German immigrants in the Chicago area

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2007 25 Pages

American Studies - Culture and Applied Geography


Table of contents

1. Chapter I: The history of the Germans in Chicago
1.1 Introduction
1.2 Figures of German immigration from 1820- 1973
1.3 The reasons for immigration
1.4 The different groups of immigrants
1.5 Areas in Germany from which the emigration took place
1.6 The problems the immigrants had during the journey
1.7 Re-emigration to Germany
1.8 The problems the immigrants encountered
1.8.1 Consequences
1.8.2 The increase of problems during World War I
1.9 Positive aspects of life for Germans in Chicago
1.10 Germans in Chicago today

2. Chapter II: German influences in Chicago
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Statues of famous Germans
2.3 Lincoln Park Mural
2.4 The D.A.N.K. Haus
2.5 German clubs
2.6 German newspapers
2.7 Imported German traditions, festivals and cultural contributions
2.8 Conclusion

3. Bibliography

Chapter I:
The history of the Germans in Chicago

1.1 Introduction

The Germans are the largest ethnic group in the United States and especially in Chicago. Peculiarly, their influence seems to have vanished. Every other ethnic group left stronger traces of their existence than the Germans.[1] I decided to take a look at the development of the German- American community or in fact to pursue the question as to whether there is a German- American identity. To answer this question we first have to take a look at the history of the German immigration.

1.2 Figures of German immigration from 1820 – 1973

The first immigrants arrived in the United States between 1820 and 1830. The number of German immigrants in these years was 7,729. The numbers steadily increased and by 1851-60 there were up to 951, 667 people. In the years 1881-90 there was a huge influx of Germans. 1, 452, 970 immigrants arrived in this period of time. After those years a huge break in the number of immigrants occurred and the numbers steadily decreased. The least immigrants arrived in the United States in the 1910s and 1930s. In those years only slightly over 100 immigrants arrived. The 1972 Annual Report of the U.S. Immigration states that 6,925,736 Germans had entered America since 1820. This adds up to 15.25 percent of the total immigration.

The immigration to Chicago was above average but exact numbers do not exist. According to federal census and school census reports the number of German immigrants increased from 5,073 in 1850 to 191,168 in 1914. More recent numbers are from 1973 when 109 Germans emigrated to Chicago and 7,565 to the entire State of Illinois.

1.3 The reasons for immigration

The reasons for the immigration vary. The Germans are known for their “Wanderlust” and curiosity for foreign lands. This was part of the reason why many came. Many others, though, left their country for survival reasons. Overpopulation, unemployment, high taxes and long military service made many Germans leave their country for what they thought was a better world with low taxes, cheap land and the need for laborers and craftsmen. The reason often mistaken as the main reason is political and religious suppression but only few came for those reasons. Pressure was put on those who were irresolute as to their decision about whether or not to leave. Germans who were already living there, as well as American companies, helped them to decide by promoting immigration to America. The German-Americans who were already living there published pamphlets with all the information an immigrant needed when coming to America. A pamphlet specifically for Chicago and the Midwest which was called “Nützliches und Belehrendes für deutsche Einwanderer” appeared in 1887. The already emigrated also wrote the enthusiastic “America letters” of the greatness of America, which made many undecided people leave Germany. The companies which needed workmen hired immigration agents that also tried to make the New World palatable for the potential immigrants.

The reason as to why so many Germans went to Chicago is simple. There they hoped to find El Dorado. Most of the German immigrants were skilled and Chicago offered many high-paying jobs for such people. Chicago grew so fast that there was constantly work to be done. New housing and industries, had to be built and rebuilt after the Great Fire in 1871, there were jobs at the stockyards and in the newly constructed industries, and the two World Fairs in 1893 and 1933 attracted many Germans.

1.4 The different groups of immigrants

Consequently, the first groups of immigrants to Chicago were the workers. The second group were the so-called ´´ Latin farmers´´. They arrived between 1815 and 1860 and were highly educated political exiles. They settled in Missouri and Southern Illinois to live on farms. Since they had no idea of how to manage a farm they moved to cities like Chicago where they had the chance to follow intellectual pursuits. The third group of immigrants were the so-called “forty-eighters”. They have this name because this group included all those who arrived after the unsuccessful Revolution of 1848. Different kinds of people came to America because they were involved in the Revolution and many of these forty-eighters started careers in public offices. The last large group of immigrants arrived in America during the Nazi regime; mainly for political motives but also for racial reasons. Many of this group who immigrated between 1930 and 1941 were professionals in the field of learning. They were drawn to cultural and technological institutes as well as to the various colleges and universities of the Chicago area.

1.5 Areas in Germany from which the emigration took place

The greatest number of Germans came from Schleswig -Holstein, Prussia and Baden. This might be the case because they were caught in the conflicts between Prussia and Denmark in 1864, Prussia and Austria in 1866 and Germany and France in 1870. Up until 1870 most of the Germans came from northern Germany. In 1870 Prussia held by far the highest percentage of German immigrants. The population totaled 24,838 which represented 17.25 percent of the foreign-born population[2]

1.6 The problems the immigrants encountered during the journey

After the decision to emigrate from Germany, the travelers were confronted with many problems. The fact that they had to leave their family and friends, their customs and their home was hard enough on those who decided to leave. Had they known how fatiguing the trip to the United States would be, they might have decided differently. The price of admission to the U.S. was very high. The trip was horrible, especially before the invention of the steamboat in the 1850s. Before that, the trip lasted between 40 and 60 days. With the use of steamboats the length of the trip was reduced to about 17 days. The duration was not the only problem. Many people died because the ships were overcrowded. When the mortality rate became too high to ignore, Congress enforced some laws for the protection of the immigrants in 1855. One law included the stipulation that at least two tons of space had to be available for every immigrant and that companies had to give them food and ventilation. After 1855 the mortality rate sank drastically but it still was very high. A good example is the ship “Leibnitz”, which left Hamburg for America in 1868 and on which 183 out of 917 passengers died. After the arrival by ship the problems for the immigrants did not stop. To get from the seaport to, for example, Chicago they had to travel on immigrant trains, which, of course, were overcrowded. On the way, the immigrants were financially exploited because the train had many unnecessary stops, making it necessary for them to stay at hotels. Even railroad officials often made some money on them by making them pay very high ticket prices, baggage charges and unfair exchange rates. An often recited quotation from Gerhard Hauptmanns “The Weavers” was: “The immigrant is like an apple from which everyone takes a bite”.[3] After they reached their destination the exploitation did not stop. The only help they could get was from the German Aid Society, which was founded to protect immigrants from exploitation. The Society became very successful and helped thousands of people by helping them to find jobs and housing. Today the group tries to preserve the German- American culture.[4]

1.7 Re-emigration to Germany

Many immigrants never found the life that they had hoped for. Some decided to return to Germany, to their old lives in poverty but with their family and friends. Especially during the Depression in the 1930s many decided to emigrate. The actual figures for these years are that 14,183 immigrated but 17,696 emigrated. Another reason, named mainly by the newspapers was the Prohibition Law. They did not all emigrate voluntarily. Some had to leave because they had committed crimes or there were other reasons as to why the U.S. did not want them.


[1] D´Eramo, Marco: The Pig and the Skyscraper. New York. 2002. p.211

[2] Hofmeister,Rudolph A.: The Germans of Chicago. Champaign, Illinois. 1976. p.13-34

[3] Hofmeister, Rudolph A.: p.41

[4] http://www.geocities.com/aidsociety/historypg2.html


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Institution / College
University of Frankfurt (Main)
german chicago



Title: German immigrants in the Chicago area