by Karen Pearson and Elizabeth Holmes

(adapted from Builders, Brewers, and Burghers by Dale R. Wirsing)


In 1890, Germans were the second largest immigration group to come to the Northwest. They came to America to escape war and famine, and to satisfy a desire for liberty and take advantage of economic opportunity. Many settled in the Eastern part of the country at first, but ended up coming West in search of good, cheap land, the opportunity to practice their trades or sell their wares. They found homes either on the fertile farmlands of Eastern Washington, or in the larger cities.

Oddly enough, many of the German immigrants who settled in the Pacific Northwest did not come directly from Germany, rather they came from Russia. Catherine the Great, the German princess of Russia from 1762-1796, had acquired land from the Volga and Black Sea regions. Needing this land to be cultivated, she invited foreigners to live in Russia. The perks, as described in her manifesto, were many. Free transportation was to be provided for those who couldn’t afford it; the immigrants were given the choice of where to settle; freedom of religion (except for Muslims) was granted; interest-free loans were given for the purchase of household utensils and agricultural equipment, as was a 30-year exemption from taxes for farmers; local autonomy was given to communities of foreigners, and they were not required to serve in the military. This dream-world, however, didn’t last for long. These rights began to get slowly revoked in 1871 and the Russian government tried slowly to assimilate the immigrant populations. When this started, many German families decided to leave.

Two towns in Eastern Washington that were home to many of these Germans are Endicott and Ritzville. In 1883, Ritzville consisted of 17 German families that had left the village of Kolb in Russia several years earlier. Endicott attracted many because there was work to be found in the railroad industry. Through these and other German settlements in Eastern Washington, the wheat industry, one of the mainstays of Washington State, was developed.

People and Industry

German immigrants played a crucial role in the shaping of Washington state during its formative years. They helped build some of the Northwest's most vital industries, such as trading, logging, railroads, and journalism. Without their influence, these industries would not be as strong as they are today.

John Jacob Astor, born in a town near Heidelberg on July 17, 1763, immigrated to New York at the age of twenty, where he became a buyer of pelts and hides. Three years later, he went into business for himself as a fur trader. He incorporated the American Fur Company in 1808 and while he set up subsidiary companies he also worked out a modus vivendi with the Canadian North West Company. In January 1811, Astor and three former employees of the Canadian North West Company formed the Pacific Fur Company. They then established Fort Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia river, which, even after it was captured by the British in 1813, strengthened the United States’ claim on the Oregon Territory. When Astor retired, he was the president of the German Society of New York.

Henry Villard, another central figure in the formation of Washington State, not only had no money when he arrived in the States, but also spoke no English. He became the editor of the Volksblatt, a German newspaper for Racine, Wisconsin, and later a jounalist for New York’s Staatszeitung. At twenty-five, he was reporting on the Civil War for the New York Tribune and the New York Herald. In 1873, the Frankfort Committee for the Protection of Bondholders asked Villard to represent them in the United States, making sure that the German investments in the railroad industry were safe. Six years later, he ended up forming a syndicate to buy out the European bondholders, creating the Oregon Railway and Transportation Company. He made a deal with Northern Pacific to build a railroad from the Snake River to Palouse County and promptly took control of the company. In 1884, Villard resigned as president, becoming an agent for the Deutsche Bank in the United States, investing German capital in railroad securities. Northern Pacific finished its Cascade Branch in 1888, linking Seattle and Tacoma to Eastern Washington. Villard died in 1900, leaving a large sum of money to educational institutions in Bavaria.

Frederick Weyerhaeuser, born in Niedersaulheim on November 21, 1834,did wonders for the Northwest’s logging industry. After coming to America, he worked in a saw mill, and soon purchased his own lumber mill in 1858. In 1900, Weyerhaeuser and his associates signed the largest land transfer ever to occur in America: 900,000 acres (at $6 per acre) from the Northern Pacific. This was the beginning of the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company, which is still one of the largest timber companies in the states.

August Valentine Kautz made a name for himself by being the first to lead an expedition to Mt. Rainier’s summit. Gustav Sohon, a young artist, is well-known for his paintings of famous Native American Chiefs. Unlike many artists who chose the same subject matter, Sohon kept his paintings realistic, refusing to represent his subject in the stereotypical garb of feathers and war-paint. Seattle’s wholesale trade began with the formation of the general merchandise business Pacific Marine Schwabacher, founded by Martin, Adolf, and Sigmund Schwabacher, and their brother-in-law, Bailey Gatzert. Gatzert later became one of the organizers of Puget Sound National Bank, which eventually became Seattle-First National Bank.

As Germans are known for their superior beers, it is not surprising that many breweries were founded by German immigrants. Andrew Hemrich began the Bay View Brewery; Hans J. Claussen, the Claussen Brewing Company; and Leopold Schmidt, the Olympia Brewing Company.

There were also those that founded actual cities. William Bremer, a real estate agent, founded Bremerton. Captain Henry Roeder, an American of German heritage, helped the Whatcom county settlements to merge, creating what is now Bellingham. The town of Megler, on the Columbia River, was named after Joseph Megler, who not only built a salmon cannery, but served in the State House of Representatives for Washington’s first legislative session as a state of the union in 1889. He served for eight years on the state senate as well. German born Arthur Jacob Weisbach was mayor of Tacoma from 1884-1887. He had been involved in the revolt in Germany in 1848. Weisbach was driven out of Germany by imperial troops and was captured and imprisoned in a French fortress for four months. As the Italian patriot Mazzini fled through Germany, Weisbach aided him and was arrested and imprisoned again. After his release he immigrated to Kansas. He founded the town of Frankfurt and became its first mayor. He later served in the Kansas legislature and in 1881 moved West, settling in Tacoma. He was elected to city council in 1883 and served as mayor and then died in 1889.

A few others who are of importance include Henry G. Struve, who served in the legislature and awakened interest in purchasing Alaska in 1866, Jacob Harder, who set up a cattle- and horse-ranch on the Snake River, eventually forming the 3,000 acre Mason Ranch on Cow Creek, which, at the time of Harder’s death, had grown to be 110,000 acres, and Louis Schwellenbach, who was appointed by President Roosevelt in 1940 to the post of federal district judge for Eastern Washington, later serving as secretary of labor in President Truman’s cabinet.

Another important industry that has continued to this day was sparked by the journalistic pursuits of a Prussian-born printer named R. Damus. He moved to Seattle in 1883 and began Die Washington Tribüne, the first German language newspaper. Before long, other German newspapers came into being. Die Puget Sound Post formed also in 1883 by Schmidt and Hunter. The following year Ernest Hoppe and Philip Schmitz began publication of Wacht am Sunde (Watch on the Sound) in Seattle. In 1885 the proprietors took Wacht am Sunde to Tacoma, where it was published for forty-five years. For many years Arthur Weichbrod, who was also proprietor of Tacoma's German-American Printing Co., served as its editor. Unfortunately, no copies of Wacht am Sunde seemed to have been preserved.

The most significant German-language publication in the state was the weekly Washington Staatszeitung (State Times), which was published in Seattle from 1894-1918. Its publication was suspended from 1918-1922, and continued from 1922-1940. The Seattle German Press, published from 1909 to 1918, was united with the Washington Staatszeitung and appeared as a daily during World War 1. After World War 1, the German-language press declined. Immigration from Germany had tapered off, and the children of the immigrants spoke English. Today, like most other foreign-language press, the German-language newspapers have practically disappeared from Washington State. At the present there are only two German-language newspapers in publication: the Pazifische Rundschau (Pacific Review), published in Blaine by Baldwin Ackerman, and the Continental Reporter, a monthly tabloid-sized newspaper issued by the Continental Club, containing articles in both English and German.


Most of the German immigrants adhered to one of the branches of Lutheranism. Soon after the Germans arrived in the Northwest, many Lutheran churches were built in the region. Tacoma Illustrated 1889 described the German Lutheran Church at 1307 I Street as "one of the old and strong ecclesiastical organizations in the city." By 1900 the Tacoma city directory listed a German Evangelical Church, a German Lutheran Parochial School, a German Evangelical Lutheran Zion's Church, and a German Evangelical Lutheran Trinity Church and School. The first German Churches to take root in Seattle include Evangelical Lutheran Zion's Church, organized in 1893; Trinity Lutheran (Missouri Synod) in 1900; and St. Paul's Evangelical Church in Ballard. The building of St. Paul's still exists today and is currently home of the New Age Christian Church. St. Paul's began in 1890 as the Ballard Reformed Church, fell under the supervision of the German Congregationalists for a time, and then in 1904 became a congregation of the Evangelical Synod of North America.

In 1846 the German Congregational Movement began in Iowa. It espoused the doctrines of salvation by grace, the universal priesthood of all believers, and the autonomy of the local church. The first contingent of Germans to arrive in Ritzville, WA organized a German Congregational Church with the help of Rev. R.F. Frucht in 1883. In the same year Rev. Frucht traveled to Endicott, WA and gathered the German settlers together to establish the Endicott Evangelical Congregational Church. These two churches are the oldest parishes surviving in the denomination today. The German Congregationalists also organized churches in Walla Walla, Colfax, Dusty, Lind, Odessa, and Quincy.

German Methodism had its beginnings in the Northwest in 1883, organizing its first church in Walla Walla. By 1892 there were congregations at Centralia, Chehalis, Fairhaven, Whatcom, Harrington, Seattle, Snohomish, Spokane, Rosalia, and Tacoma. After World War I the number of German Methodist Churches declined due to the discontinuation of the German Conference as a separate entity in 1928. At this time congregations could be found at Connell, Ridgefield, Ritzville, Rocklyn-Davenport, Rosalia, Spokane and Walla Walla.

Roman Catholic Germans organized the Sacred Heart Church in Spokane in 1891 under the direction of Father Barnabas Held, OSB, of Mount Angel, Oregon. A school for German-speaking children was also built, and the two became a German social center and rallying place. Colton and Uniontown, which lie in southern Whitman County, were another place where Catholic Germans settled. The first settlers, comprised of eighteen families, came west in 1867 in a wagon train from St. Cloud, Minn., headed by Capt. P.B. Davey. The journey ended in Helena, Mont., and the immigrants were on their own. They made their way to Walla Walla and then to the Colton-Uniontown area where they took up homesteads. The settlers prospered, and they built a Roman Catholic Church, named for St. Boniface, the patron saint of Germany, in 1879. Uniontown also had St. Andrew's Convent, which was operated by the Benedictine Sisters, who were German-speaking nuns from Switzerland. The convent was moved to Colton in 1893. The people of Colton also built their own church, St. Gall's, that was completed in 1893.

Today, a handful of churches around the state conduct services in German on special occasions, but there are two churches -- one in Seattle and one in Tacoma -- that offer regular German-language worship services. The Vereinigte Deutschsprachige Kirche (German United Church of Christ) is located at 1107 E. Howell Street in Seattle. And the recently organized Deutsche Kirche für den Pazifischen Nordwesten (German Church of the Pacific Northwest) is located at 3735 Waller Rd. in Tacoma.

Culture and Organizations

A characteristic of German immigrants is "Geselligkeit," which is a tendency to form organizations to promote sociability and common interests.

One of the most enduring German-oriented organizations is the Sons and Sisters of Hermann. The Sons of Hermann had its origin as a mutual protection society for German immigrants to New York City in the 1840s. The organization took its name from Hermann "the Cherusker," who in his time succeeded in uniting the German tribes against Roman invaders. The state's first "Hermanns-Söhne" lodge was organized in Tacoma in 1889, the second, in Seattle in 1890. Other lodges were subsequently formed in Bellingham, Everett, Spokane, Uniontown, Walla Walla, and Chehalis. The organization promotes love of the German language and preservation of German customs and traditions as well as providing its members with insurance. Lodges are still active in Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane, and Chehalis. In Tacoma a large auditorium called Germania Hall was built in the late 1880s near the corner of S. 13th and Fawcett Ave. The building was a center of German lodge activity in early Tacoma and still stands today.

Another popular organization was the German Turn Verein. The Turn Verein was formed for the "purpose of practicing and further developing that system of physical and mental exercise called turning," as stated by Udo Hesse, president of the Seattle Turn Verein, in 1924. The system of exercise called "turning" originated in the early 1800s by Dr. Friedrich Ludwig Jahn. The Seattle Turn Verein was formed on April 17, 1885, and the Tacoma Turn Verein was formed around the same time. In the mid-1920s the Turn Vereins died out due to financial difficulties and war hysteria, which placed the organization and its members under unjust and unreasonable suspicions.

In Washington Germans also formed a Sängerbund (singing organization). German singing societies were first formed in the area in the 1880s. Two German male choruses, the Liederkranz and Orion, and the Nord Pazifik Sängerbund still existed in Seattle in 1924. The Tacoma Sängerbund observed its 50th anniversary in 1939. But in 1976 the only Sängerbund to be found was Arion, which was a mixed chorus.

During World War 1 two organizations were formed: the German and Austrian Relief Society and the Steuben Society of America. The former was created in 1914 and for three years assisted Germans who fled Canada and raised thousands of dollars for the German and Austrian Red Cross. When America entered the war, the society disbanded. The latter was founded in May 1919 for the direct purpose of changing the image of Germany and Germans that had developed during the war. The Steuben Society hoped to counteract the myth of the barbaric Hun fostered by Allied propaganda during the war in order to demonstrate that Germany was in fact the home of cultured people. They also wanted to show that Germans were loyal to America and its endeavors.

Over the years, the number of German organizations in Seattle has diminished. In 1917 the Seattle German Press listed 19 separate organizations. By 1924 the number of clubs in Seattle had declined to 15. Today the number of organizations remaining is eight.

In 1925, a state coordinating body for German-speaking organizations, Zentralverband Deutschsprechender Vereine, was organized in Seattle. Its affiliated groups included the singing societies, lodges, Turners, and the American-German Volksbund. The Zentralverband is still in operation, and resides in the German House at 613 9th Ave. in Seattle, which it acquired in 1933.

The Continental Club was formed in 1961 for the purpose of establishing and maintaining a program of Germanic activities and to perpetuate the Germanic cultural heritage. Located in Kirkland, the club sponsors such activities as an Oktoberfest celebration, maintains a Berghaus (mountain lodge) on Snoqualmie Pass, and used to sponsor charter flights to and from Germany. Its membership has grown to about 4500. Associated with the Continental Club is the German Retirement Home. In 1973 the two clubs jointly purchased a site in Juanita to build a 100-room retirement home completed in 1977.

For the most part, Germans blended well into mainstream America and there are plausible reasons for this occurrence. First of all, the German language is quite similar to English, as there are many cognates (Milch = milk, Bier = beer, etc). Secondly, the German culture welcomed technological advances, enabling immigrants to fit into the machin-oriented American society. The family structure also permitted individual accomplishment and private savings, not requiring that one family member share their wealth amongst all their relatives. Lastly, the anti-German hysteria that was brought about by World War I caused them to have to assimilate.

German-Americans experienced some hostility from American society even though they supported the U.S. in various ways. For example, many of them fought in the war against Germany. Despite this fact, German-Americans were dealt numerous blows, one of them being that 25 states including Washington banned the teaching of the German language during the war. Some suspected German-Americans of being disloyal because there was a fear that they supported the Industrial Workers of the World. The IWW was known to be an anti-war anarchist group. During this period, however, the Seattle German Press continued to publish their paper daily and reiterated the loyalty of the German community towards the U.S.

Once World War I ended it seems everything went back to normal for Germans in American society. Many second-generation immigrants did not learn their native language. This was seen among nearly all immigrant groups in America, however. And the war made it so many immigrants had to choose completely between their homeland and their new country.

German culture in the Northwest has seen a revival, especially among the grandchildren of the original immigrants. There are a number of German Festivals held throughout the state including Odessa's annual Deutsches Fest, held on the third weekend of September, and Uniontown's annual sausage feed. The first sausage feed, in 1954, attracted an unexpected 1200 people. Now Uniontown's cooks feed wurst and other German fare to about 2500 people each year.

Another indication of the increased interest in German culture is the success of the German-language schools. They are typically private, nonprofit organizations meeting in borrowed or rented church facilities, offering beginning and advanced German-language instruction for children and adults. In 1967 this program received great support when the Ford Foundation granted $600,000 for the five-year Washington State Foreign Language Program to strengthen language teaching in the state. It began with a pilot project program of German instruction for 120 children in Port Orchard. Among the most successful school were the Seattle German Language School, founded in 1965, and the Tacoma German School, founded in 1970.

The Northwest's German Legacy

The Germans brought with them skills that added greatly to the commercial, industrial, and agricultural development of the state. They also contributed to the strengthening of the social fabric of a new state. In many cases, the Germans brought with them a stable family structure and a loyalty to their religion. Most Germans carried with them a belief in private property and in a person's right to enjoy what their own labor had earned.

To the political fabric of the state the Germans contributed their much-remarked sense of order and respect for authority. Instead of seeking political office, the German population was known to expect equality and predictability from the political process rather than an opportunity for participation. Also, German immigrants showed great eagerness to become naturalized citizens of the United States. Two possible reasons for this are as follows: the typical German immigrant had severed his psychic ties to his homeland, for he did not expect to return there; and Germany prior to Bismarck was composed politically of many different principalities that inspired little or no loyalty to Germany as a united country.

Finally, the Germans through their music, customs, food, language, and festivals have enriched Washington State by making it a more cosmopolitan place. Their hard work have made them an indispensable asset to the Northwest region's economy, culture and environment, and people.


(to be found in the University of Washington’s Suzzallo Library on Microform)

compiled by Karen Pearson and Elizabeth Holmes

Clayson, Edward. "Worthy Helpmeets: German-American Women." Patriarch [Seattle, WA] 5 Sept. 1914: 1, col. 3.

This article details the views of the German-American Women’s League of Washington regarding a proposed state-wide prohibition. Call # A7038

Howell, Erle. "German-Americans are Active in Seattle’s Community Life." Seattle Times (Magazine Issue) 26 Aug., 1956: 5.

This article describes the social activities of Seattle’s German-Americans. Call # A415

Kellogg, Carolyn. "Holy Rosary, Legacy of Early Tacoma Germans." Tacoma News Tribune 9 Oct., 1977: A7.

This article discusses the history of the Holy Rosary Church, established by German immigrants in 1891. Call # A3953

Warren, James. "German House celebrates its 100th year." Seattle Post Intelligencer 13 Nov., 1985: C2.

This article follows the history of the German House of Seattle from its construction in 1885 to its centennial. Call # A329

Washington Standard

The following articles are all quite short, untitled, and unaffiliated with any particular author. They make mention of various German settlements within the state of Washington and recount fluxes in immigration. Call # A234

1. Sept. 26, 1863, p 2, col 5

2. Feb. 5, 1870, p 2, col 2

3. May 2, 1874, p 2, col 4

4. Mar. 18, 1876, p 2, col 3

5. Mar. 9, 1878, p 4, col 4

6. Dec. 28, 1878, p 4, col 4