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Presentation Immigration and Relocation in U.S. History

A New Surge of Growth

German immigrants boarding a ship for America
European Reading Room

German immigration boomed in the 19th century. Wars in Europe and America had slowed the arrival of immigrants for several decades starting in the 1770s, but by 1830 German immigration had increased more than tenfold. From that year until World War I, almost 90 percent of all German emigrants chose the United States as their destination. Once established in their new home, these settlers wrote to family and friends in Europe describing the opportunities available in the U.S. These letters were circulated in German newspapers and books, prompting "chain migrations." By 1832, more than 10,000 immigrants arrived in the U.S. from Germany. By 1854, that number had jumped to nearly 200,000 immigrants.

For typical working people in Germany, who were forced to endure land seizures, unemployment, increased competition from British goods, and the repercussions of the failed German Revolution of 1848, prospects in the United States seemed bright. It soon became easier to leave Germany, as restrictions on emigration were eased. As steamships replaced sailing ships, the transatlantic journey became more accessible and more tolerable. As a result, more than 5 million people left Germany for the U.S. during the 19th century.

At the same time, the United States once again became a refuge for Germans fleeing persecution. Antisemitic violence in Germany and Austria-Hungary drove thousands of German Jews to emigrate. German Jews during this period were, by and large, proud of their German culture; they generally chose to speak German instead of Hebrew or Yiddish and lived together with Catholics and Lutherans in German American communities. While there were approximately 1500 European Jews living in the U.S. in 1800, there were almost 15,000 by the middle of the century.