The  German-Americans are the largest ethnic element in the U.S.  At least twelve  million Germans immigrated to the  U.S.,  according  to statistics of the U.S. Census Bureau. Today there are about 60 million Americans  of  German descent  and  the  number  of   German-speaking Americans is eight million. No other ethnic group in America can equal these statistics.

In  1995  German-Americans can look back on 388  years  of  American life. They have participated in every major event in American history, have  deeply influenced the U.S. and have produced  many  outstanding citizens. German-Americans have always been loyal to America, but also recalled  their ancestral heritage. Through times of storm and  stress the German-American has preserved his cultural legacy.

According  to  Germanic  legend, the first German  to  set  foot  on American  soil  was Tyrker, the foster father of  Leif  Erickson,  the Norse leader  whose ships reached America in 1000 A.D.  However,  the first  Germans, whose presence in America can be verified, arrived  in 1607 at Jamestown, Virginia. These German-Americans were the first  in America to manufacture tar, glass, pitch and soap.

These  were  very important products in frontier  days  and  German-Americans provided the skill and craftsmanship that was necessary.  In 1620 four millwrights  from Hamburg erected  the  first  sawmill  in America  in the state of Virginia. Germans established  one  of  the earliest  tobacco plantations there also. In  1653  some  Heidelberg Germans introduced vineyards and wine making to the New World.

In  1626 Peter Minuit, the first famous  German-American,  purchased Manhattan Island from the Indians for $24. He transformed the New York colony into  a  prosperous and thriving community. He  was  an  early indication  of the many German-Americans who would play key  roles  in the development of American commerce, industry and politics.

On  October  6, 1683 thirteen German families, led by  Franz  Daniel Pastorius, established the first permanent German-American  settlement in America. They called it Deutschstadt which became known as  Germantown.  Today it  is  part of the city of  Philadelphia.  1683  is  an important year for it marks the beginning of German-American  history. Although Germans had been present in America since 1607, they were now established  in  a  German-American settlement  where  their   German heritage could be systematically preserved.

The  impact of these first German-Americans was immediate.  In  1688 they issued the first protest against the institution of slavery  and it  was published in the German language. In 1690 William  Rittenhouse established  the first  papermill in America.  With  this  paper  the earliest books and newspapers were printed.

In 1690 the very first American congress was called by Jacob Leisler the  lieutenant governor of New York, who was hanged for  his  protest against British tyranny. His first American congress was followed by a number  of others which culminated in the Declaration of  Independence in  1776. In 1735 John Peter Zenger established the first  independent American  newspaper, and by his courageous stand against  the  British oppression  established  freedom  of the press  in  America.  He  also printed  the  first arithmetic book in the colonies. The  first  Bible printed  in America was published in the German language. Bibles  were printed  years later in English. One of the earliest announcements  of the  Declaration of Independence was published in the German  language Philadelphia Staatsbote of Henry Miller on July 5, 1776.

German-Americans helped win the American Revolution and fought  with outstanding distinction. On May 22, 1776 Congress ordered the creation of  a German-American  regiment consisting  of  four  companies  from Pennsylvania and Maryland, where many German-Americans  lived.  They fought at Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine and spent the terrible winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge with General Washington. The personal bodyguards of Washington were German-Americans under the command of  Major von  Heer, an officer of Frederick the Great of Prussia.  Other  great German-American generals and officers in the American Revolution were: Peter  Muehlenberg, Baron DeKalb, Nicholas Herkimer, Gerhard  von  der Wieden,  Heinrich  Lutterloh,  Johann  Schott  and  many others.  The Continental  Army  was  organized by  General  Friedrich  Wilhelm von Steuben.  In 1778 he wrote the first army regulations manual  for  the United States.  The role of the German-Americans was so vital in the  Revolution that  Washington's last letter before his resignation as commander  in chief was addressed  to Baron von Steuben  in  appreciation  of  his service to America.

German-Americans  came to America for different reasons:  religious, political, or economic. All of these twelve million German  immigrants and their sixty million descendants became devoted citizens  of  the U.S.  They helped build this nation into the mightiest  land  of  the world and made noble contributions in every field of human  endeavor. Hundreds  of  thousands of them died on the battlefield  for  American Independence, to preserve the Union and to protect American democratic institutions.  Their  devotion and loyalty to America,  their  common sense and sturdiness, their thrift, talent, business insight and their love of life have influenced American life.

It  is  but a mere understatement  to  characterize  German-American contributions  to the building of the American nation as  significant, praiseworthy and unforgettable. These achievements and accomplishments were decisive  and determinative in shaping the  course  of  American history.  But if  we look over the works treating  with  the  origin, history  and achievements of the American nation, to  ascertain  what part the descendent's of the millions of German immigrants took in  the development of the country, we rarely find more than a brief mention.

America's German Heritage presented by


Philadelphia Chapter