German-Americans are citizens of the United States of German ancestry. Around 8 million German immigrants entered the United States over the centuries (mostly between 1840 and 1920), seeking freedom, or a better life, or for other reasons.
German immigrants made up a substantial population of colonial Pennsylvania, where they often came into political conflict with the Quakers. The first German settlement in Pennsylvania was founded in 1683, although some Germans were already in America in other colonies at that time. Eventually, Germans would constitute about one-third of the population of Pennsylvania at the time of the Revolution.
In the 1790 U.S. census, the first census taken after Independence, Germans are estimated to have constituted nearly 9% of the white population in the United States.
German-Americans throughout the country
Heavy German immigration to the United States occurred between 1848 and World War I, during which time nearly 6 million Germans immigrated to the U.S. The Germans became widespread throughout the Northern half of the country, especially the Midwestern states.
By 1900, the cities of Cleveland, Milwaukee, Hoboken and Cincinnati all had populations which were over 40% German.
The German-Americans are the largest self-reported ethnic group in the United States today.
According to the 2000 U.S. census, 47 million Americans are of German ancestry. German-Americans represent 16% of the total U.S. population and 24% of the white non-Hispanic population.
Of the four major U.S. regions, German was the number one reported ancestry in the Midwest, number two in the West, and three in the Northeast and South regions. German was the top reported ancestry is 23 states, and it was one of the top five reported ancestries in every state except Maine and Rhode Island.
German-Americans and World War I
During World War I, German-Americans, and especially German-born individuals, experienced widespread suspicion and persecution by Americans of other ancestries. Some Germans during this time "Americanized" their names (e.g. 'Schmidt' to 'Smith') and limited their use of the German language in public places. Laws were passed to ban the use of German as a language of instruction for elementary school students, even in private and parochial schools. Bilingual schools had been common in some German communities. Some communities banned instruction in any language except English. The Supreme Court ruled the ban illegal in 1923, by which time the nativist hysteria had largely subsided.
Amish, Mennonite and Hutterites
Many communities of Amish, Mennonites and Hutterites still speak dialects of German, including Pennsylvania German. Because of their religious beliefs, they form separate communities that are still functioning, in some cases centuries after their ancestors' immigration to America.
Germans have contributed to a vast number of areas in American culture and technology. Baron von Steuben, a former Prussian officer, led the reformation of the U.S. Army during War for Independence and helped make the victory against British troops possible. The Studebakers built large numbers of wagons used during the Western migration. Carl Schurz a refugee from the unsuccessful first German democratic revolution of 1848 (see also German Confederation), served as U.S. Secretary of the Interior.
Due to the tragic developments in Germany leading from World War I to World War II, many researchers of German origin left Germany due to economic problems or as a result of racial, religious, and political persecution. Probably the most famous of them was Albert Einstein, known for his Theory of Relativity.
After World War II, Wernher von Braun, the leading engineer from the former German rocket base Peenemünde, brought his knowledge to the U.S. He contributed to the development of U.S. military rockets, as well as of rockets for the NASA space program. It is widely believed that without von Braun and the other German scientists, America's space program would not have succeeded.
The influence of German cuisine is seen throughout the country. Hamburgers, bratwurst, sauerkraut, strudel are common dishes. Germans were important in the beer and wine industries. German bakers introduced the pretzel. See also Lager Beer Riot.
There have been two presidents of the United States of America who were of German ancestry. One was World War II general Dwight Eisenhower (his original family name was Eisenhauer), another was Herbert Hoover (his original family name was Huber).