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Presentation Immigration and Relocation in U.S. History

Urban Germans

Panoramic View of Milwaukee, WI

Even while German farmers were moving west, the urban German American population was growing as never before. Migration west led to concentrations of German immigrants in cities such as Cincinnati, Milwaukee, St. Louis, and St. Paul. Smaller communities founded by German immigrants often reflected the names of cities they had come from in Germany, such as Berlin, Wisconsin, and Frankfort, Kentucky.

An army of skilled German workers rolled into American cities during the 19th century, bringing with them the trades they had plied in their homeland. German Americans were employed in many urban craft trades, especially baking, carpentry, and the needle trades. Many German Americans worked in factories founded by the new generation of German American industrialists, such as John Bausch and Henry Lomb, who created the first American optical company; Steinway, Knabe and Schnabel (pianos); Rockefeller (petroleum); Studebaker and Chrysler (cars); H.J. Heinz (food); and Frederick Weyerhaeuser (lumber).

Carl Schurz in 1877

The social turmoil of Europe in the 19th century also sent many intellectuals and scholars to the United States. In particular, supporters of the German Revolution of 1848--sometimes called "Forty-Eighters"--brought their tradition of vigorous public debate and social activism to bear on the issues facing the U.S., including land reform, abolition, workers' rights, and women's suffrage. The student radical Carl Schurz, for example, escaped from Germany after the Revolution and settled in Wisconsin. In the course of a long public life, Schurz served his new country as a farmer, a lawyer, a journalist, a campaigner for Abraham Lincoln's Republican Party, a Union general, a cabinet official, a U.S. senator, an early member of the conservation movement, and the founder and editor of several newspapers, in both English and German.

However far they spread, though, and however diverse their ways of life might have been, Germans were still connected by the great web of German-language culture. German newspapers were available in most American cities, from California to Texas to Massachusetts, and German-language traveling speakers, theatrical performers, and popular songs all helped keep German Americans in touch with their cultural heritage.