Volume 5, Introduction

From the Postwar Boom to Global Capitalism, 1945-Today

The decades after World War II witnessed dramatic changes in immigration to the United States, as illustrated by the German immigrant experience. The dislocation and turmoil created by the war itself was the largest factor propelling German immigration in the years immediately after 1945. The conflict displaced 20 million people, including millions of German nationals. In December 1945, President Truman responded by issuing a directive giving preference in immigration to displaced persons regardless of nationality, a shift in policy that was reinforced by the Displaced Persons Act of 1948. In all, the U.S. admitted approximately 450,000 displaced persons under these programs, approximately half of whom were of German origin. Many German women and children were also admitted under the War Brides Act of 1945. These policy developments along with the turmoil of postwar Germany set the stage for a strong resumption of German immigration to the United States following the historically low migration flows of the depression and war years. In fact, during the late 1940s and 1950s Germans constituted nearly a quarter of all immigrants to the U.S.

German immigration to the U.S. subsequently declined and made up a significantly more modest portion of the overall flow of immigrants. Several factors contributed to this shift. First, by the 1960s, the renewed growth and vitality of the German economy offered attractive work and entrepreneurial opportunities for those who stayed. And second, U.S. immigration law changed following the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (also known as the Hart-Cellar Act), which eliminated the system of national quotas that had defined American policy since the 1920s. Instead, the new policy gave priority to applicants who possessed needed professional skills, those seeking family reunification, and refugees. This combination of economic and policy factors led to a significant decline in German immigration, both in absolute and relative terms. The average annual flow of German immigrants dropped from close to 50,000 during the postwar resettlement wave to under 10,000 during the last quarter of the century. The German experience mirrored the broader late-twentieth-century shift in the sources of immigration to the United States from European countries to Asian and Latin American ones.

Volume V, From the Postwar Boom to Global Capitalism, documents the changes in the nature of German immigration to the United States and the businesses and industries that these newcomers created and helped shape. Unlike the mass migration of Germans in search of work and economic opportunity during the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the movements of the second half of the twentieth century reflected, in some respects, a more complex set of historical circumstances. Many arrived in the U.S. displaced by the political and ethnic turmoil the war had created, or by the trans-Atlantic marriages and kinship networks that the conflict had ironically fostered. Others, particularly after the 1960s, came in pursuit of specific educational and professional opportunities. Still, while political dislocation, family reunification, or education rather than work and wealth accumulation may have been the primary causes for their immigration, many found that their circumstances presented them entrepreneurial opportunities in the markets and industries transforming postwar America. In many cases, these immigrants brought with them skills, knowledge, or perspectives that turned out to be crucial to the industries reshaping the postwar American economy. Their business transformed publishing, industrial design, real estate, finance, information technology, and the media, among other sectors. Volume V documents the personal and business lives of these entrepreneurs.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Volume 5, Introduction
  • Author
  • Website Name Immigrant Entrepreneurship
  • URL
  • Access Date July 23, 2024
  • Publisher German Historical Institute
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 18, 2018