German-Americans: 300 years

Today the appreciation of all Americans should go to the forty nine million US citizens who trace at least part of their ancestry to Germany. Three hundred years ago today 33 settlers became the first immigrants from Germany to land on American shores; they founded Germantown, outside Philadelphia. After that came hundreds of thousands more; at the peak of German immigration in the 1880s, a quarter of a million were arriving annually.

Today German-Americans are the second-largest ethnic group in the US at forty-nine million, about five hundred thousand fewer than English-Americans, according to a state-by-state census by the US Census Bureau.

For the most part German-Americans, like the bulk of immigrants, are thoroughly assimilated into American life and culture. A few visible reminders do remain of the earlier days, as in some rural areas still inhabited by the Pennsylvania Dutch (a corruption of ''Deutsch'').

Whatever the era, German immigrants fit right into a nation in need of the willingness to work hard, for which they were renowned.

At a crucial stage in the American Revolution, during the desperate winter at Valley Forge, the former Prussian General von Steuben turned ragged and undisciplined troops into an effective fighting force.

In many fields of endeavor German-Americans rose to the top: Dwight Eisenhower, George Westinghouse, Babe Ruth, Albert Einstein, to name a few. Many of the cities in the middle west reflect German industrial acumen.

Of course German-Americans are hardly alone in having made contributions to the United States: All ethnic groups have played a role in its greatness. It is all a sober point for Americans to ponder in view of the hostility with which some groups of legal immigrants today can be greeted.

At one time the ancestors of nearly all current Americans were immigrants; most made their marks and their contributions. So, too, with today's immigrants. But first they, like our own progenitors, need to be welcomed.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.