Migration to America and German-Immigrant Entrepreneurship During the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

Suggested framework for an intensive, five-session extra unit (45-minute class periods) for an advanced English class (Gymnasium) on the themes of Migration / Immigration to the U.S. / German Immigrants / Immigrant Biographies / The American Dream

Objectives and Goals: This intensive, five-session extra unit will familiarize students with German migration to America and German-American business activities during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Students will learn about emigration motives, events on both sides of the Atlantic that influenced German emigration to the United States, and German-American business activities during this time period. While learning about immigrant entrepreneurs, students will simultaneously acquire new language features.

Listening Comprehension: Students will listen to and understand their classmates’ oral presentations.

Reading Comprehension: Students will apply basic reading strategies to decipher more advanced texts (scanning and skimming). Students will develop skills to infer and deduce meaning without using a dictionary.

Speaking: Students will speak about the topic of immigrant entrepreneurship. Furthermore, they will discuss and compare different issues regarding German migration to America. Students will be able to talk about longer, more advanced readings in a coherent and detailed manner. Students will be able to speak freely while delivering an oral presentation.

Writing: Students will summarize texts, and will be able to write a structured presentation and create a PowerPoint presentation on immigrant entrepreneurship by using material from the Internet.

Intercultural Competences: Students will acquire an understanding of migration motives of various groups of German immigrants during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Students will learn about German-American businesses and their individual histories. Students will understand that immigrant entrepreneurship represents a symbiosis of two different cultures.

(Step 1) The instructor briefly introduces students to the topic of “Immigration to America and German-American Businesses” and familiarizes students with the IE website and its features.

(Step 2) The instructor asks students what they know about immigration to America and with which German-American businesses (brands, firms, etc.) they are already familiar.

Questions to guide students may include the following:

  • In what time period did German migration to America begin?
  • Why do you think people immigrated to America?
  • Do you know what kind of businesses Germans established or brought to the United States?

(Step 3) The instructor projects the essay From the Colonial Economy to Early Industrialization, 1720-1840 on the board and hands out a blank version of the word cluster on “immigration/immigrant” and “entrepreneurship/entrepreneur.”[1]

(Step 4) Identification of words/phrases in the text that are related to either of the two categories on the word cluster, followed by an explanation of the meaning of the vocabulary (Students should ideally name: German-American business, individual entrepreneurship, daring or desperate adventurers and religious seekers, refuge and new beginnings)

(Step 5) Reading of the text: the instructor can either read the text to the class or he/she can assign students to read passages.

(Step 6) Group work: students identify new vocabulary in the text, discuss them, and write them down under each category on their word cluster.

(Step 7) Gearing students’ attention further to the content of the essay: the instructor lets students answer the following questions in their groups, which will later be compared and discussed in class together:

  • Based on this reading, what can you say about German immigration to the United States (its start, its progress, its peak)?
  • What types of groups immigrated to the US? Identify them.
  • What can you say about the progression of German-American businesses?
  • What kind of German-American business was typical for this time period?

(Step 8) The instructor projects the “German Entrepreneurial Diversity” section of the essay German Corporate Entrepreneurs in Nineteenth Century America (1800-1899) on the board, hands out a printed version of this section, and asks students what they expect from this reading.

(Step 9) The instructor assigns the text as homework and explains briefly the term “human and financial capital.” Homework questions:

  • What kind of stereotype existed in America in the nineteenth century about German immigrants?
  • By what factors were German immigrants attracted?
  • What can you say about the shift in locus of German immigration in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries?
  • What kind of human and financial capital did Germans possess as a requisite to found small businesses?
  • Continue word cluster.

Session 2:  German Emigration and Immigrant Entrepreneurs: How German, How American?

(Step 1) The instructor projects the map Emigrant Map and Directory to North America on the board, and asks students to identify European departure points and American ports of arrival for German immigrants.

(Step 2) The instructor asks students if they can imagine items that immigrants took with them on their journey to America, and why. Further questions could include:

  • Can you imagine how long it would take to travel from Europe to the US by ship?
  • Do you think it was a pleasant way to travel?
  • What problems might immigrants have faced onboard ship?

(Step 3) Discussion of today’s assigned homework: the instructor shows the map German Population of the United States, 1872 and lets students point out the areas most populated by German immigrants in the United States. Discussion about the shift in population locus.

(Step 4) Further homework discussion through group work (students compare their homework results and their word clusterswithin their groups). Brief review of students’ results as an instructor-fronted activity.

(Step 5) The instructor writes the phrase “immigrant entrepreneurs [embody] a symbiosis of the two cultures” on the board and asks students about its meaning. Students brainstorm the question in small groups and write their answers on the board. Discussion and comparison of answers.

(Step 6) Homework: The first six paragraphs of the “German-American Entrepreneurs: How German, How American?” section of the essay The German Component to American Industrialization (1840-1893). The instructor hands out copies of this section and assigns the following questions:

  • How does the text explain the meaning of the phrase “immigrant entrepreneurs [embody] a symbiosis of the two cultures”?
  • Name three brief examples of entrepreneurs and their business that illustrate this symbiosis.
  • Continue word cluster.

Session 3: German-American Entrepreneurs and the Genre of Business Biographies

(Step 1) Discussion of homework.

(Step 2) The instructor asks students how the three entrepreneurship stories could be portrayed in a more detailed way—what (literary) genre could be used to tell an entrepreneurial story?

(Step 3) Brainstorming in small groups: If students come up with the correct genre of biography, the instructor highlights this answer. If not, the instructor guides students towards the correct answer.

(Step 4) Introduction to four biographies from the IE website: These four biographies will serve as the working material for the next two sessions. After showing the biographies of Frederick W. Brune (1776-1860)David Gottlieb Yuengling (1808-1877)Mayer Lehman (1830-1897), and Levi Strauss (1829-1902) to the class, the instructor asks students to select one entrepreneur that they will focus on for the following two sessions—there should be four expert groups for each entrepreneurial biography with the same number of students in each group.

(Step 5) Within their expert groups, students receive a copy of their assigned entrepreneur. They scan and skim the text for typical features of “immigrant entrepreneurship biographies.”

(Step 6) Discussion of characteristics of a biography in their expert groups; then discussion of findings together in class.

(Step 7) The instructor announces that expert groups will hold a short presentation on the business career, reason(s) for emigration, and family background of their chosen entrepreneur during the last session of this unit.

(Step 8) Homework and preparation for in-class presentations: Each expert group reads the following portion of their assigned biographies in detail for homework, and browses the IE website for one or two photos/documents that they wish to incorporate into their presentation.

  • Frederick W. Brune (1776-1860): Introduction and Early Life and Immigration to the United States.
  • David Gottlieb Yuengling (1808-1877): Introduction and Family and Ethnic Background.
  • Mayer Lehman (1830-1897): Introduction and Family and Ethnic Background.
  • Levi Strauss (1829-1902): Introduction and Family and Ethnic Background (instructors should assign this bio to more advanced students).

Questions that students have to answer in their presentations:

  • Brune: What kind of business did Frederick W. Brune establish in the United States? What kind of business relationships could be accredited to Brune? What year did Brune immigrate to America and what might have been the reasons for his migration?

Additional assignment: Use the Internet and find some information about “the political unrest in Europe during the 18thcentury.” Write down a few sentences that you can easily incorporate into your group’s presentation.

  • Yuengling: What kind of business did David G. Yuengling bring to the United States? What did his firm become? Which restriction did his firm survive? What was the founder’s tradition in running the business? When and why did D. G. Yuengling immigrate to the United States?

Additional assignment: Use the Internet and find some information about “Prohibition in the United States.” Write down a few sentences which you can easily incorporate into your group’s presentation.

  • Lehman: With what kind of business did the Lehman Brothers start when the oldest brother immigrated to the United States in 1845, and what did it become later on? In which city did they establish their business? With what other commodities were they involved? What did you read about Jewish life in Germany during the nineteenth century? What factors contributed to Mayer Lehman’s immigration to the United States?
  • Strauss: What other “business,” besides the famous jeans, did Levi Strauss establish in the United States? What was a Judenedikt, and how did it effect Jewish life in the German states in which it was issued? What factors spurred Jewish migration from Germany to America? Why did Rebecca Strauss, Levi’s mother, emigrate? What can you say about the peddling business and Strauss’ own business progression?

Session 4: Preparing Presentations

This session should be held in the school’s computer room where students have access to computers or laptops in order to prepare their PowerPoint presentations. During group work, the instructor should help each group prepare their oral presentation and answer questions for clarification.

(Step 1) To provide students with a model of their presentations, the instructor briefly presents another biography from the IE website using a PowerPoint presentation with key phrases and photos from the biography. Additionally, students receive a handout with clear instructions.

(Step 2) Within their expert groups, students start preparing a short presentation on their individual entrepreneur based on their homework findings and the material they picked from the IE webpage (photos, maps, documents, etc.). Students should create a PowerPoint presentation with text and pictures similar to the instructor’s model.

(Step 3) The instructor should make sure that students divide their presentation into different parts and assign each part to one member of their groups—that way every student plays an active part of the group’s oral presentation. Students should practice their oral presentations at home, and may only use small notecards for reference while presenting in class.

Session 5: Presentations on German-American Entrepreneur Bios

(Step 1) Each group stages their presentation. While each expert group presents, the student audience takes notes.

(Step 2) The instructor asks students which entrepreneur’s story they liked the best and why (answers should focus on the content of the presentation, not the presentation itself).

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Migration to America and German-Immigrant Entrepreneurship During the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
  • Author
  • Keywords Simone, Willnath, Migration, America, German, Immigrant, Entrepreneurship,
  • Website Name Immigrant Entrepreneurship
  • URL
  • Access Date May 20, 2024
  • Publisher German Historical Institute
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 16, 2018