originally American were introduced to the New World by German immigrants. We owe the German immigrants for introducing Santa Claus, the Christmas tree, and, of course, the Easter Bunny. See also this post about 100 immigration questions.

For over a century, tens of thousands of new German immigrants found their ways to the rich farmlands in America. They played an important role in forming the backbone of America’s agricultural development. Just like earlier generations of German immigrants had done before them, the new immigrants established their homes where land was affordable, right on the outskirts of the settlements of European immigrants.

Many of the new German immigrants were farmers and they started to move west looking for new possibilities. The urban German immigrant population, however, was also growing rapidly. Skilled craftsmen from Germany were rolling into many  U.S. cities in the mid-19th century and they brought highly specialized skills and knowledge with them from their home country. Many German Americans found employment in craft trades in many U.S. cities, especially carpentry, the needle trades, and baking. A large number of these new German Americans were put to work in factories set up by a new generation of American industrialists from German descent, for example Henry Lomb and John Bausch (the founders of the  first optical company in America), Rockefeller (gas and petroleum), Steinway, Knabe, & Schnabel (piano instruments), Chrysler and Studebaker (cars), Frederick Weyerhaeuser (timber and lumber), and H.J. Heinz (food industry).


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