From the End of the Gilded Age to the Progressive Era, 1893-1918

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.

Cone, Moses Herman

A second-generation German-American, Moses Cone began his career as a travelling salesman, or “drummer,” for his father’s Baltimore dry goods business. His customers included Southern mill owners who taught him much about the textile industry. Moses Cone eventually used this knowledge to break into the industry himself, first by securing ownerships stakes in various Southern mills, then by founding Cone Export & Commission Co., and finally by building his own mills in Greensboro, North Carolina. By 1908, the year of his death, Moses Cone and his brother Ceasar led the world in denim production.

Filene, Edward Albert

Edward Albert Filene was a renowned department store magnate, civic reformer, and one of the earliest and most zealous champions of the credit union movement in the United States. Along with his younger brother Lincoln, Edward operated the famous Boston-based department store Filene’s, which they took over from their father, William, in 1891. During the first half of the twentieth century, Filene’s became one of the largest and most successful retail stores in the country, rivaling several of the premier retailers of the period, including Macy’s and Sears & Roebuck.

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-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.

Goldman, Henry

Today, second generation German-Jewish immigrant Henry Goldman is primarily remembered for his role as an early partner in Goldman Sachs, the international investment bank that still bears his family’s name. His accomplishments stretched well beyond his own firm, however. In addition to revolutionizing Goldman Sachs, he helped change the American economy by shifting investment banking away from railroads and heavy industry and toward mass-retail establishments. He also pioneered an approach to capital valuation that focused not on physical assets, but on future earnings.

Griesedieck, Joseph

Joseph Griesedieck was one of the most influential brewers in St. Louis in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. From the 1880s to the 1910s, he helped run several city breweries. At the outset of Prohibition, he acquired the Falstaff label and built the Falstaff Corporation around it. While many other brewers failed during Prohibition, Griesedieck kept his company afloat by selling “near beer,” soft drinks, carbonated water, and pork products. After the repeal of Prohibition, he obtained the first federal permit to begin brewing beer legally again. Within five years, the Falstaff Brewing Corporation was operating four plants in three states and had gained a national market.