German Immigration: 1830-1860


From the 1830s to the 1860s, more than one and one half million Germans immigrated to United States of America. German immigrantsto America were typically struggling farmers, political refugees, religious refugees, ormen avoiding conscription in the German military. These German immigrants settled throughout the United States, in both urban and rural communities; however, the majority settled in the mid- western states. German immigrants acquired a reputation for being hardworking, thrifty, and law-abiding people. Germans made numerous contributions to American culture, including inventions, traditions, sports and food. The flooding of German immigrants to America was the result of long-term social, religious, and economic changes occurring throughout the German states.

Many of the farmers who came to America were troubled by the collaspe of the Industrial Revolution in Germany, agricultural reform, overpopulation, crop failure, and lack of land in Germany. During the time period of 1830-1860, most German immigrants came from the southwestern states of Germany, where the many of the people were farmers. Investors in Germany looked towards more profitable fields of work such as railroad building or artisan work, as opposed to loaning money to farmers. Many farmers, fearing a loss of their land, opted to sell their land and move to America, where land was cheaper and more abundant. Along with the immigration of farmers from 1830-1860 came shopkeepers, craftsmen and artisans, who were also struggling in Germany.

Another reason that Germans came to America was for the freedom that they did not possess in Germany. In coming to America, Germans sought political refuge, religious refuge, and refuge from the German army. German intellectuals came to the United States as Liberal Political Refugees. This group of political refugees came after taking part in the Hambacher Fest, a liberal demonstration that was held in May of 1832, at Hambach in the Bavarian Palatinate. Another political refugee group, known as the Forty-Eighters, came to the United States after the collapse of the Democratic Revolutions of 1848. In the United States they sought a democratic government, where they would be able to preach as they wished. Forty-Eighters worked primarily in the fields of journalism, medicine, music, and education, all of in which they made tremendous contributions to America. The immigrants who came to the United States seeking religious freedoms were known as the Old Lutherans. The Old Lutherans desired a homeland where they held the freedom to practice their own religion. A large number of German immigrants to the United States were young men who wanted to avoid conscription in the German Army. These men chose to immigrate to America instead of being forced to serve in the German army for an extended period of time.

Political unrest was also a contributing factor to the immigration in the 1830's. Many Lutherans came to the United States in the late 1830's and early 1840's in protest against Prussia's forced unification of the Lutheran and Reformed churches. The Carlsbad Decree of 1819 sent German students and German liberals to America in the early 1830's, but fugitives from the abortive democratic revolutions of 1848 were more numerous. All together; however, political refugees were of the minority of Germans who immigrated to the United States in the 1830's and 1840's.

Transportation improvements also played a significant role in the rise of German immigrants. The spread of steamboats in the 1830's and of railroads in the 1850's simplified international travel, as well as made it quicker. Frequent transatlantic sailing and the lowering of fares both made the journey more appealing.

Although the German immigrants dispersed themselves across the United States, the mid-west was the most popular region for the Germans to settle in. Germans migrated to the limestone floored valleys, such as the Mississippi Valley and the Ohio Valley. Cities, such as Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Milwaukee became urban centers for German immigrants. German immigrants who lived in these cities were mostly skilled artisans and craftsmen. Also, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio had similar climactical and geographical conditions to that of Central Europe, therefore making these states appealing to the German farmers.

German immigrants introduced and brought to America valuable ideas and important products. Both the Conestoga Wagon and the Kentucky rifle were invented by German-Americans. Germans were also strong supporters of public education. In 1853, Kindergarten, was introduced to the public schools by German immigrants. When Americans saw the superior schools being established by the Germans, it made the Americans raise their educational standards. Germans also started the first paper mill in the United States, made important contributions in printing, and were the first people to work with iron and glass in America. German farmers were among the first American farmers to preserve their land by rotating their crops. Germans also formed labor unions in America as early as 1850.

Germans also made immense contributions to music and sports in America. The first American symphony organization was the Germania Orchestra, started in New York, in 1848. Songfests, inspired by Germans, have become popular throughout the United States as well. Germans also are credited as being the first people to found gymnastic societies. At one point, these societies grew so elaborate that competitions included parades, pageants, concerts, public addresses, and theatrical performances, in addition to bowling matches and competitions on the parallel bars and tumbling mats. German gymnastic societies led to the incorporation of physical education into the schooling system.

Many German customs evolved into American customs by the large number of Germans who came to America. Germans drank bier, (beer) in large quantities on Sundays, to celebrate the Sabbath. They also enjoyed swimming, target shooting, and bowling, all of which went on to be associated with American culture.

Germans also contributed many American Foods to America. Cole slaw, deli meats, oatmeal, frankfurters, and hamburgers all came to America through the German immigrants.

The German element is the largest ethnic group in the United States. It has been estimated that one-fifth of America's population can trace their ancestry back to Germany. Germans came over to the United States between the 1830's to the 1860's for many reasons, including political oppression, religious persecution, and poor economic conditions. Germans, although concentrated in certain areas, have settled across the United States. Germans have become successful, prosperous and devoted citizens of the United States of America. Through their numerous contributions, they have helped create America into the world's most powerful nation.

-Chad, Karen, Ingrid




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