During the recent Super Bowl Budweiser ran a terrific ad that depicted a young Adolphus Busch emigrating from Germany to St. Louis where through grit and perseverance he founded what would become America's largest brewery. Along the way he encounters anti-immigrant hatred. The ad was perceived by fanatical Trump supporters as a criticism of the president's immigration policy and they vowed to boycott Budweiser, even though the ad was made long before the 2016 election. These Trump supporters are too stupid to stop and think that their Führer is himself the grandson of a German immigrant. In the 19th century Germans represented the largest group of immigrants to America by far. And for the most part they assimilated nicely into their new homeland:
Adolphus Busch participated in a wave of immigrant activism that negotiated American economic and cultural life and in turn transformed both German-American citizenship and the brewing industry. Contemporary questions about the rights and status of immigrants are no more foreign today than 160 years ago, and the unforeseeable social and moral implications of an increasingly globalized world carry significant weight. Immigrants in the 1850s, German and otherwise, forced Americans to reflect on the practical definitions of notions like rights and citizenship. These notions revealed themselves to be multifaceted negotiations rather than static monoliths.
The number of great US enterprises founded by German immigrants is impressive. Many Americans know that Friedrich Trump, Donald Trump's grandfather, emigrated from Kallstadt. But the citizens of Kallstadt are really proud that the family of H.J. Heinz came from the city. How many Americans know that household names such as Levi Strauss, Miller, Pabst, Pfizer, Warburg, Steinway and Boeing were all started by German immigrant families. More recently, German immigrants have left their mark on Silicon Valley: Andy Bechtolsheim, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems and early investor in Google, left Germany to study at Carnegie Mellon and Stanford and went on to play an important role in the development of Silicon Valley.
The German Historical Institute in Washington DC. (funded by the Max Weber Stiftung) has created a wonderful database that traces the lives, careers, and business ventures of German-American business people of roughly the last two hundred and ninety years, integrating the history of German-American immigration into the larger narrative of U.S. economic and business history. I really enjoy reading about some of the entrepreneurs who weren't nearly as famous as Adolphus Busch or William Boeing. Just two examples:
- Heinz Knoll, originally from Stuttgart, whose modernist furniture design define the American office during the "Mad Men" era of the 1950s and 1960s.
"By the early 1950s, the “Knoll look” became a staple in corporate offices across the United States. Notable clients during the late 1940s and 1950s included Alcoa, the Bando Hotel in Seoul, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Connecticut General Life Insurance Company, the Dow Chemical Company, the Federal Reserve Bank in Detroit, the Heinz Corporation, the Center for Advanced Study at Palo Alto, and the Universities of Rochester and Michigan. An influential early client was Nelson Rockefeller, a prominent businessman and philanthropist art collector whose offices Knoll redesigned in 1945 as he returned to private life after serving as an Assistant Secretary of State. Of particular importance for Knoll’s reputation and business development was the interior design work done for the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) during the early 1950s. In 1954 Knoll redesigned the offices of CBS president Frank Stanton. Knoll’s work received extensive coverage both in the general press such as the New York Times and in leading trade journals such as Interiors and Architectural Forum, thereby amplifying the impact of their designs."
- Alfred Lion, originally from Berlin, who arrived in New York City in 1936 and founded one of the world’s foremost jazz record labels, Blue Note Records.
"Besides its distinctive sound, Blue Note set itself apart from the industry in their respect for jazz as an art form. According to Alfred, “The way [the other companies] recorded was completely different from the way I did. They’d make a session in three hours, six tunes, let’s go, boom, boom….I never rushed musicians into the studio and rushed them out. When we went into overtime, which was double for everybody and triple for the leader – forget all this, let’s make the records, right?” What also set Blue Note apart was Alfred’s insistence on rehearsal time, for which he paid his musicians. The industry standard was to call a session time and record the artists playing ad hoc, without rehearsal. Blue Note rehearsals often were held in New York City at Nola’s Studio at 62nd Street and Broadway or at Lynn Oliver’s Studio at 96th Street and Broadway. Paying Blue Note musicians for rehearsal time meant two additional days of earnings for them, a rarity at the time. Blue Note also was committed to paying the musicians royalties, not entirely an industry standard.
Who knew that a Jewish Berliner played such a key role in the development of the quintessential American art form of Jazz music?