Thematic Essays

America in Global Context: German Entrepreneurs around the World

The United States was undoubtedly the most important, but by no means the only country of destination for German immigrant entrepreneurs. German industrialists, merchants, and other entrepreneurs could be found in virtually all world regions where international trade or local markets promised satisfactory returns. They were globally dispersed manifestations – and motors – of Germany’s expanding economy between unification in 1871 and the First World War.

Business of Migration since 1815

Millions of American immigrants, who worked in business or started new businesses of their own, also used businesses in order to reach America in the first place. Before the mid nineteenth century advent of the telegraph, railroad and steamship, this migration usually relied on the services of multiple businesses and intermediaries in order to carry out long multi-stage journeys across land and ocean. In the modern “global village,” interconnected by widely available fast air travel, key services needed by international migrants are also generally dispersed across multiple businesses, often related mainly to surmounting and adapting to legal restrictions. In between, during late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the business of migration was concentrated mainly on the crossing of the North Atlantic. Mass transatlantic migration then became the core segment of the world’s first major intercontinental travel industry, a business in which large German shipping lines played a leading role. Within a longer term context, this essay emphasizes that middle epoch of commercially-provided physical relocation from Europe to the United States, and also includes a sub-focus on entrepreneurship of German origin.

Expulsion – Plunder – Flight: Businessmen and Emigration from Nazi Germany

A defining feature of political and social developments under National Socialist rule between 1933 and 1945 was the forced emigration of tens of thousands of Germans. After being deprived of their rights and dispossessed, they tried to escape persecution and annihilation by fleeing from the Third Reich. While the origins and circumstances of emigration from the Reich after 1933 are among the most intensively researched questions in German history, the fate of businessmen in the context of this emigration has received relatively little attention.

German Component to American Industrialization

The era from 1840 to 1893 was a momentous one both for German-American immigration and for U.S. industrialization, so it bears examining to what extent the two developments were interrelated. This essay will first sketch out the contours of German immigration and American industrialization in this era. It then identifies areas of the U.S. economy where Germans were particularly concentrated, and examines the industrial and geographic niches where transatlantic connections were of greatest consequence. Shifting focus from global to individual patterns, it then explores what was German and what was American about German-American entrepreneurship in the mid- and late nineteenth century.

German Corporate Entrepreneurs in Nineteenth Century America

Many of the Germans who came to the United States in the nineteenth century were entrepreneurs, some in the more mundane sense of owning their own businesses, others in the more exciting sense of being innovators within various business sectors. Germans also appear to have been more likely to engage in entrepreneurial activities on a scale large enough to require the formation of corporations. That hypothesis stems from the analysis of a database of the names of several hundred thousand incorporators, people (mostly men) who helped for-profit businesses to receive special charters granted by state legislatures across the United States between 1790 and 1861.

German Immigrants and J. P. Morgan’s Securities Underwriting Syndicates

The Immigrant Entrepreneurship project offers a transnational perspective on American history. Transaction records from the J. P. Morgan & Co. Syndicate Books help us understand how a transnational society of bankers networked funds around the world by forming syndicates to support the globalization process. Syndicate participation provided a way for many German immigrants and German-Americans to attain both economic success and social status in America.

German Jews and Peddling in America

Peddling helped launch the Jewish migration out of Germany and its predecessor states. The knowledge that thousands of young single men could come to America and get on the road, laden with a jumble of goods on their backs, and reasonably hope to end up a married proprietor of a thriving business, propelled them. The fact that they could fulfill the aims of their migration, settle down, and succeed in business, also helped change the face of the Jewish world for decades to come.

German Social Entrepreneurs and the First Kindergartens in Nineteenth Century America

Two German women, Caroline Louisa Frankenberg and Margarethe Meyer Schurz, are credited with bringing the kindergarten movement to the nineteenth-century United States by opening kindergartens that served children of German immigrants. They conducted classes in the German language and were social entrepreneurs in that they made an innovative, long-term, social impact on the American educational system. Their primary interest was not personal financial gain, but rather the humanistic, social, and educational development of children. As word spread of their efforts, Anglo-American educators took note and grew the movement, establishing English-language kindergartens and kindergarten training schools for teachers. The creation of kindergartens fundamentally changed how Americans thought about the ideal environment for beginning a child’s education.

German-Americans during World War I

World War I had a devastating effect on German-Americans and their cultural heritage. Up until that point, German-Americans, as a group, had been spared much of the discrimination, abuse, rejection, and collective mistrust experienced by so many different racial and ethnic groups in the history of the United States. Indeed, over the years, they had been viewed as a well-integrated and esteemed part of American society. All of this changed with the outbreak of war.

Living the American Dream? The Challenge of Writing Biographies of German-American Immigrant Entrepreneurs

Biographies of businesspeople offer a new integrative perspective not only to trace the lives, careers, and business ventures of significant immigrants but to answer core questions of American, business, and migration history in a new way. The Immigrant Entrepreneurship project aims to explore hundreds of biographies; the sheer amount of this material has made clear that biographies can be used not only to analyze individual lives but also to address general questions in the history of capitalism and modernity.

Progressive Reform in a Transatlantic Age

This essay describes the main political, socioeconomic, and cultural dimensions of progressivism and, on this basis, explores the imprint of the Progressive Era on the modern United States. It pays particular attention to the transatlantic dimension of progressivism, suggesting that the reformers’ perceptions and translations of European social reform provided both inspiration and resources for the formulation of a new politics, economics, and culture in turn-of-the-century America, and arguing that the contributions of some German immigrant entrepreneurs need to be seen in this context. At the same time, the essay contends that the international dimension of progressivism highlighted the fissures, fault lines, and blind spots within the movement and within American culture and society as a whole.

Prohibition

The long-term effect of Prohibition for the Americans at large was a degeneration of beer culture which has only cautiously been reversed since the first microbreweries opened in the 1980s. The Germans were among the immigrant groups that suffered most from the onslaught of the temperance movement and from the enactment of National Prohibition. Although the role of brewers of German descent in the self-inflicted saloon crises was considerable and their attempts to defend themselves clumsy and self-defeating, they had to sustain severe losses when the beer trade became illegal, driving a part of the brewery owners to the brink of illegality themselves—or beyond.

Trade, Family, and Religion: Forging Networks in the German Atlantic World

Network analysis offers a means for unpacking the relationships between Atlantic World inhabitants and the political-economic, social, and cultural linkages that developed during the colonial period and the era of revolutions/independence in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This essay will examine networks that helped to structure the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century German Atlantic World. It will focus primarily on transport, capital, and communication networks, but will also address some of the ways in which ethnicity, marriage, and other social and cultural forces influenced the growth and development of these linkages. In particular, it will focus on German-American actors’ roles in shaping the topology of networks through their twin status as immigrants and entrepreneurs.