09 October 2005

Some of my Favorite German-Americans

As promised, in honor of German-American Day.


John Augustus Roebling was born in Germany in 1806, studied engineering in Berlin, and came to the United States in 1831. He was a pioneer in the building of suspension bridges, and built the Allegheny Suspension Bridge, the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge, and the Cincinnati and Covington Bridge over the Ohio. His most ambitious project was the Brooklyn Bridge. It was scarcely begun when Roebling, directing operations, was injured in an accident and died a few days later.

His son Washington Augustus Roebling had assisted his father in building the Allegheny Suspension Bridge. During the Civil War he joined the Union Army as a private, was transferred to Irvin McDowell's engineering staff, and rose to the rank of colonel. After his father's death he directed the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. Because of continuous underground work he was stricken with decompression sickness in 1872, but despite his illness directed the project until the bridge was opened to traffic in 1883.


Albert Einstein began traveling to the United States in the 1920s and on his third visit in 1932, he was offered a post at Princeton. One month after his immigration, the Nazis came to power in Germany and Einstein never returned.

The same year, Einstein wrote in “Mein Glaubensbekenntnis” (My statement of faith): “I always respect the individual and have an insurmountable antipathy against violence and against the obsession with joining organizations. For all of these reasons, I am a passionate pacifist and anti-militarist and reject every form of nationalism, even when it is disguised as patriotism.”

With the rise of fascism Einstein abandoned his pacifism. In 1939 he sent a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and urged the United States to develop an atomic bomb before Germany did. The letter was one of many exchanged between the White House and Einstein, and it contributed to Roosevelt's decision to fund what became the Manhattan Project and led to the development of the atomic bomb by the United States.

The Beer Barons


Busch, Pabst, Schlitz, Ruppert, Ehret, Miller, et al

By the mid-1870s, the number of breweries operating in America had grown to an astounding 4,000. Over the next twenty-five years, the nation's beer production soared from about 10 million barrels (31 gallons per barrel) to nearly 40 million barrels per year.

Initially, the early German brewers in America brewed only English style brews like ales and stouts. With the arrival of bottom-fermenting lager beer yeast from Europe in the 1840s they began producing the Bavarian-style lagers and golden pilsners that would ultimately become their trademark in America.

The Beer barons were flamboyant men who enjoyed their wealth and positions in American society.

One famous New York brewer, Jacob Ruppert, bought the New York Yankees in 1915 and transformed the struggling baseball team into the American League powerhouse of their day. Using his vast beer profits, the Colonel built Yankee Stadium and bought talent like Babe Ruth and Waite Hoyt.

Captain Frederick Pabst was always at his best when showing off his Milwaukee brewery to visiting dignitaries. During a visit by New York Governor Roswell P. Flowers, the Captain sought to demonstrate the strength and fitness of his men:

"You see that fire bucket hanging on the wall?" asked Captain Pabst. "Any of my men can fill that pail with beer and drink it down as you would a glassful." Turning to a nearby employee to prove it, the Captain said in a raised voice, "Isn't that so, Pete?"

"Ja, Herr Captain," replied the worker, "but would you excuse me just one minute?"

The worker retreated to an adjacent room and upon his return, filled the fire bucket with beer, hoisted it to his mouth, and proceeded to drain it in one long pull. Impressed by the feat, the Governor and the Captain congratulated the beaming employee and proceeded with their tour of the brewery.

When the Captain later asked the worker why it had been necessary to leave the room before emptying the bucket the employee replied, somewhat embarrassed, "Vell, Captain, I didn't know for sure could I do it. So I just went to try it first."


My grandmother, Florence von Erhardt, born one of 13 children to German immigrants in New York City in 1906.

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