• A journey through the ages
  • German Americans fighting in the American Revolution
  • German Americans in the Midwest
  • The 48ers
  • German Americans in the American Civil War
  • German Americans fighting in World War 1
  • German Americans fighting in World War 2
  • German influence on American culture
  • American influence on German culture




The German-American history is a journey through the different epochs of two nations that have influenced each other. Germans have significantly contributed to today's American way of life, and Americans, in turn, have influenced the German lifestyle since 1945. Today, over 40 million Americans have German ancestry, and many Germans have at least one relative overseas. German-American history informs about German settlers from the colonial period to the present. German immigration had a major impact on American culture, especially in the cities of the Midwest. With the Forty-Eighters, many political emigrants came to the United States after 1848, including Carl Schurz and Franz Sigel, both of whom made careers in the USA. Other famous German-Americans were Eberhard Anheuser and Adolphus Busch, who brought lager beer to the States, as well as entrepreneurs like Karl Pfizer and Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg. The list of famous German-Americans would fill several pages. Conversely, the USA also shaped Germany. As early as 1918 to 1923, American troops were stationed in Germany and influenced Rhineland life around Koblenz. After World War 2, the units stationed in Germany were soon seen as friends and protectors. 


Sports like American football has become more popular in Germany, and basketball has established itself over time as one of the top sports in Germany. Today, not only do Germans immigrate to the United States, but Americans also move to Germany, creating a larger expat community. The many German-American descendants of American soldiers and German mothers, living on both sides of the Atlantic, should also be mentioned.





During the American Revolution, many Germans played an important role in shaping the course of history. One of the most prominent figures was Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben. A former Prussian officer, von Steuben arrived in America in 1777 and offered his services to the Continental Army. With his extensive military experience, he was appointed as the Inspector General. His most notable contribution was the training of the Continental Army at Valley Forge during the harsh winter of 1777-1778. Von Steuben implemented rigorous drills, discipline, and introduced effective military techniques, transforming the ragtag American forces into a formidable army. His "Blue Book," a manual of military training and organization, became a cornerstone of American military practices.

Another notable German was John Peter Muhlenberg, a Lutheran minister turned soldier. Muhlenberg is famous for his dramatic sermon in 1776, where he revealed his military uniform beneath his clerical robes and urged his congregation to join the fight for independence. He went on to serve as a brigadier general in the Continental Army, participating in key battles such as Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth.




A chapter in American history is the German immigration to the Midwest. This wave of immigration began in the 1830s and continued into the early 1900s. States such as Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, and Minnesota provided ideal conditions for German immigrants. The region was known for its fertile soils and offered numerous opportunities for agriculture, a familiar and attractive occupation for many Germans. Germans played a key role in the development of the brewing industry in the Midwest. Cities like Milwaukee in Wisconsin became centers of beer production, thanks to the expertise and traditions of German brewers. German newspapers, choirs, and Turnvereine (Turners) were widespread and played an important role in the social life of the communities. The influence of German culture is still evident today in many Midwestern cities, particularly in the form of architecture, festivals (such as Oktoberfest), and culinary traditions.



The "48ers" were a group of German immigrants who fled to the United States following the failed revolutions of 1848 in the German states. These revolutions, part of a series of interconnected revolutionary movements across Europe, were driven by demands for democratic reforms, national unity, and civil liberties. When the revolutions were suppressed by conservative forces, many revolutionaries, intellectuals, and political activists faced persecution, prompting them to seek refuge abroad. The United States, with its promise of democracy and economic opportunity, became a popular destination and the influx of 48ers significantly impacted American society in various ways.


The 48ers brought with them progressive ideals and a strong sense of civic duty. Many were politically active and used their experience and knowledge to influence American politics. They often aligned themselves with the newly formed Republican Party. Some notable 48ers, such as Carl Schurz, went on to have political careers in the United States. Schurz, for instance, became a Union Army general during the Civil War, a U.S. Senator, and a Secretary of the Interior.


The 48ers established German-language newspapers, founded cultural institutions, and promoted arts and education. Their influence was particularly strong in cities with significant German populations, such as Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Cincinnati. These communities became centers of German-American culture.




The mid-19th century saw a substantial influx of German immigrants to the United States, many of whom were political refugees following the failed revolutions of 1848 in the German states. These immigrants brought with them strong ideals of liberty, democracy, and unity, which heavily influenced their participation in the Civil War. One aspect of German American involvement was the contribution of the German Turners, members of gymnastics clubs that had spread across the United States. These clubs were not just centers for physical training but also hubs for political activity and social reform. The Turners, with their organized structures and disciplined members, were instrumental in forming several Union regiments. The physical training and camaraderie fostered in the Turnvereine translated into effective military units during the war.


The most famous of these was the Turner Regiment, also known as the 20th New York Volunteer Infantry, which was formed primarily from Turners. They were known for their discipline and fighting prowess. The Turnvereine also served as meeting places to discuss political strategies and mobilize support for the Union cause. Most German-Americans served the Union Army, with notable Forty-Eighters like Franz Sigel leading a regiment and eventually attaining the rank of Major General, the highest rank among the Germans. Other German-born generals included Adolph von Steinwehr, August Kautz, Peter Osterhaus, and Alexander Schimmelfennig. Schimmelfennig, another well-known Forty-Eighter, commanded the 74th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment. Many of these individuals imparted the techniques and virtues of the Prussian military.


Several German Americans rose to prominence as military leaders during the Civil War. One of them was Major General Franz Sigel. Sigel had been a prominent revolutionary in Germany before emigrating to the United States. His military expertise and leadership were critical in several key battles, and he was instrumental in rallying German American support for the Union. His presence and command also helped boost the morale of German American soldiers who saw in him a symbol of their cause and capabilities.


Brigadier General Carl Schurz, also a veteran of the 1848 revolutions, was not only a military leader but also a journalist and politician.


While the majority of German Americans supported the Union, there were also those who fought for the Confederacy. This split mirrored the broader divisions within American society at the time. German Americans in Southern states, many of whom had integrated into local communities, found themselves supporting the Confederacy due to regional loyalty and economic ties.



During World War I, many German-Americans faced a difficult and often painful dilemma. Despite their heritage, numerous German-Americans chose to demonstrate their loyalty to their adopted homeland by fighting for the United States. This decision was not only a testament to their commitment to their new country but also a response to the intense scrutiny and suspicion they faced from fellow Americans during this turbulent time.

Thousands enlisted and served bravely on the front lines, where they fought alongside their fellow citizens. 


However, the war also sparked a wave of anti-German sentiment across the United States. As the conflict intensified, so did the hysteria and suspicion directed towards anything perceived as German. This led to widespread discrimination against German-Americans. One of the most striking manifestations of this sentiment was the Americanization of German names. In an effort to avoid discrimination and demonstrate their patriotism, many German-Americans changed their last names. For instance, "Schmidt" might become "Smith," "Müller" might be changed to "Miller," and "Braun" to "Brown."

This name-changing was more than a mere alteration of letters; it symbolized a broader cultural shift and the pressures to assimilate fully into American society.  The fervor was such that German-language newspapers shut down, and schools stopped teaching the German language. Despite these challenges, the contributions of German-Americans to the war effort and to American society at large should not be overlooked. 



During World War II, the United States faced a complex challenge, not least among which was the issue of loyalty among its diverse population. Among these groups, German-Americans stood in a particularly precarious position. With their ancestral homeland embroiled in conflict against their adopted country, these individuals faced difficult and often heart-wrenching choices. The paths they chose, whether to fight for the United States or respond to the "Heim ins Reich" call and support Nazi Germany, reflect the profound struggles of identity, loyalty, and patriotism that defined this era.


Many German-Americans demonstrated unwavering loyalty to the United States, proudly serving in its armed forces. These individuals viewed their participation as a testament to their commitment to their American homeland, fighting on the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific. Among them was General Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose leadership as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force was instrumental in the defeat of Nazi Germany. His contributions underscored the patriotic dedication of German-Americans to the United States.


Conversely, the Nazi regime's propaganda efforts, epitomized by the "Heim ins Reich" (Home into the Empire) initiative, aimed to persuade ethnic Germans worldwide to return and support the Third Reich. Some German-Americans were swayed by these appeals, driven by a mix of ideological belief, ethnic solidarity, and the persuasive power of Nazi propaganda. One such example was Herbert John Burgman, an American of German descent who became a prominent Nazi propagandist. He worked for the Reichs-Rundfunk-Gesellschaft (Reich Broadcasting Corporation) and was known for his English-language broadcasts aimed at undermining American morale. Burgman’s case illustrates the extent to which Nazi ideology could penetrate even the most American of identities, leading some to betray their country of birth.




One of the most visible impacts of German culture in America is in the culinary sphere. German immigrants introduced a variety of foods such as the beloved hot dog, originally a German sausage, and the hamburger, which has its roots in Hamburg, are now iconic American foods. German bakeries brought over a wide array of bread, pretzels, and pastries. Beer is another area where German influence is profound. The craft beer movement in the U.S. owes much to German brewing traditions, and many popular American beers, such as those produced by Anheuser-Busch and Miller, were founded by German immigrants. The Oktoberfest celebrations held across the United States are a testament to the enduring legacy of German beer culture.

One of the lesser-known yet profoundly impactful influences of German culture on America comes from the Turners, or "Turnvereine." These were German-American gymnastics clubs that played a pivotal role in promoting physical fitness, community cohesion, and social activism.


The Turner movement originated in Germany in the early 19th century, founded by Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, who is often referred to as the "father of gymnastics." Jahn’s vision was to use physical exercise as a means to foster national pride and unity. The movement was brought to the United States by German immigrants in the mid-19th century. The Turners promoted the idea that physical fitness was essential for a well-rounded education and personal development. This focus on physical education influenced the American school system, leading to the inclusion of gym classes and sports programs in public education.



The United States, as a leading Allied power, played a crucial role in the reconstruction and reorientation of post-war Germany. The occupation zones in Germany facilitated the influx of American media, with radio stations like AFN (American Forces Network) broadcasting American music and programs. Rock 'n' roll, introduced in the 1950s, captivated German youth, leading to the development of a vibrant rock scene in the 1960s. Icons like Elvis Presley became a cultural phenomena in Germany. Over time, Hollywood and American TV shows found large audiences. Fast food chains became common fixtures in German cities.


The post-war era also saw the rise of American technological and business influences. Companies like IBM and later Apple and Microsoft became integral to the German economy. The Silicon Valley model of innovation and entrepreneurship inspired many German businesses, leading to the development of a robust startup ecosystem in cities like Berlin.