The first thing to know is that German Americans comprise about 50 million people, making them the largest self-reported ancestry group in the US…more than English Americans (26 million), more than Irish Americans (33 million), and more than African Americans (42 million).
Distribution of German Americans according to the 2000 Census… California, Texas and Pennsylvania have the largest numbers of people with German heritage…Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota have the highest proportion of German Americans… more than one-third of all residents are of German heritage.
Germans have contributed to a vast number of areas in American culture and technology. For example: Baron von Steuben, a former Prussian officer, led the reorganization of the U.S. Army during the War for Independence and helped make the victory against British troops possible. Other German American military officers include George Armstrong Custer, John Pershing, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Chester W. Nimitz, Carl Andrew Spaatz and Norman Schwarzkopf. They fought for the United States in the American Revolutionary War, American Civil War, Indian Wars, World War I, World War II, and the Persian Gulf War, respectively.
The Steinway & Sons piano manufacturing firm was founded by immigrant Henry E. Steinway in 1853.
German settlers brought the Christmas tree custom and other German Christmas traditions to the United States.
The Studebakers built large numbers of wagons used during the Western migration… Studebaker, like the Duesenberg brothers, later became important early automobile manufacturers.
German Americans were famous American politicians, including Carl Schurz, Friedrich Hecker, Frederick Muhlenberg (the very first Speaker of the House), President Dwight D. Eisenhower (original family name Eisenhauer), President Herbert Hoover (original family name Huber), President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
After World War II, Wernher von Braun, and most of the leading engineers from the former German V-2 rocket base at Peenemünde, were brought to the U.S. They contributed decisively to the development of U.S. military rockets, as well as rockets for the NASA space program and the initiation of the Apollo program to land on the Moon.
The influence of German cuisine is seen throughout the country, especially regarding pastries, meats and sausages. Frankfurters and “wieners”, were brought from Frankfurt am Main and Vienna, respectively. Hamburgers, bratwurst, sauerkraut, and strudel are now common dishes. And German bakers introduced the pretzel, which is now popular across the United States.
Germans introduced America to lager, the most-produced beer style in the United States, and have been the dominant ethnic group in the beer industry since 1850. By the late 19th century, Milwaukee, with a large population of German origin, was once the home to four of the world’s largest breweries owned by ethnic Germans (Schlitz, Blatz, Pabst, and Miller) and was the number one beer producing city in the world for many years.
There is a long list of other German Americans that have played a prominent role in industry and business, including Henry J. Heinz, (H. J. Heinz Company), Frank Seiberling (Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company), Walt Disney (Disney), John D. Rockefeller (Standard Oil), William Boeing (The Boeing Company) and (United Airlines), Walter Chrysler (Chrysler Corporation), George Westinghouse (Westinghouse Electric Corporation), Levi Strauss (Levi Strauss & Co.), Charles Guth (PepsiCo Inc.), James L. Kraft (Kraft Foods Inc.), Henry E. Steinway (Steinway & Sons), Charles Pfizer (Pfizer, Inc.), Donald Trump (The Trump Organization), John Jacob Astor (Waldorf Astoria Hotels and Resorts), Conrad Hilton (Hilton Hotels & Resorts), , Herman Hollerith (International Business Machines Corporation (IBM)), Friedrich Weyerhäuser, founder of Weyerhaeuser paper company, and Peter Thiel (PayPal Inc.).
Some German Americans, such as Brooklyn Bridge engineer John A. Roebling and architects Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, left behind visible landmarks.
Others, including Albert Einstein, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Wernher von Braun, John Peter Zenger, John Steinbeck, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Weizenbaum set intellectual landmarks, Neil Armstrong was the first human to land on the moon.
Still other German Americans became prominent athletes, actors, film directors or artists. Among them: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jack Nicklaus, Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff (Doris Day), Grace Kelly, Marlene Dietrich, Johnny Weissmuller, Henry John Deutschendorf (John Denver), John Kay, Sandra Bullock, David Hasselhoff, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kirsten Dunst, and Steven Spielberg.
And for those of you who wonder about DiCaprio, Disney and Grace Kelly, I can tell you this: Leonardo DiCaprio’s father was ½ Italian and ½ German from Bavaria. His middle name is Wilhelm, after his maternal grandfather Wilhelm Indenbirken. In fact DiCaprio spent part of his childhood in Germany living with his grandparents…..Walt Disney’s father was Irish and his mother was an American of German and English descent…..Grace Kelly’s mother was Margret Major, the daughter of German immigrants.
To conclude, I quote Randi Vogli who wrote a poignant remark after I published this article last year…”This is something to be proud of yet there is no German History Month, German-American Student Unions or a German Lives Matter movement. We just do what we do without pomp or circumstance and keep America moving.. “
One last note regarding the image of the impressive ocean liner that dominates this early 20th century advertisement for the Norddeutscher Lloyd (North German Lloyd) ship company. The company’s ships were the primary means of transporting German emigrants to America and were also instrumental in the economic development of Bremen and Bremerhaven.
The ship in this poster is the SS Kaiser Wilhelm II, the premier ship of the line with service to America, East Asia, and Australia. It was one of the four Kaiser Class ocean liners built by the AG Vulcan company of Stettin, between 1897 and 1907. These ships were designed to be among the largest and best appointed liners of their day and two of them held the prestigious Blue Riband, awarded to the fastest ship in the world in a given year. Kaiser Class ships were known as the “four flyers” and all proved to be popular with wealthy transatlantic travelers as well as the masses of immigrants who wished to leave Europe.