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German Americans Who Made a Difference


They perhaps were born in Germany, had German parents, grandparents or even great-great-great grandparents, and maybe at sometime their names had been "Anglicized", but nevertheless, however diluted, there is some German blood running through their veins.

They are Deutschamerikaner, the USA's largest ancestry group, almost a quarter of the population, and amongst them are many German-Americans who have made an impression not only in the the USA but whose work and lives have had an effect worldwide.

Francis (Franz) Daniel Pastorius founded Germantown, Pennsylvania, after purchasing fifteen thousand acres of Pennsylvania from William Penn in 1683, having been commissioned by the Frankfort Land Company and merchants from Krefeld, North Rhine-Westphalia, to form a colony in America.

This land was not for the "first German settlers", as they had already arrived in 1608 on the sailing ship "Mary and Margaret" and stayed in Jamestown, but for Germantown, which began on June 20, 1683 and was the first permanent German colony. The holiday on October 6 celebrating German American heritage marks a date later that year, when 13 families from Krefeld, known at the time as Crefeld, landed in Philadelphia and were founding members of Germantown.

A lawyer born into a Luthern family on September 26, 1651 in what is now the Wuerzburg area of Bavaria, Franz Pastorius became a Quaker in America, and Germantown, of which he was a leading member, was a settlement of Mennonites and Quakers seeking religious freedom. In 1688 he and three other representatives of the Germantown "Religious Society of Friends" signed the first anti-slavery petition in the colonies, "The 1688 Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery".

Levi Strauss Where would we be without his jeans, although would Loeb's trip off the tongue as easily as "Levi's"? Born Loeb Strauss in Bavaria, Germany on February 26, 1829, he left for the USA in 1847 and worked in a dry goods business in New York City owned by his brothers, but struck out on his own after six years and moved across to San Francisco. There he began his own company and in late 1872 he went into partnership with Jacob Davis, who was already making workman's clothes from Strauss's denim fabric with the stress points strengthened by metal studs.

After Levi Strauss and Co. received the patent for "Levi's" on May 20, 1873, manufacture of the blue jeans has never stopped.

Thomas Nast introduced us to the smile, or head shaking, which comes with political cartoons and caricatures. Born in Landau on September 27, 1840, now part of Rhine Palatinate but at the time in "conservative" Bavaria, he was six years old when his father moved the family to America because his political views differed from those of the Bavarian government. The family lived in New York City and at the age of 15 Nast, now considered to be the "Father of the American Cartoon", had his first cartoon published.

Like Francis Pastorius, Thomas Nast was a strong opponent of slavery, producing drawings urging people to crush the Confederates, who supported slavery, throughout the Civil War.

And of course in 1862 he drew on his native German tradition of "Sankt Nikolaus", St. Nicholas, put it together with other centuries old European folk traditions involving elves and benevolent gift givers, and came up with Santa Claus, the warmhearted and rotund figure who still represents and is identified with Christmas worldwide.

Albert Einstein, Nobel prize winner, born in Ulm in the southwest of the German Empire on 14 March 1879, and even as a child showed an intense curiosity and understanding of science.

At six years old he was fascinated by how a magnet worked and his studies ultimately lead to a Doctorate and many research papers, and one was for the "Theory of Relativity. The famous e = mc2 equation, a giant leap for science. 'E' stands for energy and 'M' for mass, the 'C' for the speed of light. Or as he explained it to make it easier for a non-physicist to understand The Mass of a Body is a Measure of its Energy Content

Although not his initial aim it was this theory which led to the development of nuclear power, as well as the atomic bomb.

However Albert Einstein is known not only as a scientist but also a Philosopher-Physicist. His influence on twentieth-century philosophy of science is comparable to his influence on twentieth-century physics, and his quotations are world renowned and relevant to life in general.

While on a visit to the United States in 1933 Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany, so Einstein did not return.

Wernher von Braun was born in Wirsitz, then part of Prussian now Poland, on March 23, 1912 and was one of the most important rocket developers and leading supporters of space exploration between the 1930s and the 1970s. At 17 he became involved with the German rocket society, Verein fur Raumschiffarht, and was 20 when he began to work for the German army developing ballistic missiles, receiving a Doctorate in physics on July 27, 1934.

Rocket technology developed for Nazi Germany during World War II, and the V-2 ballistic missile it produced, were the model used in the space exploration programs of the USA and Russia.

As it became obvious by the beginning of 1945 that Germany would lose the war von Braun began to plan for a post war era, organizing the surrender of 500 of his leading rocket scientists, together with plans and test vehicles, to the US. There for fifteen years he was involved in ballistic missile research and development for the U.S. Army, including the Army's Jupiter missile.

Newly established NASA had the rocket center transferred to under its control, and the giant Saturn V rockets, the launch vehicle which sent Americans to the moon, were developed there, with Wernher von Braun as chief architect.

Charles Monroe Schulz father, Carl Schulz, emigrated from Germany to Minneapolis, Minnesota, and it was there his only child was born on November 26, 1922.

For over sixty years readers have turned to the comic pages to see what was happening in the lives of Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the gang in Peanuts, probably the most popular comic strip ever, and it was inspired by the Sundays Carl and Charles Schulz spent together reading the comic strips. The young boy was fascinated by Mickey Mouse and Popeye and developed an ambition to be a cartoonist. Like Thomas Nast he was 15 when his first drawing, of Spike the family dog, was printed in a nationally-syndicated newspaper feature.

After war service Schulz sold one-panel cartoons focused on drawings of precocious children with large heads using words and behavior well beyond their years, then the first simple four-panel Peanuts strip appeared on October 2, 1950, in seven newspapers nationwide. As newspaper editors in the late 1940s and 50s wanted a change in style, a post-war minimalist model compared to the stylized versions of pre-war years, his intellectual and self-effacing humor was a natural fit for mid-20th century comics world wide.

A humor that could be observational, ironic, sarcastic, nostalgic, silly, bittersweet, and with a large dose of suspended reality, it was honored in many ways over the years.

Including the Apollo 10 mission, when the modules were named "Charlie Brown", the Command and Service Module, and "Snoopy", the Lunar Module, after the two main characters in the comic strip.

Charles Schulz "Peanuts" humor even conquered space.


All illustrations via de.Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons


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Content copyright © 2014 by Francine McKenna-Klein. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Francine McKenna-Klein. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Francine McKenna-Klein for details.

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