Volume 4

Beinecke, Frederick W.
Frederick W. Beinecke nurtured, along with his two brothers and lifelong business partners Edwin and Walter, The Sperry & Hutchinson Company (S&H) of New York City, the leading trading stamp company in the United States. Continue Reading »
Boeing, William Edward
William E. Boeing, the founder of one of the United States’ most high-profile corporations, was active in several different economic sectors both before and after establishing the aircraft manufacturing company that bears his name. The son of a wealthy Michigan lumber magnate, Boeing inherited a fortune from his father as a child and went on to an elite education at a Swiss boarding school and at Yale. Leaving college before graduating, he moved to Washington state and used his inheritance to begin investing in the timber industry. He soon became fascinated by the early airplane industry and organized one of the first major airplane manufacturers. Continue Reading »
Brach, Emil Julius
Emil J. Brach opened a small candy shop on North Avenue in Chicago’s largely German-American North Side neighborhood in 1904. By the time of his death forty-three years later, his candy company would be the world’s largest maker of popular-priced bulk candies, with a sprawling factory on Chicago’s west side believed to be the largest candy factory in the United States. Continue Reading »
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. Continue Reading »
Carus, Mary Hegeler
Born on the grounds of her father’s zinc factory, Mary Hegeler Carus took the unusual step for a woman of her time period in pursuing a college career and going on to advanced study in engineering. She then took on the responsibility of running her family’s business, the Matthiessen and Hegeler Zinc Company, resisting the efforts of her siblings to sell the company to outsiders. Continue Reading »
Cohn, Harry
A Hollywood mogul, Harry Cohn founded Columbia Pictures and ran the studio for nearly four decades. Under his watch, Columbia grew quickly, earning a reputation for profitability and artistic achievement within the film community. Continue Reading »
DeVry, Herman
Herman Adolf DeVry was an inventor and manufacturer of cameras and portable projectors who eventually found fame and fortune as one of the leaders in the area of career-based education. Continue Reading »
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. Continue Reading »
Fruehauf, August ‘Gus’ Charles
August Charles Fruehauf's story and invention of the truck trailer is an integral part of the nation's transportation history in the last century. The Fruehauf Trailer Company facilitated the growth of continental transportation as a viable alternative to rail that brought efficient transportation from the farmer's gate and the factory's loading door. Continue Reading »
Herrmann, August
Between the end of the Gilded Age and the beginning of the Progressive Era, the name August “Garry” Herrmann was known throughout the United States. Herrmann was a man who had a humble beginning; he made millions of dollars during his lifetime through his political involvement and partial ownership of the Cincinnati Reds. As a local politician he served as the right-hand man to one of the most powerful political bosses of his era, George B. Cox of Cincinnati. As president of the Cincinnati Reds and chairman of baseball’s National Commission, he helped to usher in the modern World Series and is one of the most important early major league baseball executives. Continue Reading »
Hirsch, Max
Max Hirsch and his son Harold Hirsch were responsible for building one of Portland’s most famous businesses and helping to create a sportswear industry. Max Hirsch was a first-generation German Jewish immigrant to Portland who in 1907 purchased Willamette Tent & Awning from a Portland businessman and turned it into the Hirsch-Weis Company. Building on the success of his father's company, Harold grew his skiwear line into White Stag, one of the largest skiwear companies in the world. Continue Reading »
Hohner, Hans
In 1857, Matthias Hohner established a harmonica workshop that would become the world-leading producer of this small musical instrument. Founded in Trossingen, a small town in rural southwest Germany, the company soon expanded into the American market through Matthias Hohner's son Hans, who was partially educated in the United States and supervised the first foreign branch of the company, founded in New York in 1901. Hans' nephew, Matthias (Matthew) Hohner, later took over the American branch from Hans in 1927. Continue Reading »
Hollerith, Herman
Herman Hollerith was the inventor of the first patented mechanized punched-card system, the technological foundation for the computing industry. He established a company to pursue the innovation based on census processing in the United States and several foreign countries, including Russia, Norway, and France. He licensed the technology to other firms in Austria-Hungary, Great Britain, and Germany. Hollerith revolutionized the technology used for general statistics and accounts processing by private businesses as well. He eventually sold his company to a conglomerate in 1911 which eventually renamed itself the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) in 1924. Hollerith’s inventions and innovations provided the business foundation for IBM’s prosperity throughout its early years. Continue Reading »
Jeidels, Otto
Otto Jeidels’ life and his pursuit of “realism,” as he himself wrote, illustrate the precarious position of both Jews, even assimilated ones, and even the international financial system during the first half of the 20th century. Continue Reading »
Kaiser, Henry J.
Henry Kaiser’s importance in the creation of the modern American West cannot be overstated. Bridges and roads, river regulation projects and dams, pipelines and public transportation facilities, the supply of drinking water and cheap energy, the creation of steel production on the West Coast, and, finally, the building of houses and apartments—Henry J. Kaiser’s entrepreneurial activities played a crucial part in creating the preconditions for decades of prosperity throughout the region. Continue Reading »
Kessel, Adam
Born in Brooklyn of a mother who emigrated from Bavaria and a father who was the son of German immigrants, Adam Kessel (sometimes “Ad” or “Addison”) would grow up to be a leading pioneer in the production and distribution of motion pictures in the early years of the film business. In time, he would employ many of the leading figures of the industry, including Charlie Chaplin and D. W. Griffith. Kessel’s power was most in evidence during the 1910s, as the film business organized itself around the twin axes of West Coast production and East Coast financing. Continue Reading »
Klaw, Marc
Marc Klaw and Abraham Lincoln Erlanger, children of Bavarian Jewish immigrants, began working in the lower echelons of the theatre business in the early 1880s. By the turn of the twentieth century, their firm, Klaw & Erlanger, ruled the American theatrical scene. It produced first-run plays and musicals in New York, and placed shows, both its own and others’, in hundreds of theatres nationwide. Continue Reading »
Klein, William
The entrepreneurial careers of William “Bill” Klein and his brother Frederick began in the shadows of Milton Hershey’s burgeoning chocolate empire on the streets of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. After working at Hershey's Chocolate Company, the brothers relocated to Elizabethtown and founded their own company. The Klein Chocolate Company was hugely successful and remained in family hands throughout its existence, at times providing employment for brothers and sisters and financial security for the entire immigrant family. Continue Reading »
Laemmle, Carl
Carl Laemmle was the founder of Universal Pictures Company and one of the founding fathers of Hollywood and the studio system Continue Reading »
Lasker, Albert
As president of Lord & Thomas, Albert Lasker not only pioneered new advertising and branding techniques for leading companies such as Sunkist oranges, Wrigley’s Gum, and American Tobacco’s Lucky Strike cigarettes but showed how advertising could also break down social barriers, sharpen political campaigns, and promote philanthropic causes. Continue Reading »
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. Continue Reading »
Loeb, Carl Morris
Despite not belonging to one of the elite New York Jewish banking families, Carl Morris Loeb became president of American Metal Company and later established his own investment firm Carl M. Loeb & Co. Continue Reading »
Loew, Marcus
As a pioneer of the mass-entertainment industry of the early twentieth century, Marcus Loew engaged in everything from penny arcades to nickelodeons, vaudeville, and silent film. Continue Reading »
Neiman, Carrie Marcus
Carrie Marcus Neiman was a German-American and Jewish co-founder of the Neiman-Marcus department store and an innovator in the department store industry during the early-to-mid twentieth century. As the daughter of German immigrants, Carrie drew inspiration from European fashion and brought high-quality and cutting-edge merchandise to the Neiman-Marcus stores and customers. Continue Reading »
Netzer, Joseph
Joseph Netzer, a German immigrant, was an entrepreneur of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. Along with many others, he journeyed to the US-Mexico border region in the late nineteenth century, attracted by new economic opportunities created by the construction of railroads that connected the industrializing areas of the U.S. with emerging capitalist centers in Mexico, including Monterrey and San Luis Potosi. Netzer, a hardware store owner and plumber by training, rose fairly rapidly to prominence in Laredo business and social circles. He became part of a cosmopolitan business class consisting of ethnic Mexicans, immigrants from western, southern and eastern Europe, from the Ottoman Empire, and from the northeastern and midwestern United States. His life illuminates the role of entrepreneurs who helped to integrate the U.S. and Mexican economies in that era. Continue Reading »
Oberlaender, Gustav
Gustav Oberlaender, a Rhinelander who spent his adult life in the United States, became a dominant figure in the full-fashioned hosiery industry. He and his partners, fellow immigrants Ferdinand Thun and Henry Janssen, used skills acquired in Germany to establish textile machinery and hosiery firms in the United States, undercutting their birth country’s exporters. Continue Reading »
Paepcke, Walter Paul
The son of a Prussian immigrant, Walter Paepcke was the President of the Container Corporation of America (CCA) and founder of the Aspen Institute. Continue Reading »
Peter, Valentin Josef
Valentin Josef Peter emigrated with his family from Germany to the United States when he was fourteen years old. Peter had to work immediately to provide for his family, especially after the early death of his father George Peter. Despite—or perhaps driven by—these challenges—Peter rose from milking cows to running and owning one of the largest German-language newspaper empires in American history. Continue Reading »
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. Continue Reading »
Project Introduction
Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present
A GHI research project Continue Reading »
Remus, George
The life story of George Remus is a classic example of how the absurdities of the Volstead Act tempted a talented, very smart, and opportunistic German immigrant to deviate from the life of a respected trial attorney to one filled with a blind, lawless pursuit of abundant wealth and disregard for his enormous and gifted talent. Continue Reading »
Rueckheim, Frederick
Integrating his German-inspired dedication to education with the newfound economic opportunities in the United States, Frederick Rueckheim recognized the profitability of popcorn, a nineteenth-century commodity product, and turned that commodity into a differentiated, branded product: Cracker Jack. This iconic American confection of molasses, popcorn, and peanuts in a recognizable brand packaging is still sold globally. Continue Reading »
Schnering, Otto
Nicknamed the “U.S. Candy Bar King,” Otto Y. Schnering used his personal sales skills and understanding of advertising and marketing to build the Curtiss Candy Company in Chicago and the post–World War I United States chocolate candy industry into modern, successful enterprises. Continue Reading »
Schülein, Hermann
Among the German refugees of the 1930s there was scarcely an émigré in the USA who was a more successful businessman and brewer than Hermann Schülein. Schülein belonged to a small (and for the German-Jewish mass emigration entirely unrepresentative) group of business executives who managed to continue in their line of work in the alien circumstances of the “New World” and, remarkably, to build on the success they had known in Germany. Continue Reading »
Sousa, John Philip
Between 1893 and 1932, John Philip Sousa was the most commercially successful bandleader in the United States and one of the best-known American entertainers worldwide. The son of Portuguese and Bavarian immigrants, from 1880 to 1892 Sousa served as leader of the United States Marine Band, “The President’s Own,” in Washington, D.C. Continue Reading »
Spreckels, Walter
Walter Spreckels emigrated to the United States to become a clerk in his cousin’s sugar factory in Yonkers, New York. He started a family and made a fine career as a sugar business executive. World War I interrupted this steady improvement when Spreckels was deemed an “alien enemy” and barred from his position. However, he eventually rose to become president of the Syrup Products Company, a subsidiary of his former employer, the Federal Sugar Refining Company. After being pushed out of the company as a result of running afoul of Prohibition enforcement, he went on to become a labor negotiator for the National Recovery Agency and eventually a private industrial relations consultant in California. Continue Reading »
Swope, Gerard
Gerard Swope was an American engineer and electronics businessman who worked his way up through the ranks to become president of General Electric Company, a position he held from 1922 to 1939 and from 1942 to 1944. Continue Reading »
Teich, Curt Otto
Curt Teich is a quintessential American dream success story: he built a postcard empire from scratch in the United States based on the knowledge he gained growing up in Germany. During its roughly eighty-year reign, Curt Teich & Company produced and printed postcards illustrating views of over one hundred countries as well as small American towns and businesses. Continue Reading »
Thalberg, Irving
Irving Grant Thalberg, the son of German-Jewish immigrants, considered a career as a merchant and a lawyer before using kinship and ethnic networks to secure an entry-level position in the U.S. film industry. Continue Reading »
Weltzien, Julius
Julius Weltzien spent nearly his entire career with one company, Schering AG, one of Germany’s oldest specialty chemical firms. He built up the international and American business of one of Germany’s leading companies only eventually to be exiled from Germany to the United States, albeit as a potentially dangerous alien to his new hosts. Continue Reading »
Wollenberg, Harry Lincoln
Second-generation German Harry Wollenberg helped found Longview Fibre Co., a manufacturer of paperboard, corrugated paperboard, and corrugated boxes, in 1926. For the next fifty-two years he built the company from one plant to twelve and increased the share price from five cents in 1926 to $350 in 1979. Continue Reading »
Ziegfeld, Florenz Jr.
Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. is recognized as an American icon who fundamentally changed show business in the United States. He established the modern Broadway show, used standardized beauty as an integrative marker of a rapidly changing immigrant society, and was fundamental for building American global leadership in entertainment. Continue Reading »

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