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. Continue Reading »
Bloede, Victor Gustav
Between his birth in Germany and his death eighty-eight years later in Catonsville, Maryland, Victor Bloede became an eminent chemist and the proprietor of his flagship enterprise, the Baltimore-based Victor G. Bloede Company. Bloede was a real-estate developer, a banker, the founder of a construction company, a gentleman farmer, an advocate for issues of public concern, and a generous philanthropist. Continue Reading »
Boas, Emil
Emil Leopold Boas was the general manager and resident director of the Hamburg-America Steamship Company (Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft or HAPAG) in New York City from 1892 to 1912. Boas joined HAPAG after serving in various capacities in the Hamburg and New York offices of his uncle's steamship ticket agency, C.B. Richard & Boas Co. Continue Reading »
Busch, Adolphus
Adolphus Busch arrived in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1857 as an unknown immigrant from German-speaking Europe. After partnering with Eberhard Anheuser in an existing brewery in 1865, Busch transformed the operation, eventually known as the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Association, into the largest brewery in the world within a quarter of a century. Continue Reading »
Business of Migration since 1815
Millions of American immigrants, who worked in business or started new businesses of their own, also used businesses in order to reach America in the first place. Before the mid nineteenth century advent of the telegraph, railroad and steamship, this migration usually relied on the services of multiple businesses and intermediaries in order to carry out long multi-stage journeys across land and ocean. In the modern “global village,” interconnected by widely available fast air travel, key services needed by international migrants are also generally dispersed across multiple businesses, often related mainly to surmounting and adapting to legal restrictions. In between, during late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the business of migration was concentrated mainly on the crossing of the North Atlantic. Mass transatlantic migration then became the core segment of the world’s first major intercontinental travel industry, a business in which large German shipping lines played a leading role. Within a longer term context, this essay emphasizes that middle epoch of commercially-provided physical relocation from Europe to the United States, and also includes a sub-focus on entrepreneurship of German origin. Continue Reading »
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. Continue Reading »
Duesenberg, Frederick S.
The founders of Duesenberg Automobiles and Motors Company, Frederick S. and August S. Duesenberg immigrated to the United States at a young age and settled in Iowa with their parents and siblings. Drawn to racing, they would eventually relocate to Indianapolis, where they would become known in the 1920s and 1930s for producing cars with luxurious interiors, powerful engines, and impressive speeds on the race-track. Continue Reading »
Fey, Charles August
Over the course of a successful career, Charles August Fey made significant contributions to the development of America’s gaming industry. He is remembered today as the creator of the modern slot machine and as the “Thomas Edison of slots.” Continue Reading »
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. Continue Reading »
Gaertner, William
William Gaertner, a first-generation German immigrant, is remembered as a pioneer of the scientific instrument industry in the United States. Continue Reading »
Gebelein, George
A first-generation immigrant, George Gebelein earned acclaim for the superb quality of his handcrafted silver products, finding success as a craftsman in an era when mass-produced goods had replaced handcrafted products. Continue Reading »
Genthe, Arnold
In 1895, Arnold Genthe accepted an offer to work as a tutor for an affluent German-American family in San Francisco. In between tutoring responsibilities, he taught himself photography and began publishing some of his photographs in local magazines. By 1901, he had already become one of the most sought-after portrait photographers on the West Coast. His award-winning photographic landscapes and pictures would soon bring both domestic and international recognition. Continue Reading »
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. Continue Reading »
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. Continue Reading »
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. Continue Reading »
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. Continue Reading »
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. Continue Reading »
Gruen, Dietrich
After learning the watchmaking trade in the Black Forest region, Dietrich Gruen immigrated to the United States, where he eventually patented an improved center pinion for watches. This innovation became the foundation of Gruen’s business ventures, which included the Gruen Watch Company, a leading watch manufacturing firm that operated for half a century. Continue Reading »
Guldman, Leopold Henry
Leopold H. Guldman was born in 1852 to Jewish parents in Harburg, a village in the kingdom of Bavaria. After arriving in the U.S., Guldman eventually made his way to Colorado, where he opened small outlets in bustling mining towns and supplied goods to miners. By 1879, at the age of twenty-six, he founded the Golden Eagle Dry Goods Company, which quickly became one of Denver’s leading popular-price department stores. Continue Reading »
Hasslacher, Jacob
Jacob Hasslacher has been counted among the American chemical industry’s “founding fathers.” The manufacture and sale of specialty chemicals was more advanced in his native country than in his adopted one, and his firm, the Roessler & Hasslacher Chemical Company, benefited from its German connections during most of the period in which it was led by Hasslacher. Continue Reading »
Hellman, Isaias Wolf
Born in a small town in Bavaria, Isaias Wolf Hellman was one of a number of German-Jewish immigrants whose entrepreneurial and philanthropic efforts helped transform Los Angeles and San Francisco from rough mining camps into two of America’s leading urban centers. Continue Reading »
Heurich, Christian
During the first half of the twentieth century, Christian Heurich, Sr., was the most prominent brewer in Washington, DC. He was also regarded as an elder statesman of the American brewing industry as a whole. Born in 1842 in the Duchy of Saxe-Meiningen, Heurich immigrated to the U.S. in 1866 to start his own brewery. Continue Reading »
Hormel, George
George Albert Hormel, the son of German immigrants, used the knowledge, skills, and values he learned from his family to succeed as an independent meatpacker in an industry dominated by corporate giants. Continue Reading »
Jacobs, Joseph
Joseph Jacobs, a second-generation German-Jewish immigrant, built up a large retail drug-store chain in Atlanta in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A scientist by training and an entrepreneur by nature, Jacobs possessed a unique combination of skills that helped him play a defining role in the Atlanta pharmacy trade for decades. Continue Reading »
Karpen, Solomon
Solomon Karpen founded S. Karpen & Bros. in Chicago in 1880. By 1899, it had become the largest upholstered furniture manufacturing company in the world. Continue Reading »
Keuffel, Wilhelm J.D.
Wilhelm Johann Diedrich Keuffel was one of the founding partners of Keuffel & Esser Company (K&E), a scientific instrument manufacturing firm founded in New York City in 1867. Best known for its popularization of the slide rule, Keuffel & Esser was the first American company to specialize in the manufacture and sale of drafting and surveying tools. By the early twentieth century, it was one of the largest manufacturers of scientific instruments in the world. Continue Reading »
Kleberg, Robert Justus II
An icon of American frontier life, King Ranch harkens back to a mythical age when the Wild West was tamed and settled. Its success is a testimony to the hard work and vision of second-generation German immigrant Robert Kleberg II. During his long tenure as ranch manager, Kleberg made key improvements in the areas of livestock and health, pasture management, and ranching facilities. His story, though, would be incomplete if one failed to mention the significant contributions he made to the urban and economic development of South Texas as a whole. Continue Reading »
Koehler, Oscar
Oscar C. Koehler was the pivot point in a large family of brewers who, over the course of two generations, built up successful businesses in a portion of the Midwest that extended from St. Louis, Missouri, to Davenport, Iowa. In the St. Louis and Davenport metropolitan areas, the Koehlers achieved great social prestige and influence, both within the German-American community and in society as a whole. Their elite status and their ability to leverage capital eventually helped the Koehlers attain even greater business success. Continue Reading »
Kroger, Bernard Heinrich
Bernard Heinrich Kroger, known nationally for his eponymous chain of wholesale grocery stores, capitalized on America’s growing consumerism by buying wholesale and slashing prices, and by reaching a massive audience with his colorful and innovative advertising campaigns. By the end of World War I, the Kroger grocery store had evolved from a local neighborhood shop into a national business. Continue Reading »
Lewisohn, Adolph
Adolph Lewisohn was a Hamburg-born German-American businessman who, together with his brother Leonard, once led one of the most important and profitable copper companies in the United States Continue Reading »
Living the American Dream? The Challenge of Writing Biographies of German-American Immigrant Entrepreneurs
Biographies of businesspeople offer a new integrative perspective not only to trace the lives, careers, and business ventures of significant immigrants but to answer core questions of American, business, and migration history in a new way. The Immigrant Entrepreneurship project aims to explore hundreds of biographies; the sheer amount of this material has made clear that biographies can be used not only to analyze individual lives but also to address general questions in the history of capitalism and modernity. Continue Reading »
Mallinckrodt, Edward Sr.
Industrialist Edward Mallinckrodt Sr. achieved success in the chemical manufacturing and pharmaceutical industries through a combination of factors that included strong connections to Germany, an awareness of the broader business environment, and an ability to formulate innovative responses to technological and economic changes. Continue Reading »
May, David
The founder of the May Department Store chain, David May was one of the most influential businessmen and philanthropists in early Denver. Continue Reading »
Mergenthaler, Ottmar
Ottmar Mergenthaler arrived in the United States in 1872 with an extremely valuable store of technical know-how that he had developed as a watchmaker’s apprentice. Thirteen years later, he received a patent for his “Single-matrix” typesetting machine (i.e., the Blower), an invention that quickly changed the American printing industry, and, by extension, American culture as a whole. Eventually, the Linotype’s influence radiated beyond the U.S., leading to the Americanization of the British and international printing industries. Continue Reading »
Oppenheimer, Henry
A successful retailer and wholesaler and longtime president of Hutzler Brothers Company, Henry Oppenheimer used family connections to establish and further his career in the United States after emigrating from Baden. Continue Reading »
Pfister, Charles F
Thought extraordinarily successful, Charles Pfister was in many ways typical for a second generation German-American immigrant entrepreneur in the period between the gilded age and the progressive era: He managed technological and organizational innovations, continued in old branches and developed new ones, had to face the challenges of a political mass market and found himself in a contested situation by a general public, which celebrated successful entrepreneurs as titans and accused them as selfish and heartless forces of wealth. Continue Reading »
Potthast, William A.
William, Vincent, Theodore, and John Potthast, all of whom had trained as cabinetmakers in their native Germany, built up a successful Baltimore furniture company that specialized in producing replicas of eighteenth-century American furniture. Over time, the Potthast brothers established a reputation for putting Old World European craft skills to use in the manufacture of Colonial Revival pieces. Continue Reading »
Progressive Reform in a Transatlantic Age
This essay describes the main political, socioeconomic, and cultural dimensions of progressivism and, on this basis, explores the imprint of the Progressive Era on the modern United States. It pays particular attention to the transatlantic dimension of progressivism, suggesting that the reformers’ perceptions and translations of European social reform provided both inspiration and resources for the formulation of a new politics, economics, and culture in turn-of-the-century America, and arguing that the contributions of some German immigrant entrepreneurs need to be seen in this context. At the same time, the essay contends that the international dimension of progressivism highlighted the fissures, fault lines, and blind spots within the movement and within American culture and society as a whole. Continue Reading »
Project Introduction
Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present
A GHI research project Continue Reading »
Rath, John Washington
John Washington Rath, a founder of the Rath Packing Company in Waterloo, Iowa, played a major role in the American meatpacking business for more than fifty years. Rath served as president of the family business from 1898 to 1943, and then as chairman of the board until 1950. John Washington Rath and the Rath Packing Company also played a critical role in Waterloo’s development as a center of industry during the first half of the twentieth century. The Rath brand was a force in the American meat industry for years until faltering sales and labor struggles led to the company’s decline. Continue Reading »
Ridder, Herman
Herman Ridder, the eldest son of German immigrants to New York. Largely self-educated, he entered the field of journalism as a young man, founding first a German-language Catholic newspaper and then the English-language Catholic News. In 1890 he bought into the New Yorker Staatszeitung, a distinguished daily of national – as well as local – renown. Influenced by the paper’s owner and editor, Oswald Ottendorfer, he became an entrepreneur in business, politics, and print technology. Continue Reading »
Ringling, Albert C.
The eldest of the seven Ringling brothers, Albert (Al) C. Ringling was the founder and leader of the Ringling Bros. Circus, which grew from a small overland show into the country’s largest and most celebrated touring circus. Continue Reading »
Roebling, Washington A.
A military and civil engineer, Washington Augustus Roebling is best known for overseeing the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, which was designed by his father, John A. Roebling. He also served briefly as president of John A. Roebling’s Sons, Co., after its incorporation in 1876, and then again during the final years of his life. Continue Reading »
Rosenwald, Julius
Julius Rosenwald served as vice president, president, and chairman of the board of Sears, Roebuck. During his tenure, Sears expanded its mail-order business and became America's largest retailer. He is perhaps best remembered, though, for his efforts to advance African-American education in the South. Continue Reading »
Schaffner, Joseph
The founders of the clothing firm Hart Schaffner & Marx (HSM) belonged to a small network of Jewish migrants from a few villages just outside of Worms. Soon after establishing the business in 1887, the lead partners Joseph Schaffner and Harry Hart turned HSM into a top brand for stylish, high quality men’s suits. Continue Reading »
Schiff, Jacob
A banker and philanthropist, Jacob H. Schiff secured European funding to build America’s railroads, mines, and other enterprises. He helped transform the United States into the world’s leading industrialized economy. Continue Reading »
Schoenhut, Albert Frederick
In 1872, six years after emigrating from Württemberg, Albert Schoenhut began manufacturing toy pianos in a workshop in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. By the turn of the twentieth century, the A. Schoenhut Company had become one of America’s leading toy producers – and one of the few to export to Europe. Today, the toy pianos, dolls, and novelty items produced during the company’s pre-World War I heyday are prized by connoisseurs, auctioneers, and aficionados. Continue Reading »
Spiegel, Modie
Modie Spiegel, along with his younger brothers Sidney and Arthur, expanded their father’s erstwhile Chicago furniture retail business into one of America’s leading mail order firms, the Spiegel Company. Continue Reading »
Stickley, Gustav
Second-generation German immigrant Gustav Stickley is remembered today as one of America’s leading furniture designers and arbiters of taste. A key figure in the Arts and Crafts movement, Stickley created an authentically American furniture designed to suit the needs of modern families. He also founded a groundbreaking magazine, The Craftsman, whereby he publicized his work and the philosophies that motivated it. Stickley’s furniture enjoyed widespread popularity among consumers. As importantly, however, his work influenced others in the craft and building professions, specially designers and architects who were receptive to Arts and Crafts ideals. Continue Reading »
Stratemeyer, Edward
The son of a 48er immigrant from Germany, Edward Stratemeyer built a career as a writer and a publisher of juvenile literature. At the peak of his career, he presided over a publishing syndicate whose most successful book series, the Rover Boys and Tom Swift, sold millions of copies. Other series created by the Stratemeyer Syndicate – the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys – would make their mark on subsequent generations of readers (and writers). Continue Reading »