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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

GERMANS - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

GERMANS formed one of Cleveland's largest and most influential nationality groups in the 19th and 20th centuries. Although not as large as the German communities in some northern cities, the local community had an important influence on the city's economic, educational, and cultural life. Cleveland and other lake cities lagged a few years behind Cincinnati and St. Louis in the influx of Germans, for both of these cities gained German immigrants via the riverways and the National Road. Prior to the opening of the OHIO AND ERIE CANAL, Cleveland's Germans were chiefly those of German descent from Pennsylvania, New York, and Maryland whose forebears had generally come to America before the Revolutionary War; many of Cleveland's early civic leaders, such as LEONARD CASE†, claimed German heritage of this kind. Germans began arriving in Cleveland in substantial numbers during the 1830s, first settling along Lorain St. in Brooklyn, and along Superior and Garden (Central Ave.) streets on the east side. As the city expanded during the 19th century, succeeding generations moved east, west, and south, eventually fusing with other elements of the total population.

Many German newcomers to America were motivated to leave their German homelands by a combination of factors that included political oppression, religious persecution, and economic depression--especially crop failure in the Rhineland. Between 1840-46, when Cleveland's population grew from 6,000 to 10,000, German immigrants constituted one third of this new growth. As a new wave of political refugees began arriving in 1848-49 via the RAILROADS, the German-born population reached 2,590, about 60 less than the total of all other foreign-born residents. The Germans arriving after the unsuccessful Revolution of 1848 were freedom lovers and were generally well educated. Opposed to slavery, they later showed strong support for the northern cause during the Civil War. After a lull during the Civil War, emigration to America resumed substantially until 1873. Some of this exodus included people unhappy with the formation of the German Empire under Prussian domination in 1871. The 1873 financial panic in the U.S. and a concurrent industrial boom in the new Germany were probable causes of a temporary waning in emigration to America in the late 1870s. However, Germans remained the largest group arriving in the city on an annual basis until the mid-1890s. By 1900 over 40,000 Germans resided in the city, and over 45,000 in the county. Later immigration was on a smaller scale but continual, and often consisted of German-speaking peoples from outside of the German state, particularly from Austria-Hungary. Except for those escaping economic depression in the mid-1920s and Nazism in the 1930s, relatively few settlers have come to Cleveland from Germany in the 20th century. German-speaking immigrants have been in the main those fleeing Communism in German-speaking communities outside, Germany proper, the so-called Volksdeutsche. Many of these are members of the large Cleveland Danube-Swabian organization. German immigration in Cleveland began to slacken at a time when the immigration of most other nationality groups in the city was just beginning. As a result, Germans assimilated earlier, and their influence was most directly felt during the 19th century; most of the old German neighborhoods had already disappeared by the time of World War I.

Among skilled craftsmen ca. 1850, Germans outnumbered all others, even though they composed a lesser proportion of the total population. They worked as jewelers, tailors, makers of musical instruments (e.g., pianos, such as those built by the DREHER PIANO CO.), cabinetmakers, and "machinists" (i.e., mechanics). The Germans' introduction of beer as a popular beverage perhaps aided in tempering the drinking habits of Cleveland natives by diminishing the consumption of hard liquors. Initially, the German BREWING AND DISTILLING INDUSTRY in Cleveland consisted of small breweries, each intended to serve only the brewer's own tavern. The breweries later expanded to become wholesale suppliers--notably LEISY BREWING CO., GUND BREWING CO., Schlather, and PILSENER BREWING CO. After the Civil War, Cleveland Germans, like other American Germans, distinguished themselves in the manufacturing of pianos, furniture, coffins, clothing, stoves, metal products, and carriages, and later in the tool-and-die industry and building trades. THEODOR KUNDTZ† was a particularly important cabinet manufacturer. Germans were also prominent in the wholesale and large-scale food businesses, such as the Haserot Co. and the WEIDEMAN CO., the retail grocery business, wholesale baking enterprises such as the LAUB BAKING CO., retail baked goods, and the restaurant business.

In AGRICULTURE, Germans introduced advanced soil-conservation methods to the Cleveland area. Rather than seeking land previously uncultivated, they often took over farms deserted because of soil depletion and rejuvenated the soil through methods unknown in America. Louis Harms, a viticulturist, experimented with various kinds of grapes until he found the type best suited to the climate and soil of EUCLID. Cleveland Germans also made significant contributions in the field of science and technology. The first seismograph for measuring the intensity of earthquakes was made by Fr. FREDERICK L. ODENBACH† of St. Ignatius Univ., now JOHN CARROLL UNIVERSITY Other German-Americans connected with Cleveland universities and colleges, such as ALBERT A. MICHELSON†, achieved significant breakthroughs in science, or developed new instruments and methods useful in science or industry.


Unlike most other nationality groups that came to Cleveland, the Germans came from a variety of religious backgrounds. The total number of churches with services in German reached 120 or more in Greater Cleveland. The first, founded in 1835, split early into Evangelical and Lutheran congregations. The latter one (ZION EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH) introduced the Christmas tree and other German Christmas customs to Cleveland. After 1840 other German religious groups followed in quick order, including Jewish, Evangelical Assn., Catholic, United Brethren, Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal, Seventh-Day Adventist, and Reformed congregations. Some churches continued to hold services in German until World War II. The German churches in Cleveland were also responsible for founding many benevolent societies and hospitals. In 1864 the Central German Conference of the Methodist Episcopal church established an orphan home in BEREA. As of 1994, it still served children of all faiths as the Berea Children's Home. German churches also founded 3 hospitals, still flourishing on the west side in the 1980s. A committee of Reformed church ministers opened a health-care facility on Scranton Rd. in 1898. Later it moved to Franklin Blvd., where it was known as German Hospital until World War I, when its name was changed to Fairview Park Hospital (FAIRVIEW HOSPITAL on Lorain Ave.). The LUTHERAN MEDICAL CENTER on Franklin Blvd. grew from modest beginnings in 1896. The third hospital, DEACONESS HOSPITAL OF CLEVELAND, was founded in 1920 by the Evangelical Synod of North America. The ALTENHEIM, a skilled-nursing facility in STRONGSVILLE, was organized on Detroit Ave. in 1892 by the West Seite Deutscher Frauenverein, which was originally interested in supporting the training of teachers of German.

It was primarily through their schools, social clubs, and cultural organizations that the Germans attempted to preserve their language and culture. Cleveland's German churches and private organizations, notably the Freimaennerverein, sponsored German schools until 1870, when the German language was introduced into the curriculum of the public elementary schools. Lutheran and Catholic schools continued to offer German until early in the 20th century. The removal of German from the public elementary schools was not caused solely by the anti-German feeling during World War I, inasmuch as German immigration had slackened over a complete generation, while the influx of other ethnic groups had increased. The elimination of German in the high schools, however, was brought about largely by the lack of interest among pupils imbued with patriotism. Several institutions of higher learning were organized by Germans. The first of these was German Wallace College, founded in Berea in 1863 as an outgrowth of the German Dept. of Baldwin Univ. German was the language, of instruction for most of the courses at German Wallace College, which merged with Baldwin Univ. in 1913 to become BALDWIN-WALLACE COLLEGE. Other colleges with German beginnings were NOTRE DAME COLLEGE OF OHIO, founded by a group of Sisters of Notre Dame from Germany, and Calvin College (1881-99), founded by the Reformed church. John Carroll Univ. was originally founded by German Jesuits as St. Ignatius College at W. 39th and Carroll St.

The Germans made perhaps their most significant impact in Cleveland on the city's cultural life, especially in the field of ART. The Cleveland Art Club, also known as the Old Bohemians, was founded in 1876 and provided the city with its first nucleus of notable artists, most of them--such as FREDERICK C. GOTTWALD†, OTTO BACHER†, and Max Bohm--the sons of German immigrants. Many received training abroad, primarily at the art schools in Munich and Dusseldorf. A succeeding generation of German-descended artists would dominate the city's art life until World War II. When the KOKOON ARTS CLUB was founded in 1911, 11 of its 13 charter members were of German descent. Many from this next generation of artists also received their instruction abroad, and helped make Cleveland during the 1920s a leading center of art activity. Germans also distinguished themselves in ARCHITECTURE; prominent architects in Cleveland of German extraction included FRANK E. CUDELL†, CHAS. F. SCHWEINFURTH†, and JOHN EISENMANN†.

Germans were also quite influential in raising the standards of MUSIC in the city. ORLANDO V. SCHUBERT†, nephew of composer Franz Schubert, was the first director of the Cleveland Grays Band in 1840. German orchestras, BANDS, and singing societies proliferated throughout the second half of the 19th century. In 1855, 1859, 1874, 1893, and 1927, Cleveland was host to the North American Saengerbund's SAENGERFESTS. In 1858 the Cleveland Gesangverein began a long tradition of locally produced OPERA with a performance of Flotow's Alessandro Stradella. German organizations and directors such as FERDINAND PUEHRINGER† continued to offer Cleveland-produced opera well into the 20th century. The German community also produced some notable composers and conductors, such as JOHANN BECK†. In the mid-1980s, there were still half a dozen German music groups in Cleveland that had 19th-century roots. Since the days of heavy German immigrations, Cleveland has not been without a German newspaper. The first one, GERMANIA, did not survive long after its 1847 beginning. Five years later, in 1852, the Waechter am, Erie, founded by JACOB MUELLER†, Louis Ritter, and Heinrich Rochette, began serving the German community and continued to do so through the 1980s as the WAECHTER UND ANZEIGER, having merged with the Anzeiger in 1893.

Despite some disturbances, Cleveland Germans did not suffer excessively from anti-German hysteria during World War I. Although it has been asserted that many German street names were eliminated, the loss of German names may actually have come during the change of north-south street names to numbered streets in 1906. A total of 308,777 Germans and descendants of earlier German immigrant groups constituted the largest white ethnic group in Cuyahoga County in 1990. It is possible that Cleveland's Germans lag behind Cincinnati's in their attempts to preserve their ethnic past, and also behind Columbus's, where the 19th-century German Village has been restored. Cleveland Germans, with the city of Cleveland, have, however, paid homage to the cultural heroes of Germany in the German Cultural Garden on Martin Luther King Blvd. In 1983 the FEDERATION OF GERMAN-AMERICAN SOCIETIES OF GREATER CLEVELAND was instrumental in having a downtown street named for Daniel Pastorius, organizer of the first German emigration to America in 1683. German culture and customs in Cleveland have perhaps been most visibly preserved in Gemuetlichkeit, expressed through love of music, dancing, and conviviality. This "old world" spirit has been centered in a number of German beer gardens, restaurants, festivals, and performing groups, and at such places, and events, as the GERMAN CENTRAL FARM, the Sachsenheim, Lenau Park, and the Oktoberfest. In the 1970s the SCHUHPLATTLER AND TRACHTENVEREIN BAVARIA won 1st place in 6 of 10 biennial North American competitions. That the German clubs have the future of their ethnic culture in mind is evidenced by the emphasis on the appeal to youth; several societies continue, in the 1990s, to have vigorous music and dance programs for young people. They include the Danube-Swabians, relative newcomers, who erected a large multipurpose German Cultural Ctr. on Columbia Rd.

John R. Sinnema

Baldwin-Wallace College


Last Modified: 16 Jul 1997 01:50:04 PM

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