German immigration to the U.S., 1820–1920: magnitudes, patterns, and relative shares
German immigration after 1835 differed from that which occurred before 1835. The period 1709-1835 was the founding era of German immigration to America. It was characterized by an arduous, dangerous, and expensive journey. The yearly flow of immigrants was relatively low. It was frequently suspended completely during warfare along the migration route. For German emigrants, America was a sideshow. Most went elsewhere. For those who chose America, entering a written contract of servitude upon debarkation to pay for the journey was the dominant experience. These constraints influenced who chose to migrate, which in turn affected the familial, occupational, and educational composition of the immigrants. They also influenced their geographic dispersion within, and social integration into, American society. After 1835, German immigration to America changed. The period from 1835 to 1914 was the era of mass migration. The journey became less arduous and dangerous. It also became considerably cheaper, both in terms of time and money spent. The flow of immigrants was seldom completely interrupted by warfare along the migration route, and that flow burgeoned. Even at its lowest troughs, the yearly volume of German immigration to America in the mass migration era was several times higher than the peak volumes during the founding era. After 1835, America was no longer a sideshow, but instead became the primary destination for German emigrants. Lastly, organized markets in America for German immigrant servants ended in the early 1820s. As such, the era of mass migration was also the era of free passengers and free immigrant labor. These changes altered who chose to migrate, which in turn altered the familial, occupational, and educational composition of the immigrants. They also changed their geographic dispersion within, and social integration into, American society. This book is about analyzing the quantitative dimensions of German immigration to America between 1709 and 1835. Contrasting this period with the subsequent era of mass migration provides a comparative perspective that enriches our understanding of the founding migration era. Knowing what happened to German immigration after 1835, namely after the cost of migration had plummeted and after servitude had disappeared, provides a way of assessing the extent that German immigration during the founding era was constrained and shaped by that era’s institutions and history. This chapter, and the following
chapter, provides such a comparison and, as such, serves as the conclusion or epilogue to the study of German immigration to America during the founding era. Because the goal is to compare post-1835 German immigration with that found in Chapters 1 through 8 for 1709-1835, the focus will be on assessing the quantitative dimensions of the migration stream and the immigrants’ characteristics. The information presented is drawn from published primary sources and the voluminous secondary literature on the subject, a body of literature so large that it cannot be adequately summarized in the brief chapters here. Chapter 19 charts the 1820-1920 migration process comparable with that done for the founding era in Chapters 1 through 4. Chapter 20 charts immigrant characteristics during 1820-1920 comparable with that done for the founding era in Chapters 5 through 8. The evidence required for making an exact comparison, however, is not always available in the published primary and secondary sources. Because immigrant servitude disappeared among German arrivals soon after 1820, nothing comparable to Chapters 9 through 18 is presented for the 1820-1920 period. Several large and continuous bodies of quantitative evidence are available for charting the nature of German immigration to America after 1820, evidence not available during the founding era. On the American side, the U.S. Federal government systematically collected passenger data from arriving ships after 1819, and the U.S. decennial censuses recorded the nationality of foreign-born residents beginning in 1850. On the European side, emigration records were kept by various German states after 1820, at the ports of Bremen and Hamburg, and then more systematically for all of Germany after the formation of the Second Reich in 1871. The year 1920 is used as an end point because German mass migration to the U.S. effectively ended at World War I; the Emergency Quota Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 1921 (the Johnson Act) effectively ended the era of unrestricted open immigration to the U.S.; and the 100-year span from 1820 to 1920 is a comparable timeframe to that studied for the founding era in Chapters 1 through 8.1
Figure 19.1 charts German arrivals to the U.S. per year from 1820 through 1920-a total of 5,490,628 or about 40 times more than during the prior 100 years (Chapters 2 and 18). Compared with German immigration in the founding era during peacetime, German immigration in the 1820s and early 1830s was relatively low (Figure 2.1; Hansen 1940: 105-19; Walker 1964: 37-41, 250). It burgeoned thereafter. Between 1836 and 1915 yearly German immigration, even at its lowest troughs, never fell below the peak years of German immigration during the founding era. Often it was well over 10 times the volume of those founding era peaks. Three major waves of German immigrants appear in Figure 19.1, each with sustained volumes over 70,000 per year-1850 through 1857, 1865 through 1874 (with the exception of 1868), and 1880 through 1893. The peaks of these waves were 215,009 arrivals in 1854, 149,671 in 1873, and 250,630 in 1882.