Francis Daniel Pastorius was a lawyer in Krefeld but because of his religious beliefs was forced to leave the country in 1683. Pastorius arranged for twelve other Quaker families from Krefeld to sail to America on a ship called the Concord. Pastorius and his followers established Germantown, the first permanent settlement of German immigrants in America. Pastorius became the town's burgomaster and on 16th November, 1684, Germantown became the first in Philadelphia to hold a fair.
Germantown concentrated on producing cloth and sold considerable quantities to New York and Boston. Francis Daniel Pastorius was opposed to slavery and it was banned in Germantown. He also campaigned against it in other German colonies in America.
German emigration to America did not take place in any significant numbers until the beginning of the 18th century. In 1708 the British government began to encourage Protestants from Germany to settle in America. Over the next few years about 13,500 Germans reached England. Of these, 2,257 Roman Catholics were turned back. It took nearly 6 months to transport these Germans to America. Ships were overcrowded and typhus fever became a major problem. Of the 2,814 who started from America in 1710, 446 died on the way. One of those who arrived safely was John Peter Zengler, who later became the publisher of the journal, the New York Weekly Journal.
By 1711 the British government had spent £100,000 transporting Germans to America. Later the Germans purchased land along the left bank of the Mohawk in New York and established villages such as Mannheim, Oppenheim and Herkimer. In 1784 a Deutsche Gesellschaft was organised to help German immigrants on their arrival in America. One person helped by this organization was John Jacob Astor, who went on to become a highly successful fur trader.
Some moved on from New York to Pennsylvania. In 1766 a committee of the House of Commons was told that about a third of Pennsylvania's population were German immigrants. Roman Catholics from Germany also began to settle in Maryland. Significant numbers of Germans also went to Virginia and began smelting iron ore at Germanna, near Fredericksburg.
In 1829, Gottfried Duden, a German visitor to America, published his book, Report of a Journey to the Western States of North America. The book providing a very attractive account of German immigrant life in America. As well as describing spectacular harvests, Duden praised the intellectual freedom enjoyed by people living in America. The book sold in large numbers and persuaded thousands of Germans to emigrate.
The failed German revolution in 1848 also stimulated emigration. Over the next ten years over a million people left Germany and settled in the United States. Some were the intellectual leaders of this rebellion, but most were impoverished Germans who had lost confidence in its government's ability to solve the country's economic problems.
Others left because they feared constant political turmoil in Germany. One prosperous innkeeper wrote after arriving in Wisconsin: "I would prefer the civilized, cultured, Germany to America if it were still in its former orderly condition, but as it has turned out recently, and with the threatening prospect for the future of religion and politics, I prefer America. Here I can live a more quiet, and undisturbed life."
New York City was popular with German immigrants. By 1860 over 100,000 Germans lived in the city and owned 20 churches, 50 schools, 10 bookstores and two German language daily newspapers. There was also an estimated 130,000 German-born immigrants in Chicago. The city became a centre of German culture with bands, orchestras and a theatre. Milwaukee, known as the German Athens, and Cincinnati, also had large numbers of Germans. One journalist wrote in the Houston Post, commented that "Germany seems to have lost all of her foreign possessions with the exception of Milwaukee, St. Louis and Cincinnati."
Most arrivals in America came from rural areas in Germany. These were often small farmers and farm labourers who had suffered from advances in agricultural technology during the 19th century. Many of these immigrants settled in Wisconsin, where the soil and climate was similar to that in Germany. Of the 70,000 Germans who migrated to the Deep South, about 15,000 lived in New Orleans.
Several of those who fled Germany in the 19th century because of their political beliefs became successful in the United States. This included August Follen (poet and politician), Carl Schurz (journalist and politician), Franz Sigel.(journalist and soldier), Peter Osterhaus (soldier and politician), Friedrich Heckler (soldier and politician) and Adalbert Volck (artist). Others such as the German revolutionary leader, Gottfried Kinkel, found it difficult to settle in the United States and decided to seek political sanctuary in England.
Anti-socialist laws passed in Germany also encouraged radicals to emigrate to America. These men usually became active in politics after arriving in the United States. In 1867, Germans in New York established the first ever socialist party in the United States. It is claimed in 1880 the majority of members of of the Socialist Labor Party had been born in Germany. In 1889 there were eight socialist daily newspapers printed in German.
Some German immigrants were attracted to anarchism. After being forced out of Germany and Britain, Johann Most, arrived in 1882 and soon emerged as the leader of the movement in the United States. In November 1887, eight German anarchists were indicted for the Haymarket Bombing, Later, four of these men, August Spies, Adolph Fisher, Louis Lingg and George Engel, were sentenced to death for the crime. In 1893, the German born Governor of Illinois, John Peter Altgeld, pardoned the men still in prison.
Several German immigrants became successful businessmen. This included Johann Suter (trading post), Oscar Hammerstein (real estate), Joseph Seligman (banking), Frederick Weyerhaeuser (timber), Solomon Loeb (banking), August Belmont (banking), Paul Warburg (banking), Jacob Schiff (banking), Otto Kahn (banking), Adolphus Busch (brewing), Isidor Straus (department stores), Henry Villard (publishing), Henry Lomb (optical products) and John Jacob Bausch (optical products).
Milwaukee, known as the German Athens, and Cincinnati, became the main centres of German-American culture in the United States. In 1915 a journalist wrote in the Houston Post that "Germany seems to have lost all of her foreign possessions with the exception of Milwaukee, St. Louis and Cincinnati."
In 1901 the National German-American Alliance was formed in an effort to preserve the German language and literature. It also became involved in the campaign against prohibition. By 1914 the organization claimed a membership of over two million.
On the outbreak of the First World War there was a growth of German nationalism in America. However, when the United States entered the conflict in 1917, the vast majority of German-Americans played their full part in the war-effort. This did not stop a hostility to anything German in the United States. Towns, streets and buildings with German names were renamed. During this period a large number of American-Germans changed their surnames in order to hide their origins.
In 1917 the National German-American Alliance, an organization that had campaigned against United States involvement in the war, had its charter withdrawn. Some schools stopped teaching German as a foreign language and radio stations were encouraged not to play the music of German composers. A large number of German language newspapers, starved of advertising, were also forced to close.
In 1890 there were large numbers of German born immigrants in the states of New York (499,000), Illinois (338,000) and Minnesota (117,000). There were also significant communities in New York City (211,000), Chicago (161,000), Milwaukee (55,000), Baltimore (41,000) and Minneapolis (8,000).
There were fewer opportunities for skilled workers in the United States in the early 20th century and emigration from Germany declined. Between 1820 and 1920 over 5,500,000 emigrated from Germany to the United States. Germany therefore contributed more people than any other country including Ireland (4,400,000), Italy (4,190,000) and Austria-Hungary (3,700,000).
Persecution of Jews by the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s once again increased a desire to emigrate to the United States. Arrivals included Albert Einstein, Karen Horney, Erich Fromm, Berthold Brecht, Kurt Weill and Hans Eisler.
An investigation carried out in 1978 revealled that since 1820 over 6,978,000 people emigrated to the United States from Germany. This amounted to 14.3 per cent of the total foreign immigration during this period.