Introduction, Volume 2: The Emergence of an Industrial Nation (1840-1893)

The years from 1840 to 1893 in the Unites States were ones of overall growth interspersed with periods of severe economic distress. The era began in depression, the aftermath of the dual panics of 1837 and 1839. An economic revival followed in the mid-1840s and lasted more than a decade. There was another financial panic in 1859, but the aftereffects were overwhelmed by the outbreak of the American Civil War. After the war, the country experienced a long period of deflation. During these years, it endured two additional financial panics, in 1873 and 1893, so the era ended as it had begun, in an environment of economic distress. These conditions would hardly seem conducive to attract immigrants to the United States, but the country also was on a dynamic growth path and opportunities to get ahead abounded.

Updated: April 13, 2018

The years from 1840 to 1893 in the Unites States were ones of overall growth interspersed with periods of severe economic distress. The era began in depression, the aftermath of the dual panics of 1837 and 1839. An economic revival followed in the mid-1840s and lasted more than a decade. There was another financial panic in 1859, but the aftereffects were overwhelmed by the outbreak of the American Civil War. After the war, the country experienced a long period of deflation. During these years, it endured two additional financial panics, in 1873 and 1893, so the era ended as it had begun, in an environment of economic distress. These conditions would hardly seem conducive to attract immigrants to the United States, but the country also was on a dynamic growth path and opportunities to get ahead abounded. The center of population was moving westward, land was available, natural resources were abundant, and wages were relatively high compared to those in Europe. The population rose over the period nearly fourfold, from 17 million to 67 million. By contrast, over the same period the population of what today is Germany increased much more slowly, by 70%, from roughly 30 to 51 million. The types of places where people lived also were changing. In 1840 the U.S. population was barely over 10% urban; by 1890 it was slightly over 35% urban. At the same time, the number of farms in production increased dramatically. Great cities, with their residents’ demands for new goods and services, expanded as well, offering abundant opportunities for entrepreneurs. New York City, for example, where a majority of immigrants first landed, rose in population from slightly over 300,000 in 1840 to nearly two million by 1893, becoming the third most populous city in the world. (Berlin was fifth largest, with a population of roughly 1.6 million.) Immigrants contributed mightily to these demographic changes. Nearly one-third of thsyste increase in U.S. population from 1840 to 1893 was due to immigrants. Just over 16.3 million people arrived in the U.S. during this period, and almost 30% of these, or 4.7 million people, migrated from German lands. Nearly two-thirds of all Germans immigrating to the U.S., from the colonial period to the present, arrived between 1840 and 1893. Thus, there was a very large pool of German migrants and it should not be surprising that a significant number of entrepreneurs emerged during this dynamic era.

A Quantitative Profile of German and Total Immigration from Colonial Times to the Present

Systematic collection of data on immigration to the United States did not begin until 1820, and every figure before that date is an estimate. Marianne Wokeck and Hans-Jürgen Grabbe have provided careful estimates of the number of German immigrants arriving prior to 1820. Their estimates are presented in Figure 1. Wokeck, in the introduction to Volume 1 of this project, describes the arrival of four distinctive cohorts of German immigrants. From Figure 1, it is clear that the number of Germans arriving escalated from the 1730s to the 1760s, declined towards the 1790s, and finally rose again in the early nineteenth century. Regarding total immigration to the United States in the early national period, the U.S. Treasury’s Bureau of Statistics accepted as official William J. Bromwell’s 1856 estimate of 250,000 foreign-born arrivals from the end of the Revolutionary War to 1820.[1] If Wokeck and Grabbe’s and Bromwell’s estimates are accepted, then German immigrants comprised roughly 12-13% of total immigrants from 1783-1820. The proportion may well have been much higher from 1730-60, during which period 89,000 German immigrants are estimated to have arrived on U.S. shores.

Official statistics on immigrants began to be collected in 1820, although these too should be viewed as estimates through most of the nineteenth century.[2] The Steerage Act of 1819 required captains or masters of ships to provide a list or manifest of all passengers on board. The list was to be delivered to the local collector of customs and included the age, sex, occupation, and country “to which they severally belong, and that of which it is their intention to become inhabitants.”[3] Copies of the manifests were transmitted to the secretary of state who was to report periodically to the U.S. Congress. A later act mandated quarterly reporting by customs agents to the secretary and annual reports by the secretary to Congress. From 1867 to 1895, the U.S. Treasury Bureau of Statistics was responsible for reporting the data. It later was transferred to the Office (later Bureau) of Immigration, and now is the responsibility of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services within the Department of Homeland Security.[4]

Figures 2 and 3 illustrate graphically the dimensions of immigration to the Unites States. Figure 2 superimposes German immigration on total immigration for the long period, 1820-2013, and Figure 3 presents German immigration as a percent of total immigration for the same, long period. Over the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries total immigration was strongly cyclical with successively higher peaks. Immigration dropped off substantially in 1915, clearly due to the outbreak of war in Europe. It remained relatively low for the duration of the war, and German immigration in particular was negligible. A low of only 52 Germans arrived in 1919. Immigration revived again in the 1920s but was volatile. It was suppressed, not surprisingly, during the Great Depression and World War II. Germans, however, substantially increased their share of the total between 1936 and 1939, undoubtedly in reaction to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. There was a strong revival of immigration to the United States in the immediate post-World War II era, and the share of Germans in the total rose substantially between 1949 and 1952. German immigrants comprised over half of total immigrants in 1950, one of the highest shares ever achieved.[5] The remainder of the twentieth century (as shown in Figure 2) saw steady growth in immigrant numbers with a spike in the early 1990s due primarily to “legalizations authorized by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.”[6] For the past decade (to 2013), roughly one million people per year have obtained lawful permanent residency in the United States. Not all recent immigrants are in the country legally. According to the Pew Research Center, undocumented or unauthorized immigration rose rapidly during the 1990s and peaked in 2006. The numbers declined slightly after 2007 and leveled off at around 11.3 million in 2009, thus comprising roughly 25% of total immigrants currently in the United States.[7] German immigration after the 1950s has comprised only a small fraction of the total as the geographic locus of migrants has shifted from Europe to Asia, Mexico, and other Latin American countries.

German Immigrants, 1840-1893: Their Numbers, Locations, and Occupations

Figures 4a and 4b present two graphs, one for the total number of German immigrants for the years 1840-1893 and the other for German immigrants as a percent of total immigrants for the same period. Two immigration peaks stand out, the early 1850s and early 1880s. Even before the tumultuous year 1848, an increasing number of Germans were migrating to the United States.[8] Prussia was particularly affected by the subsistence crisis of the second half of the 1840s, with the mortality rate rising by nearly 40%. The decade that came to be kntabown as the “hungry forties” was a period of “deprivation, unrest, and revolution.”[9] In the years following the failed revolutions of 1848 there was a surge in German immigration. The number peaked at just over 215,000 in 1854, and comprised 50% of total U.S. immigration in that year, a percentage that would not be reached again until just after World War II. Carl Schurz, who became one of the most famous and successful of the “Forty-Eighters,” described the attraction of Wisconsin, where many German immigrants settled, in the 1850s as follows: “On the whole, the things that I saw and heard made the west exceedingly attractive to me. This was something of the America that I had seen in my dreams; a new country, a new society almost entirely unhampered by any traditions of the past; a new people produced by the free intermingling of the vigorous elements of all nations, with not old England alone, but the world for its motherland; with almost limitless opportunities open to all, and with equal rights secured by free institutions of government.”[10]  

Beginning in the mid-1850s, the number of German immigrants and their share of the total fell abruptly as industrialization spread throughout German lands and regional economies improved.[11] The decline continued into the early years of the Civil War. Then, in the midst of the war (1863), with its increased demand for labor, the number of German immigrants rose again and continued to do so for several years after the war. Between 1868 and 1874 the number of German immigrants landing each year swung rather wildly up and down. There was a financial panic in the U.S. in 1873 and the U.S. and most European economies entered recessions that lasted most of the rest of the decade. The number of German immigrants subsequently fell to its lowest level since the early 1860s.[12] This was followed by a huge surge in German immigration that began in 1880. This lasted for several years and peaked at just over 250,000 arrivals in 1882.[13] From there, the number of German immigrants fell for several years until stabilizing at around 100,000 per year up to 1893. As can be seen in Figure 4b, over the whole period 1840-1893, German immigrants comprised between 20% and 40% of the total number of immigrants, with the exception of the peak year 1854, when the figure jumped to 50% of the total. Between 1840 and1893, a total of 4.7 million Germans arrived on U.S. soil.

Irish immigration in this period rivaled that of German immigration, especially in the 1840s and early 1850s (Figure 5). A huge wave of Irish immigrants preceded by a few years the wave of German immigrants in the 1850s. From 1840 until the beginning of the Civil War, German and Irish immigrants combined comprised roughly 70-80% of total immigrants. Their share fell after the outbreak of the war. The number of Irish immigrants stabilized after the war, while Germans continued to come in periodic waves. By the 1890s the two nationalities combined had fallen to roughly 30% of the total number of immigrants.

The vast majority of immigrants entering the country came through eastern ports and then moved west and, much less frequently, south.[14] There were special railroad rates for immigrants, and agents frequently solicited business at ports of entry. New York City was by far the busiest of these ports of entry and also was the most organized. While most people associate immigrants arriving in the United States with Ellis Island, this facility did not open until 1892, the year after the Immigration Act of 1891 gave the federal government control over immigration and established the Bureau of Immigration. Immigrants landing in New York instead were processed and sometimes temporarily housed in a facility formally called Castle Clinton (or Fort Clinton), but commonly known as Castle Garden. The fort, originally called Southwest Battery, was renamed Castle Clinton in 1817 after the then mayor of New York, DeWitt Clinton, who later became governor of the state. It was deeded to the city as a venue for entertainment in 1821 and was renamed Castle Garden, then served as an opera house and theater between 1824 and 1854. In 1855 it became an immigrant landing depot, operated by the State of New York as the first processing facility for immigrants in the U.S. It is estimated that more than eight million people passed through Castle Garden between 1855 and 1890, roughly two-thirds of all immigrants arriving in the United States during those years.[15]   

Most German immigrants moved on from New York after they landed in their new country, yet a substantial number did not move far, and many did not move at all. The biographies in this volume attest to the spread of German immigrant entrepreneurs around the country, but in terms of sheer numbers, there were a few distinct patterns. Most Germans preferred the industrial states of the Northeast and old Northwest as well as the farming states of the upper Midwest. Figures 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, and 8b map the location of German immigrants in 1870 and 1890.[16] Figures 6a and 6b look at the total number of German immigrants in the various states in the two years. In the twenty years between the two dates there were only minor changes in the states where the most German immigrants congregated. New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Illinois had the largest number, with New York leading in both benchmark years (roughly 317,500 in 1870 and 498,600 in 1890).[17] But Germans were not the only ethnic group to settle in those states, and a slightly different picture emerges when adjusting for immigration in general. Figures 7a and 7b look at German immigrants as a percent of total immigrants in the states. This indicates the extent to which German immigrants tended to be slightly more prominent than immigrants from other countries. In 1870, German immigrants comprised 40-60% of all immigrants residing in Maryland, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Missouri.[18] More than half of the immigrants in Maryland (56%), Indiana (55%), and Missouri (51%) were German. This settlement pattern had not changed by 1890, since the states in which 44-58% of immigrants were German did not change. The state with the highest proportion of its immigrants coming from Germany in 1890 was Indiana (58%), followed by Maryland (56%) and Kentucky (55%). Finally, Figures 8a and 8b look at German immigrants as a percent of total state population. By this measure, Wisconsin led the way by a large margin in both 1870 (15.3%) and 1890 (15.4%). Minnesota, with the second highest concentration of German immigrants in total population in 1870 (9.4%) fell slightly to 9% in 1890. The proportion of German immigrants in Nebraska, which was third highest in 1870, declined from 8.9% to 6.9% in 1890.

Most immigrants came to the Unites States seeking opportunities, and they engaged in a wide variety of economic activities. While this volume is about extraordinary individuals, it still is useful to ask how German immigrants, in the aggregate, made a living. The 1880 census asked a question regarding “occupation” using 266 occupational categories. As shown in Table 1, total population in the United States in 1880 was just over 50 million.[19] Slightly less than 4% of the population, or 1.9 million individuals, were German immigrants. A slightly smaller number were Irish immigrants, making up almost 4% of the population, and all other immigrants combined comprised about 6% of total population. All immigrants combined constituted 13.5% of total population in 1880. Out of the total population of 50 million, just over 20 million (mostly children) did not answer the occupation question. Of those who answered the question, the following responses—“keeping house,” “at home,” “student,” “retired,” “unemployed,” “disabled,” “institutional inmate,” and “gentleman”—were not considered occupations by the census takers.[20] This left 17.3 million individuals who were employed and answered the “occupation” question.[21]

Table 1:U.S. Population, 1880

Number Percent
Native 43,481,268 86.5%
German immigrants 1,938,236 3.9&
Irish immigrants 1,853,361 3.9%
Other immigrants 2,888,801 5.8%
Total population
50,161,666 100%

Source: Compendium of the Tenth Census June 1, 1880, Part II, Washington: USGPO, 1883.

Table 2a presents the number and percent distribution of occupations among all who answered the occupation question, while Table 2b presents the same for the German immigrants who answered the question. The top four occupations were the same among both groups, indicating how closely German immigrants mirrored the overall occupation distribution. Roughly a quarter of the overall population and a quarter of German immigrants were farmers or planters. The percentages of unspecified laborers and domestic servants also were quite similar. German immigrants were much less likely to be agricultural laborers than the working population in general, but this occupation still was in the top four occupations for German immigrants. Carpenters and joiners, clerks in stores, and boot-  and shoemakers were on both lists. The rest of the occupations were on one list but not the other. In general, non-German immigrants and natives were more likely to be employed by railroads and cotton mills (big businesses of the time) and were more likely to be teachers and scientific persons. German immigrants were more likely to be employed as bakers, butchers, saloon keepers and bartenders, or be employed in the grocery trades than workers in general. Occupations that were almost completely avoided by German immigrants (25 or fewer workers in each occupation) were officials in telephone, telegraph, insurance, and railroad companies, bank employees, clerks and bookkeepers in companies, railroad builders and contractors, and authors, lecturers, and literary persons, most of which seem to be “white-collar” occupations where English language skills may have been important. In general, German immigrants were employed in similar proportions to all workers in the largest occupational categories.

Table 2a. Top Twelve Occupations in the U.S. - Number and Percent (of those specifying an occupation), 1880
Number Percent
Farmers and Planters 4,485,708 25.9%
Agricultural Laborers 3,227,313
Laborers, not specified
1,878,036 10.8%
Domestic Servants
1,197,471 6.9%
Carpenters and Joiners
Clerks in Stores 316,667 1.8%
Milliners, Dress Makers, and Seamstresses 277,466 1.6%
Miners 255,004 1.5%
Teachers and Scientific Persons 224,311 1.3%
Boot and Shoemakers 196,397 1.1%
Employees of Railroad Companies 188,418 1.1%
Cotton Mill Operatives 179,945 1.0%
Total of Top Twelve 12,802,388 73,8%

Source: Steven Ruggles, J. Trent Alexander, Katie Genadek, Ronald Goeken, Matthew B. Schroeder, and Matthew Sobek. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 5.0 [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2010.

Table 2b. Top Twelve Occupations of German Immigrants - Number and Percent (of German immigrants specifying an occupation), 1880
Number Percent
Farmers and Planters 234,794
Laborers, not specified 103,602
Agricultural Laborers 54,351
Domestic Servants
Tailors and Tailoresses
Carpenters and Joiners
Boot and Shoemakers
Saloon Keepers and Bartenders
22,133 2.2%
Butchers 18,297 1.8%
Trade and Dealers in Grocieries
17,543 1.7%
Clerks in Stores
15,911 1.6%
Bakers 15,536 1.5%
Total of Top Twelve 626,944

Source: Steven Ruggles, J. Trent Alexander, Katie Genadek, Ronald Goeken, Matthew B. Schroeder, and Matthew Sobek. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 5.0 [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2010.

Table 3a. T Top Ten Occupations of German Immigrants Ranked by Percent of the Occupation, 1880
Number Percent of German Immigrants in Occupation
Brewers and Maltsers
Sugar Makers and Refiners
Deales in Clothing and Men's Furnishings
Pianoforte Makers and Tuners
Fur Workers
Saloon Keppers and Bartenders 22,133
Cabinet Makers
12,352 27.7%
Bottlers and Minera-water Makers 646

Source: Steven Ruggles, J. Trent Alexander, Katie Genadek, Ronald Goeken, Matthew B. Schroeder, and Matthew Sobek. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 5.0 [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2010.

Table 3b. T Top Ten Occupations of Irish Immigrants Ranked by Percent of the Occupation, 1880
Number Percent of Irish Immigrants in Occupation
Gas Works Employees 1,132
Traders and Dealers in Junk
1,269 37.6%
Tradres and Dealers in Liquor and Wine
Private Watchmen and Detectives
Steam-Boiler Operatives
Rubber Factory Operatives
Flax Dressers 567
Starch Makers 222
Meat Packers, Curers, and Picklers 755

Source: Steven Ruggles, J. Trent Alexander, Katie Genadek, Ronald Goeken, Matthew B. Schroeder, and Matthew Sobek. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 5.0 [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2010.

An even more instructive way to look at occupations in which German immigrants congregated in 1880 is to calculate occupations in which they comprised a large proportion of the employment in that occupation. (The base, or denominator, in this case is the number of workers in the occupation; the numerator is the number of German immigrants in the occupation.) Tables 3a and 3b compare the concentration of German and Irish immigrants in the occupations listed in the Census report. It is perhaps no surprise that German immigrants dominated the brewing and malting industry, with them making up over 60% of the workers in this occupation. (The substantial number of brewers covered in this volume include Eberhard Anheuser, Philip Best, John Gund, Jacob Gundlach, Theodore Hamm, Adam Hammer, Gottlieb and Johanna Heileman, William Menger, Frederick Pabst, August Schell, and Joseph Schlitz; also see Max Benbow’s essay in this volume on the brewing industry.) As can be seen from the entry on the Steinways, German immigrants were highly concentrated in the piano making industry as well. German immigrants were very well-represented in the saloon keeping and bar tending occupations, too (while the Irish tended to be heavily involved in the liquor and wine trade). What may be more surprising is the relatively high participation in the sugar making and refining industry. (Claus Spreckels, of course, was a spectacular success in the sugar business.) German and Irish immigrants tended to concentrate in completely different occupations, with the Irish tending to be a bit more diverse (with lower concentration percentages). There was no overlap between German and Irish immigrants in the two lists, although Irish immigrant participation in liquor and wine dealing may be related to the German immigrant participation in brewing and saloon keeping occupations. Strong immigrant participation in the alcoholic beverages industry and trade later was a factor in the disastrous imposition of Prohibition.[22]

Explaining German Immigration to the United States, 1840-1893

The period from 1840-93 was one of extensive economic growth in the United States. It began during the period of first industrialization, which coincided with the early days of the gas light industry, and encompassed a period of major structural change in business. This was brought on by the invention and adoption of continuous process machinery in leading industries, which led to a dramatic increase in the scale of production. Businesses grew in scale and complexity during the period, and many of the biographies in this volume bear witness to that. The period ended during the first stages of the second industrial revolution.[23] This coincided with the early developments in the electric light and power industry, and the beginnings of the great consolidation movement in American business, which was concentrated in the years 1895-1904.

In discussing the concept of “American exceptionalism,” Robert Allen divides the economic history of the United States into two broad periods, with 1895 as the dividing line. “Before 1895 economic growth was extensive. …American growth required mass immigration and was based on the settlement of the continent and the development of its agricultural potential. There was also a great expansion of manufactures that catered to the domestic market.”[24] From 1820 to 1895 raw or processed agricultural products made up 80% of American exports, with manufactured products comprising only 20%. After 1895, the share of manufactured products in exports rose rapidly until they comprised 75% of exports by the beginning of World War II. It is thus not surprising that nearly 40% of all German immigrants worked directly in agriculture in 1880.

As Allen points out, the economic success of the period of extensive development would not have occurred without immigration. Mass immigration, in turn, would not have happened without the invention and widespread adoption of transportation innovations. The first regular transatlantic steamship service began in 1838. Constant technical changes led to total factor productivity increases and a decline in freight rates. Rates, which also could be quite volatile, fell by roughly 50% between 1840 and 1860.[25] The invention of the screw propeller and compound engine in the 1870s continued the process of productivity increases and rate reductions.[26] Once immigrants arrived in the United States, most of them wanted to spread out across the country. This would have been much more difficult without the development of the railroad. In 1840 there were less than 3,000 miles of track in operation, roughly the same number of miles as canals. There followed several waves of railroad building, which was even more cyclical than immigration. By 1860, there were over 30,000 miles in operation and by 1890 over 166,000 miles.[27] In 1840, Texas was a republic, parts of which were claimed by Mexico, as was most of the rest of the Southwest and California. The Pacific Northwest was jointly administered by the United States and Great Britain, and most of what are now the plains states were unorganized territories. By 1860, the territorial issues had been resolved and the borders of the continental United States had been settled. By 1890, the transcontinental railroad had been in operation for nearly twenty years.[28]

Immigrants generally, and German immigrants in particular, were welcomed in the westward expanding United States in the mid-nineteenth century. While there was an anti-immigrant and vehemently anti-Catholic political party (the Know-Nothing, or American Party)[29] that had some success at the local and congressional level in the 1850s, in general the laboring immigrants were welcome.[30] As one newspaper noted in 1852, “There is no interest in which we should keep a closer eye than those of our European immigrants. They come to us bringing nobler wealth than our California galleons – the wealth of earnest hearts, and busy hands, and far-reaching enterprise. They are converting our western wilderness into a rose garden.”[31] A special correspondent for the New York Daily Times reporting on travels through the Southwest in 1854 noted, “In a previous letter I have described to you the exceedingly honorable character supported by those German people of Texas who, in Europe, enjoyed the luxuries and advantages of education and wealth, and who have been driven to emigrate hither by persecutions of the police, and other misfortunes arising from their political views. These form a remarkably large number of the recent emigrants. The great mass, however, consists of young men of the middle and lower orders of society, who, if they had remained in Germany, would have been liable to be reduced, by the various restrictions and taxes on business and by the oppressive guild-laws of the handicraftsmen, to live almost hopelessly in the condition of laborers struggling against starvation. Many of these have been educated with care and in the midst of considerable comfort, but are wholly unprovided with capital.”[32] On the eve of the Civil War, the New York Times took note of the number of German immigrants in the city and commented favorably, “Our Germans are an intelligent race. Unlike the poorer Irish, they can nearly all read, and many of them are highly cultivated. Their literature is rich and varied. Their journalism is exceedingly able. Many of their merchants and bankers are men of the greatest enterprise, skill and integrity, and command great esteem in social and business circles.”[33]

The influx of German immigrants in the later 1860s was noted in the press, and by the early 1870s, the New York Times was regularly publishing statistics of new arrivals.[34] German immigrants were closely monitored by organizations such as the German Society (sometimes referred to as the German Immigrant Aid Society, or the German Emigrant Society), which performed many services for new arrivals and provided relief aid to German immigrants in distress.[35]

Laborers were still desired in the expanding country. Contract labor had been legally recognized during the Civil War in 1864 by the Act to Encourage Immigration,[36] and in 1871 immigration was still being encouraged officially. In that year, Edward Young, Chief of the Bureau of Statistics in the Treasury Department issued a special report on immigration to the U.S. Congress. The report was remarkable for its enthusiasm regarding immigration and included very detailed statistics (231 dense pages) on “the prices and rentals of land, the staple products, facilities of access to market, cost of farm stock, kind of labor in demand, … average weekly wages of factory, mechanical, and farm labor; the cost of provisions, groceries, dry goods, and house rent in the various manufacturing districts of the country, in the year 1869-70.”[37] It was intended to advertise “the advantages which various sections of the country offer to those intending to emigrate.”[38]

In addition to presenting these statistics, thought to be useful to immigrants, Young wanted to calculate the “value to the country” of the millions of immigrants that had already arrived. Young recognized that there would be differences due to nationality, gender, age, and skills, so that a “typical” calculation would have to be made. He reviewed several prior estimates of the worth of a typical immigrant, including that of Ernst Engel, director of the Prussian Statistical Bureau, and Friedrich Kapp, a commissioner of emigration for the State of New York.[39] He found their estimates (roughly $1,125 per immigrant), which were based on the estimated costs of raising and educating a manual laborer up to age 15, to be too high. Young approached the problem by estimating both production and consumption and by calculating the profits generated by the consumption of the typical immigrant working family. He assumed that a family of four (two adults and two children), with the worker earning $400 per year, would generate $160 in profits (what we would call value added today). Thus each immigrant was creating $40 per annum in new wealth. Capitalizing this figure at 5% gave a capital value of $800 per immigrant. Young argued that when this value is multiplied by the approximately 7.8 million immigrants that had arrived over the previous half century, a figure of over $6 billion of total value added to the nation could be obtained. If that 1870 figure is inflated to current dollars using labor value, then these immigrants had added around $780 billion to the wealth of the country.[40] The German immigrants profiled in this volume, of course, added much more than the average immigrant to the wealth of the nation. Young recognized this: “It is impossible to make an intelligent estimate of the value to the country of those foreign-born citizens who brought their educated minds, their cultivated tastes, their skill in the arts, and their inventive genius. In almost every walk of life their influence has been felt.”[41]

The New York Times and Chicago Tribune (and many other newspapers in smaller cities around the country) continued to show an interest in immigration in the 1870s. The Times in 1874 discussed several reasons why so many immigrants landed in New York first, even though the state, at the time, subjected immigrants to a head tax.[42] The paper touted the fact that New York was “at the mouth of the Erie Canal, and the termini of the great trunk railways.”[43] There also always were many products available to be shipped back to Europe. But it was the appeal of Castle Garden that was paramount, where “authorities take charge of their living freight, attend to landing, luggage, transfer to railroads, and perform every needful duty. …Castle Garden is so well known in Europe that few emigrants can be induced to set sail for any other destination.”[44] The article also discussed the important role of the steamship companies, for whom immigrants were an important source of profit. The article cited a figure of $30 to $40 per head for passage ($650-$850 in 2014 dollars using the CPI to inflate[45]). It included the number of ships arriving over the previous 17 years and a list of the major lines, which had been increasing in the early 1870s. Table 4 contains information on the major lines, several of which were German.

Table 4. Steamship Lines Serving the Port of New York, 1873
Line Year Formed Port of Origin Number of Ships in 1873  Frequency
13 semi-weekly
Liverpool 12 semi-weekly
13 semi-weekly
20 twice weekly
North German Lloyds
22 semi-weekly
General Transatlantic Co.
Le Havre 6 monthly
Liverpool 12 weekly
Liverpool 8 weekly
White Stare
Liverpool 6 weekly
No. American Steamship Co
New Castle, London, Le Havre
6 semi-monthly
Baltic Lloyd
Stettin, Copenhagen, Antwerp
4 semi-monthly
Great Western
4 semi-monthly
White Cross  1872 Antwerp 2 monthly
South Wales Atlantic  1872 Cardiff 2 monthly
Netherland American  1872 Rotterdam 2 semi-monthly
Eagle  1873 Hamburg 3 semi-monthly
State 1873
3 semi-monthly

Source: New York Times, Feb. 28, 1874, p. 4.

After bottoming out in 1878 as the depression of the 1870s came to an end, German immigration quickly began rising again, reaching another peak in 1882, before dropping back and stabilizing after 1885 at around 100,000 per year. The boom was fueled in part by rate wars among both the steamship and railroad companies. “The New-York Central and New-York, Lake Erie and Western Railroad Companies have had a little private war of late over the question of immigrant passenger traffic, and the former company has practically established a new line of freight steamers to Germany for the purpose of punishing the North German Lloyd Line, whose agents they accused of diverting all the immigrant passengers of that country to the rival railroad Westward.”[46] Ocean shipping has long been subjected to cartel-like behavior (called “conferences”) on the part of the companies involved, but rate wars frequently erupted.[47] According to the New York Times, failure to come to an agreement in 1881 led German lines (led by the Hamburg Line) to reduce their rates to $20 ($480 in 2014 dollars using the CPI to adjust). This caused the Red Star and Rotterdam Lines to reduce rates further, to $17 and $12 respectively.[48] Another rate war broke out in 1884, a year in which nearly 180,000 Germans migrated to the United States. The German lines again led the way against the English lines, reducing rates, net of commission, to $15 ($375 in 2014 dollars using the CPI to adjust).[49] “The German lines, in making this reduction, aimed at securing the greater part of the immigrant trade now in the hands of the English companies.”[50] The steamship rate war began to have an effect on the railroad cartels. The German immigrant Albert Fink, whose biography is in this volume, was in charge of managing the trunk line association at the time. “The Trunk Line General Passenger Agents met at the office of Commissioner Fink. The subject was the division of the immigrant business out of New York.”[51] Rates to Chicago had been cut to as low as $14. There continued to be periodic outbreaks of rate cutting in both the steamship and railroad industries, especially when immigration was booming, which in turn stimulated yet more immigration.[52]

Not many years after publication of the glowing 1871 report encouraging immigration, a less welcoming approach to immigrants, at least a certain class of immigrant, began to appear in the United States. The Crédit Mobilier scandal of 1872 had sullied the reputations of some of the companies that had brought in immigrants (contract labor) to build the transcontinental railroad.[53] In addition, the economic distress following the Panic of 1873 had put downward pressure on wages. Some of this pressure was attributed to the growing number of immigrants. The feeling was particularly rampant in California and related specifically to the Chinese. The Democratic Party platform of 1876 called for the outright prohibition of Chinese (“Mongolian”) immigration, while the Republican platform called for an investigation of Chinese immigration. Congress passed a bill outlawing Chinese immigration in 1878, but this bill was vetoed by President Rutherford B. Hayes. The opponents of Chinese immigration persisted and the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited Chinese immigration, was passed in May1882. It was signed into law by President Chester A. Arthur.[54] Later in 1882, Congress passed and the president signed the first comprehensive Immigration Act. It levied a head tax of $0.50 for every non-citizen entering the country and permitted the exclusion of undesirable immigrants, including those “likely to become a public charge,” as well as criminals and the mentally ill.[55] There followed a nearly constant series of Congressional investigations that led to passage of increasingly restrictive legislation. The Contract Labor Law of 1885 prohibited the importation of “foreigners and aliens under contract or agreement to perform labor in the United States.”[56] The Payson Act of 1887 barred immigrants who had not declared their intent to naturalize from owning property in the territories.[57] In February 1890 Congress authorized a joint committee of the House and Senate to investigate both federal and state laws relating to immigration. In April the committee held hearings at Castle Garden. One registrar and interpreter asserted that he “was confident of his ability to decide in thirty seconds whether an immigrant was entitled to land or not.”[58] The committee heard testimony that day from Terence V. Powderly, General Master Workman of the Knights of Labor, who argued that the contract labor law was routinely being evaded and that the law should be applied to any immigrant who answered an advertisement for work in the United States. The investigation resulted in passage of the Immigration Act of 1891. This act established the Bureau of Immigration and added to the class of aliens deemed undesirable and ineligible to enter. This included paupers, those carrying a contagious disease, or anyone convicted of a felony, misdemeanor, “or any other crime such as any activity deemed contrary to the beliefs and standards of society such as polygamy.” In addition, any person whose ticket was paid for by someone else was not entitled to entry. If an immigrant came illegally, it was the responsibility of the shipping company to transport him/her back and pay a $300 fine (about $8,000 in 2014 dollars using the CPI to inflate).[59] While immigration flagged in the years 1894-98, partly due to an economic recession, another huge wave of immigration followed at the turn of the century, irrespective of the more restrictive immigration legislation that had been enacted.

German immigrants were not very much affected by this restrictive immigration legislation. They remained, for the most part, highly regarded. A 1901 Census Bureau study of immigrants, criminal activity, and incarceration rates found Germans to be substantially underrepresented among the prison population. Unlike the Irish, their share of the prison population was roughly half their share of the immigrant population (see Table 5). The author of the report attributed the difference between the Irish and German immigrants in part to the fact that German immigrants tended to be less urban, although the author admits that this assertion makes no sense in the case of Mexican and Russian immigrants, and that criminality “is not altogether a question of environment,” but also may be “indicative of differences in national traits and habits,” an equally questionable assertion.[60] But the larger point is that German immigrants in general were perceived as being particularly law abiding.

Table 5. Immigrant Prison Population and % of Immigrants Living in Urban Areas, 1910
Rate per 100,000 Born in Same Country
%Urban (cities and towns with 2,500+ residents)
England and Wales
Canada, English 679
Sweden 664
Norway 640
Canada, French 636
France 589
Poland 537
Italy 527
Russia 474
Hungary 464 77%
Denmark 390 48%
Germany 383 67%
Switzerland 313 54%

Source: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Prisoners and Juvenile Delinquents in the United States, 1910, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1918, p. 128.


Entrepreneurship has been likened in the popular but serious press to “the modern-day philosopher’s stone: a mysterious something that supposedly holds the secret to boosting growth and creating jobs.”[61] It remains a concept that is contentious because it has many dimensions. There has been an explosion of interest in the subject in the United States and around the world in the last twenty years, and scholars and practitioners have written a veritable mountain of books, monographs, and papers about it.[62] A search on Google Scholar for the term generates over one million results. When the search is limited to “immigrant entrepreneurship,” the number of results is reduced to a still substantial 4,500.[63]  When one scans the literature on “immigrant entrepreneurship” identified by Google Scholar, however, it becomes clear that the vast majority of published work on “entrepreneurship” relates to small business ownership. There is little question that immigrant ethnic groups are frequently overrepresented in this type of entrepreneurial activity, but also that this type of activity hardly ever leads to new industries or radically new and better ways of doing things. True entrepreneurs are change agents; they change the way things are done and change the future.[64] It is surprising that with all the attention that has been given to defining the term and determining its causes and effects, it still is deemed necessary (in 2014) for prominent entrepreneurship scholars to pose questions such as: “How should we define entrepreneurship? What are its key aspects? Is entrepreneurship about the next Skype or the next self-employed accountant?”[65] There are a few additional questions that are worth asking: Can a manager, a government bureaucrat, or a writer have such a transformative impact that we would call them an entrepreneur? Is there such a thing as a social entrepreneur? Can an entrepreneur be unproductive, or even destructive, as William Baumol posits?[66] Certainly some of the German immigrants profiled in this volume would fall under such non-traditional definitions (Mathilde Anneke, Albert Fink, Adam Hammer, Fredericka Mandelbaum, and as described in Stephani Richards-Wilson’s entry on the founders of the Kindergarten movement, Caroline Frankenberg and Margarethe Schurz, for example). As Herbert Simon pointed out many years ago, entrepreneurship as a phenomenon is complex, like “scientific discovery,” or “leadership.”[67] This means that it is difficult to explain and that there is room to study it from all angles, including that of the historical approach taken in this project. The biographical, or case study, approach is a legitimate and promising way to examine entrepreneurial behavior. As Mark and Catherine Casson have argued, “Biographical evidence has an important role in entrepreneurship research; synthesizing information from business archives and personal archives can generate significant insights….”[68]

S. Venkataraman likened the study of entrepreneurship to assembling a “jigsaw puzzle.” He argued that, through much effort, “various pieces of the puzzle have been fleshed out, but the big task and the big problem is to put these things together.”[69] That is exactly the task at hand now that the lives of fifty plus German immigrant entrepreneurs, nearly two hundred if you include all volumes in the project, have been fleshed out. Much exquisite detail has been presented, but many of the pieces still are missing—immigrant entrepreneurs who left too few records, for example, or individuals for whom no authors could be found. Most of the immigrant entrepreneurs portrayed in this volume, including the small number of second generation entrepreneurs, were fascinating, successful, change-making individuals.

German Immigrant Entrepreneurs, 1840-1893

It simply is not possible to create a common profile, a set of general characteristics, or a “general theory” of a typical German immigrant entrepreneur in this period. Some object to the very idea of the existence of the typical or stereotypical German immigrant and instead revel in their diversity. When describing German immigrants and their descendants in Texas, where they comprise the “largest ethnic group in Texas derived directly from Europe,” the historian Terry G. Jordan argues, “To attempt to characterize the Germans who settled Texas is difficult, for they were diverse. Among them were peasant farmers and intellectuals; Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and atheists; Prussians and Swabians; abolitionists and slave owners; farmers and town folk; frugal, honest folk and cattle thieves. They differed in dialect, customs, and physical features.”[70] The same could be said of the immigrant entrepreneurs. They were diverse. Acknowledging that there was tremendous variation, there also are several areas where similarities existed.  There certainly were variations in location (both in terms of the sending German lands and in the receiving states), fields of business, religious convictions and practices (or lack thereof), and personalities, among many other characteristics. One thing the first-generation immigrants had in common was the fact that they had the desire, drive, and means to leave German lands and immigrate to the United States. Whatever the reason for leaving, this took initiative, and it may be the primary common indicator of later entrepreneurial success. Drastic geographical relocation was not a factor in the lives of the second-generation German entrepreneurs covered in this volume, which means that immigrating is not a necessary condition for entrepreneurial success. Nor does immigrating guarantee success, of course. Benjamin Altman and Herman Ridder, for example, were born in New York City to immigrant parents, went on to achieve success, and never moved from the city. Several other second-generation entrepreneurs (Adolph Ochs, Isaac Singer, and Samuel Untermyer, for example) moved to and from several locations within the United States. Singer ultimately left the United States and died in England. Movement was more common than not.

The timing of migration from German lands varied for this set of immigrant entrepreneurs. Figure 9 contains a histogram depicting the dates of migration for those treated in this volume. John Roebling and Henry Timken migrated just before the start of the period. The clustering around the failed revolutions of 1848 is clear, but in part also simply reflects the large number of German immigrants in those years. But the United States clearly benefitted tremendously from this drain of talent. Gustav Goelitz, Andrew Schoch, Jacob Beringer, Emile Berliner, and Maximilian Berlitz were relatively late migrants in this period. (The 1880s peak in total German immigration is reflected in the entrepreneurs covered in volume 3 of the project.)

Of the first-generation immigrants profiled in this volume, the age of migration ranged from 5 (Albert Scheffer) to 53 (Heinrich Steinway). The average age at migration was 22. Figure 10 shows the age at migration for the entrepreneurs in this volume.[71] Most of these immigrants clearly were not brought to the United States by their parents. Only three of the future entrepreneurs were under the age of 15 when they left home. This means that the vast majority of these immigrants were schooled, trained, or apprenticed in German lands. They came with a substantial amount of human capital already invested, and most made the choice to move on their own. Some who were Jewish, of course, were forced to make the choice because of discriminatory and restrictive laws. The mostly young immigrants usually had the support of their families, although a few were alienated. The parents tended not to be destitute, and some were wealthy, but there also tended to be lots of children, and some of the future migrants were facing bleak prospects. Some immigrants followed siblings or cousins to the U.S. and many were joined, at the time of migration or later, by siblings or loved ones. “Chain migration” or “cluster migration” was common during this period.

Another nearly universal characteristic of the entrepreneurs in this volume is that most of them made extensive use of networks. This included extended families, the German immigrant communities in which many of them lived, local business and political communities, and family and business contacts back in the German lands. Since most of the immigrants founded businesses, such networking is not surprising, since networking is commonly thought to be an essential component of business success.

Religion did not appear to be a decisive factor in the making of the typical entrepreneur. Many of the immigrant entrepreneurs, of course, were deeply religious, and that could play a decisive role personally, but they were of many different faiths, and quite a few were not religious at all. The immigrant entrepreneurs’ views on the American Civil War varied as well. Location played an important role here. Several of those who resided in the South (Harris Kempner, Mayer Lehman, himself a slave owner, Isidor Straus, and Frederick Wagener, for example) either fought for or sympathized with the Confederacy. Those residing in the North favored the Union. Albert Fink, for example, kept the Louisville & Nashville Railroad running during the war, valiantly fending off nearly continuous Confederate attacks. Some of the immigrant entrepreneurs participated in politics at both the local and state level for both of the major post-Civil War political parties. Political participation or beliefs did not seem to be a determining factor in entrepreneurial behavior.


What can these fifty plus extensive biographies tell us about immigrant entrepreneurship? The German immigrant entrepreneurs examined in this volume were complex and mostly successful individuals, yet their essence remains obscure, enmeshed in a world with many interactions and variable feedback effects. There are relatively few common characteristics and there are substantial gaps in knowledge. Granted, the first-generation immigrants had the courage to leave familiar, if often difficult, surroundings and undertake a major relocation. Such uprooting (one’s “world turned upside down”) may have stimulated a fierce drive to succeed or unleased brilliant creativity, the ability to see things that others could not see, precisely because their world was substantially disrupted.[72] But this, of course, could not be said of the second generation, and many in the second generation were equally successful or more successful entrepreneurs. The immigrant entrepreneurs of both generations operated in a country that was expanding geographically and whose economy was growing, although there were economic setbacks along the way. This did not deter these entrepreneurs, who had wide and deep networks. They had in common that they persevered.  

While we know the stories of these individuals because they were sufficiently prominent or prescient to leave extensive records, what is also needed are the stories of those German immigrants, with similar backgrounds, who came to this country and failed or who disappeared into the masses. It might then be possible to assess what the differences were, if any, between these two groups of individuals. What is needed in this case is a control group, but such a natural experiment is, unfortunately, out of the question. So while the stories told in this volume are instructive, a synthetic portrait of the German immigrant entrepreneur remains elusive.


[1] Historical Statistics of the United States, Millennial Edition, Vol. 1 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 542.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Fifteenth Congress, Sess. II, Ch. 47, 1819, 489.

[4] For the first several decades only Atlantic and Gulf ports were required to report. Coverage then expanded over the years and eventually covered all ports. Immigrants that crossed the border over land were not reported systematically until 1904. Historical Statistics of the United States, Vol. 1, 542. (accessed June 1, 2015).

[5] The years in which German immigrants as a percent of total immigrants reached or exceeded 40% were 1854, 1867, 1868, 1939, 1950, and 1951.

[6] Robert Barde, Susan B. Carter, and Richard Sutch, “International Migration,” Historical Statistics of the United States, Millennial Edition, Vol. 1 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 524. This act made it illegal to hire or recruit illegal immigrants and required employers to attest to their employees’ immigration status, but it also made it possible for certain illegal immigrants to obtain legal status; (accessed June 1, 2015).

[7] Pew Research Center, “Modern Immigration Brings 59 Million to U.S., Driving Population Growth and Change Through 2065: Views of Immigration’s Impact on U.S. Society Mixed,” Washington, D.C., September 2015; Jens Manuel Krogstad and Jeffrey S. Passel, “5 facts about illegal immigration in the U.S.,” Pew Research Center, July 24, 2015, (accessed April 15, 2016); Jie Zong and Jeanne Batalova, “Frequently Requested Statistics on Immigrants and Immigration in the United States,” Migration Policy Institute, February 26, 2015, (accessed April 15, 2016).

[8] The number of German immigrants rose from under 1,000 in the early 1820s to between 10,000 and 20,000 annually in the 1830s.

[9]  Eric Vanhaute, Richard Paping, and Cormac Ó Gráda, “The European Subsistence Crisis of 1845-1850: A Comparative Perspective,” International Economic History Congress, Helsinki, Session 123, 2006, 1, 15.

[10] Carl Schurz, "Milwaukee and Watertown as Seen by Schurz in 1854," Milwaukee Journal, October 21, 1941. Online facsimile at (accessed February 12, 2016).

[11] Jonathan Wagner, A History of Migration from Germany to Canada, 1850-1939 (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2006), 68.

[12] The decline was noted in the New York Times, September 15, 1877, 2: “The rapid decline in immigration for the past three years, a decline that seems to grow more and more with every month, naturally attracts the attention of social scientists, political economists, and the great capitalists and companies employing the coarser forms of labor.” While the decline was noted, no explanations were offered in the article, which contained a substantial amount of data, including figures on German immigrants.

[13] An article in the New York Times in October 1879 reported on several interviews with a group of German immigrants heading for Texas via New Orleans who had been diverted to New York because of an outbreak of yellow fever in New Orleans. These were mostly Rhenish Prussian, Bohemian, and Polish farmers and farm laborers. “Conversation with several of the men revealed some of the dissatisfaction that exists in Germany with the military system, the oppressive taxes, and the Government officers….The oppressive taxation in Germany, which absorbed much of their income to support an immense army, was, they said, a very potent argument to induce them to leave the Fatherland and try their fortunes in a new country.” New York Times, October 4, 1879, 2. An article in the Chicago Daily Times, May 21, 1883, headlined “Willkommen!” attributed the increased German immigration to causes of “varied character,” including the heavy burden of taxation, compulsory military service, and the “chronic poverty” of the lower classes, who saw no hope of improving their condition. On the contrary emigration, the article asserted, offered the hope, “or it might be said the certainty,” of improving their material condition and providing homes for their children.

[14] The New York Times, October 22, 1877, 2, reported figures on 3.5 million immigrants from the period 1855-77, collected by the Emigration Commissioners at Castle Garden (that is, for those immigrants entering through the port of New York), indicating their geographical destinations. Of these immigrants, 56.5% settled in Middle Atlantic states (including New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware), 31.3% settled in “Middle” states (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota). The remaining 12.2% settled in New England, the South, Pacific West, and territories. 

[15] When Ellis Island opened, Castle Garden was remodeled again and became the New York City Aquarium. In 1946 Castle Garden was restored to its original design and became Castle Clinton National Monument. It is located in Battery Park and is operated by the National Park Service. is an educational project of The Battery Conservancy and has made available a database of over 11 million immigrants from 1820-1892. See and (accessed June 1, 2015).

[16] The September 2015 Pew Research Center report on immigration (“Modern Immigration Wave,” 12) contains a link to an interactive site that shows, for every decade from 1850 to the present, the top five foreign-born populations by country of origin as well as the top country of origin by state and year. In 1850, German immigrants were at the top in eleven mostly Midwestern and Southern states, while the Irish dominated in New England, the mid-Atlantic, and Southeast. The states dominated by German immigrants remained fairly stable for one hundred and fifty years, until 2000, at which point Mexico became the top country of origin in most states. The author would like to thank Kerry Dolan for her assistance in producing these figures. 

[17] In 1870, 48% of German immigrants in New York State resided in New York City. The percentage fell to 42% in 1890. By contrast only 25% of the German immigrants in Wisconsin resided in Milwaukee. German immigrants resided in every county in both New York and Wisconsin in 1870 and 1890.

[18] These figures are for migrants only and do not include the children of migrants.

[19] There are minor discrepancies in the numbers presented in printed Census volumes and IPUMS data. Compendium of the Tenth Census June 1, 1880, Part II, Washington: USGPO, 1883; Steven Ruggles, J. Trent Alexander, Katie Genadek, Ronald Goeken, Matthew B. Schroeder, and Matthew Sobek. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 5.0 [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2010.

[20] By far the single largest “non-occupation” response was “keeping house.” Nearly 8.7 million people (17.3% of total population) gave this answer. Of the German immigrants who answered the occupation question, 609,000 indicated that they were “keeping house.”

[21] Walter Kamphoefner’s article in this volume includes workers of German parentage in the occupation figures. The results, though more detailed, are similar.

[22] On the role of German brewers in Prohibition, see Thomas Welskopp, “Prohibition in the United States: The German-American Experience, 1919-1933, Bulletin of the German Historical Institute, 53, Fall 2013, 31-53.

[23] Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., The Visible Hand (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1977).

[24] Robert C. Allen, “American Exceptionalism as a Problem in Global History,” Journal of Economic History, 74 (June 2014): 310.

[25] Historical Statistics of the United States, Millennial Edition, Vol. 4 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 877, series Df630.

[27] Historical Statistics of the United States, Millennial Edition, Vol. 4 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 916, series Df874. Also see Timothy J. Hatton and Jeffrey G. Williamson, Global Migration and the World Economy (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005), 35-42.

[28] Only Arizona, Utah, Oklahoma, and New Mexico were not yet states by the end of 1890.

[29] (accessed June 1, 2015). For the reaction of one German newspaper to the Know Nothings in New York see the essay in this volume on Herman Ridder.

[30] An anonymous letter writer to the New York Daily Times, June 26, 1855, 2, complained as follows: “We see so often the Germans denounced for their secret, anti-American, destructive political Clubs and Associations, as dangerous to American interests and American principles. We see them being accused of being irreligious and skeptical, prejudiced against American institutions, following blindly reckless demagogues, and forming a separate nationality within this nationality.” And yet, “The Germans, as a whole, bring with them good-will and a fitness in certain branches of industry; they are experienced in agriculture and in mechanic skill; they have been educated in schools and colleges. Germans are industrious and thrifty; they shun no hardships to conquer the soil of their new home.” 

[31] New York Daily Times, July 10, 1852, 2.

[32] New York Daily Times, May 18, 1854, 2.

[33] New York Times, October 24, 1859, 4. The New York Germans were not perfect, however. The same article noted that, while most Germans were industrious and frugal, “Others, indeed, either from choice or necessity, resort to beer or liquor selling, and kindred occupations,–sometimes abandoning more honorable trades and professions thus to live upon the appetites and passions of their fellows.”

[34] New York Times, May 23, 1870, 2; October 5, 1871, 2. German immigration declined in 1870-71. The Times indicated that this was most likely due to the Franco-Prussian War. The number of German immigrants then skyrocketed in 1872-73.

[35] The German Society of the City of New York was created in 1784 as a charitable organization to assist newly arrived German immigrants. At first relying on volunteer help it eventually became more formal and incorporated in 1804. John Jacob Astor became president of the organization in 1837. Astor contributed a substantial amount of money to the organization including a $20,000 bequest. In 1859 the organization formed the German Savings Bank and in 1867 the German Hospital. William Steinway was heavily involved in the organization until his death in 1896. The president of the Society in the early 1870s was Frederick Schack, himself an immigrant of 1849 and a successful businessman (operating as the firm Schack and Holtop, dealers in gimps, lace, fringes, and velvet ribbons). As president of the German Society, he also was a commissioner of immigration for the State of New York. In 1880, he moved to Iowa and took up farming, (accessed June 1, 2015); (accessed June 1, 2015). A lengthy article on the organization was published by the New York Times, February 3, 1895, 16.

[36] The law also created for the first time a Commissioner of Immigration. The law was printed in its entirety in the New York Times, August 3, 1864, (accessed June 1, 2015).

[37] Edward Young, Special Report on Immigration, House of Representatives, 42nd Congress, 1st Session, Ex. Doc. No. 1, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1871.

[38] Young, Report on Immigration, p. v. Its publication was reported in the Chicago Tribune, June 12, 1871, 3.

[39] Engel is well known for developing curves that related household expenditure with household income, the eponymous “Engel curves,” still used in principles of microeconomics courses. On Kapp, see The Nation (New York City), Vol. 39, No. 1010 (November 6, 1884), 393-394.

[40] Based on labor value in Measuring Worth, (accessed June 1, 2015). Young also cited a Castle Garden investigation that established $68 as the average amount of cash that was brought in by “alien passengers.” This is equivalent to $1,300 using the CPI to deflate or $8,800 using labor value.

[41] Young, Report on Immigration, x.

[42] The state head tax was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1875 in Henderson v. Mayor of New York. The state of Louisiana also had an immigrant head tax voided in the same case, (accessed June 1, 2015)

[43] New York Times, February 28, 1874, 4.

[44] Ibid. An article in the Chicago Tribune, December 14, 1873, 16, stressed the dangers to emigrants arriving in Chicago, the predators waiting to cheat immigrants out of their money, and the generally poor rail transportation. The article notes the work of the German Society in seeking to ameliorate these conditions.

[45] If the unskilled wage is used to calculate the equivalent labor values, the figure would be $4,200-$5,600.

[46] New York Times, August 17, 1880, 8.

[47] Richard Sicotte, “International Shipping Cartels,” EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples, August 14, 2001 (accessed June 1, 2015).

[48] New York Times, February 22, 1881, 8.

[49] It should be noted that using the CPI to adjust prices is a conservative measure. If “labor value” had been used to adjust the nominal price, the relative price in 2014 dollars would have been just over $2,100. The labor value uses a wage index rather than a price index to make the relative comparison. Samuel H. Williamson, "Seven Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a U.S. Dollar Amount, 1774 to present," MeasuringWorth, 2015, (accessed June 1, 2015).

[50] New York Times, April 13, 1884, 3. The troubles lasted through the summer and into the next year. New York Times, October 15, 1884, 2. Rates from the Unites States to Europe were even lower. In January 1885 they fell to $9 or $10 on some lines,New York Times, January 18, 1885, 4.

[51] New York Times, October 15, 1884, 2.

[52] See New York Times, August 17, 1886, 8 on steamship rates and Chicago Daily Tribune, March 8, 1890, 2 on railroad rates from New York to the West.

[53] The scandal involved the Union Pacific Railroad and the company that had been created by the directors of the railroad to construct the line, the Crédit Mobilier (no relation to the French bank). The construction company made huge profits for the directors of the Union Pacific, essentially by padding construction costs. The company also distributed stock to a number of prominent politicians, including Vice President Schuyler Colfax, Congressman James A. Garfield, who survived the scandal to later become president, and James G. Blaine, speaker of the House of Representatives, as well as to other senators and congressmen. Several senators were expelled after an investigation. On the scandal and building of the transcontinental, see Richard White, Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America (New York, W.W. Norton, 2011). On the Senate expulsions, see New York Times, February 19, 1873, 1; February 28, 1873, 5.

[54] (accessed June 1, 2015). Both Hayes and Arthur were Republicans. For one highly cynical reaction to the exclusion bill, see New York Times, March 12, 1882, 3. Between 1854 and 1881 over 240,000 Chinese had immigrated to the Unites States. In anticipation of passage of the act, nearly 40,000 entered the country in 1882. Historical Statistics of the United States, Millennial Edition, Vol. 1 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), Series Ad138.

[56] (accessed June 1, 2015). This law was suspended during World War II labor shortages.

[57] 24 Statutes-at-Large, 476. A list of immigration legislation from 1875 to 1918 can be found at (accessed April 21, 2016).

[58] New York Times, April 17, 1890.

[60] Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Prisoners and Juvenile Delinquents in the United States, 1910 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1918), 128.

[61]  The Economist, July 20, 2013, 60.

[62] For more extensive comments on entrepreneurship, see William J. Hausman, “Entrepreneurship in the United States: Defining the Field, Its History, and an Empirical Model of Long-term Trends,” in Yousef Cassis and Ioanna Pepelasis Minoglou, eds., Country Studies in Entrepreneurship: A Historical Perspective (New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 25-49.

[63] Searched on November 8, 2015. A similar search in JSTOR yielded nearly 40,000 hits for entrepreneurship and 371 for “immigrant entrepreneurship.”

[64] See Geoffrey Jones and Daniel Wadhwani, “Entrepreneurship,” in The Oxford Handbook of Business History, Geoffrey Jones and Jonathan Zeitlin, eds. (New York, Oxford University Press, 2008), 501-28.

[65] William R. Kerr, Ramana Nanda, and Matthew Rhodes-Kropf, “Entrepreneurship as Experimentation,” Journal of Economic Perspectives 28 (Summer 2014): 25.

[66] William J. Baumol, Entrepreneurship, Management, and the Structure of Payoffs (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993).

[67] S.D. Sarasvathy, “Seminar on Research Perspectives in Entrepreneurship (1997),” Journal of Business Venturing, 15 (1999): 7.

[68]  Mark Casson and Catherine Casson, “The History of Entrepreneurship: Medieval Origins of a Modern Phenomenon.” Business History 56.8 (1914): 1224. This article also contains an excellent explanation of Joseph A. Schumpeter’s vision of the entrepreneur.

[69] Sarasvathy, “Seminar,” 23.

[70] Terry G. Jordan, “The German Element in Texas: An Overview,” Rice University Studies, 63 (Summer 1977): 1-11.

[71] Hatton and Williamson, Global Migration, 78, find a similar age structure for all migrants from Denmark and Ireland from around 1870-1910. They argue that this age structure supports the view that migration is essentially an economic decision based on comparing costs with expected future gains.

[72] Eric Weiner discusses these concepts in “The Secret of Immigrant Genius,” Wall Street Journal, January 16-17, 2016.

table 4table

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"Introduction, Volume 2: The Emergence of an Industrial Nation." (2018) In Immigrant Entrepreneurship, Retrieved December 15, 2018, from Immigrant Entrepreneurship:

Chicago Style

Hausman, William J. "Introduction, Volume 2: The Emergence of an Industrial Nation." In Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present, vol. 2, edited by William J. Hausman. German Historical Institute. Last modified April 13, 2018.

MLA Style

"Introduction, Volume 2: The Emergence of an Industrial Nation," Immigrant Entrepreneurship, 2018, Immigrant Entrepreneurship. 15 Dec 2018 <>

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