German Immigration to the Midwest
German Immigration: A story told by the ghosts of the past
“The day I left home, my mother came with me to the railroad station.When we said goodbye, she said it was just like seeing me go into my casket, I never saw her again.” So is the story of Julia B. from Germany and many others who left their life and love for a chance of happiness in a new country. This is the story of the German immigrants in 1880-1930 who risked everything on a dream of better things.
What caused the German immigration to Ameica between 1870-1930? In this paper I’ll answer that question plus: what caused the movement, what happined to them when they arrived, and how did they adapt. I’ll also tell some of the more gritty stuff by using intimate and detailed quotes used by many real immigrants who came to America anywhere from 1880 to 1930. As you read this, be prepared to learn what really happened to these immigrants and why the streets were paved with anything but gold.
Today, many Germans live throughout the U.S.; especially in the mid-west. More likely then not, they came here in the late 1800’s- 1900’s. This would be because of the many revolutions in the 1860’s and the poverty that almost always follows war. In one 20 year span in the late 1800’s Germany went to war at least 7 times taking on neighboring countries such as: Austria, France, Belgium and Russia.
Like I said, much money was spent on the war effort in Germany. People were taxed heavily just to buy bullets for the army. Through all this, word was spread like wild fire through Germany that a new country in the west across the water was offering freedom and a promise of happiness for anyone who would make the long journey to the new country: America. So with somewhat heavy hearts, many men and women left their families behind to journey to America in hopes of something greater.
For many, the road to America was a hard one. Most of the emigrants were very poor and had to hitchhike or walk the long miles to the coast just to be able to get on the boat to America. Sometimes it would take months just to save up enough money to pay for rides out of Germany, expensive passports, and to pay for the boat fare and it would take weeks just to go to France where they usually only began the long hard trip to their destination.
By this time there were steam-ships (a better way to America then just regular ships which took 1-3 months to cross the Atlantic) which took only a merciful two weeks to travel the Atlantic. The bad news for the immigrants was that they were expensive and they had to crowed on to each ship; over 500 people over the limit. “Neither cleanliness, decency, nor comfort, is possible… sometimes two or three thousand persons are crowded into a
space hardly sufficient to accommodate 1,200. Steerage passengers can not, with any degree of truth or justice, be said to be humanly or properly treated at any stage of their long journey,” said one Report of Conditions.
After about two weeks of pain and misfortune, the many people on these boats glanced across the water and looked at the best thing they had seen in weeks, the Statue of Liberty. “The first time I saw the Statue all the people were rushing to the side of the boat ‘look at her, look at her,’ and in all kinds of lan…..guages. ‘There she is, there she is,’ like it was somebody who was greeting them,” said one women. A few hours after reaching the Statue they were rushed off of the boat into a place they called Ellis Island.
Ellis Island was the main immigration depot to America located just off the coast of New York City. It was a place where thousands of people coming from dozens of countries came through every day. ” To me, it was like a House of Babel. Because there were so many languages and so many people and everybody huddled together. And it was so full of fear,” the impression Ellis made on a young women. Immigrants were tagged for names and birthdays etc… and were then marked with chalk if they were thought to have any disabilities of illnesses. If they were passed then they would be interrogated to learn more about their background and to see if they had to be sent back. ” They found my grandmother had a black nail. She raised us, all the years, with that hand and with that nail. There was nothing wrong with it. And they held her back. They sent her back. They were stupid, to let an old womenwith her whole family here to send her back. So we never saw her again, it was heart-breaking,” said an immigrant in 1914.
If they were processed and were proclaimed citizens they would usually buy a train ticket to their destination load up their stuff and head west. Most of the people who didn’t stay in New York went to the mid-west to become minors or farmers. In fact, most of the major cities in the mid-west were at least 70% immigrants by 1930.
“Well, I came to America because I heard the streets were paved with gold. When I got here, I found out 3 things: first, the streets weren’t paved with gold; second, they weren’t paved at all; and third, I was expected to pave them,” says and old European story. Indeed the immigrants were made to work a lot of hard and unusual jobs for minimum wage. Many of the jobs were dangerous and many people died in the mines. “The coal mines are the worst place to work. You say a prayer while your husband or son goes to work. You say another one when he comes home at night,” said one wife.
Germans were ridiculed and shot at by the American people anywhere from comic strips to laws that only effected Germans. It became so bad that children who were the sons and daughters of immigrants would be embarrassed of their heritage. ” It was kind of bad for a while till we got to know people and speak the language. People say, you ought to preserve
your heritage, but all we could think of was, we didn’t want to be different, we wanted to be like the rest of the Americans,” said a German boy in 1923. But even through all of this they persevered, they hung on and finally after many years they were accepted into society.
By telling you about what caused the movement, what happined to them when they arrived, and about how they adapted you now know what caused the German immigration to America between 1870-1930. In 1954 after 70 years of service they closed Ellis Island and also the doors where millions of immigrants had passed through. I hope this paper helps many people of German decent know more about about their heritage as it did me. Of course, this paper only scratched the surface of what really happined to those immigrants long, long ago…..