How German Immigrants Shaped American Life

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Imagine you’re going to a picnic. The sun is shining. The birds are singing in the trees nearby. The kids are playing on a swing. You’re sitting down with your family and friends, ready to eat and drink. But, there is one catch: You cannot use any ingredients introduced by German-Americans. That means: no hamburgers, no hot dogs, no Heinz ketchup or pickles, no Hellmann’s mayonnaise, no potato salad, no gummi bears, and most importantly, no beer! At least, no beer made by Miller, Pabst, or Anheuser Busch breweries. Wouldn’t that be a very boring picnic?

After the food-less picnic, you’re driving—in a car invented by Germans—to a baseball game. Imagine baseball without German-Americans like Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, and Lou Gehrig. It’s hard to imagine!

When the game is over, you go to the movies. Nowadays, that could very well be a movie with Sandra Bullock or Kirsten Dunst and music by Hans Zimmer. After you come home, you turn on your TV and they’re showing Independence Day again, and again, and again! What would the cable networks do without that movie? They would have to show a blank screen half of the time! Another day, they might show Titanic with Leonardo di Caprio. Not long after the picnic, you and your family fly on vacation in a Boeing airplane.

When school starts, you’re taking your child to a kindergarten. At bedtime, you read a book by Dr. Seuss to your child. Once your child is asleep, you sit down with a book by John Steinbeck or Kurt Vonnegut.

Today, 25 % of the American population are of German ancestry. Some famous names from my home state include Elvis Presley, Thomas Nast, and Henry John Heinz.


From Groundhog Day to Independence Day, American holidays have been shaped by German immigrants. We might not even celebrate Independence Day without the aid of Baron von Steuben, who whipped the Continental Army into shape during the revolutionary war.


And let’s not forget about the biggest holiday, Christmas. Imagine what Christmas would be like without our beloved Christmas tree? And who would bring us presents, if not the Big Man, Santa Claus himself! Thomas Nast created the first image of Santa Claus as we know him today. Christmas without German traditions—unimaginable.


From the Brooklyn Bridge to Hollywood, from the backyard barbecue to the White House ceremonial march, from your bookshelf to the space center, life in the United States would be vastly different without the accomplishments of German immigrants. It would simply be unimaginable.


Image: (Porsche 997SBS)


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