Reading Immigrant History By the Books


Reading Immigrant History By the Books
A Virtual Exhibit
Max Kade Institute for
German-American Studies

Introduction | Exhibit | Texts


Since statehood, Wisconsin has undergone tremendous changes in its ethnic makeup as well as in how ethnic groups here have seen themselves and how others have seen them. Few examples of this are as striking as the transformation of German-speaking immigrants from a distinctly foreign element into a major component of this state’s dominant culture. The development and subsequent decline of German-language publishing provides an important illustration of this change. The year of statehood, 1848, coincides with a revolution in Germany that brought a wave of notable journalists and authors to this state, at a time when German immigration to Wisconsin was already increasing rapidly.

Historical significance of the German-language press

At the turn of the century almost one hundred newspapers were being published in the German language in Wisconsin (four of them daily) and, over a span of more than a century, several hundred additional newspapers have been published in German from Kenosha to Superior and from Marinette to Platteville. The state also had large German-language publishing houses and Milwaukee was a leading national center for German publishing. German books have been published in Wisconsin since as early as 1844. From the mid 19th century to the present, we have seen a historical dynamic in Wisconsin imprints. Early on, there were particularly large numbers of travel reports, guides for newcomers, etc. Eventually, as language shift from German to English progressed through the community, the focus narrowed to more organizational and institutional histories and fewer works of general interest.

While book publishing included many religious works, the record shows a far more complex picture, with many technical and scientific works, a range of political writings and popular literature as well as belles lettres and musical scores.

The decline of publishing in German and general shift from German to English have traditionally been tied to the wave of anti-German sentiment prior to World War I. While that view has proven simplistic, xenophobia, nativism, anti-foreign language campaigns and related legislation all had their impact. The history of these tensions offers lessons for understanding contemporary intolerance toward immigrants and minority languages in this country. For example, popular and academic debates about immigration and English-only laws inevitably appeal to widely divergent historical interpretations of previous immigration and language laws.

Beyond such concerns with the direct impact on immigrants, many of the burning questions in the German press remain important down to the present, for example the role of parochial schools.In short, German-language publishing offers a valuable thread to trace through Wisconsin’s history, with important ties to the present.


This exhibit is a small sample of MKI’s special collection of imprints in the German language published in Wisconsin in the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. It was prepared by Lisa Cerami.

Frontispiece from 'Das Leben und Leiden Jesu Christi': ECCE HOMO
Frontispiece: ECCE HOMO Luis De Morales, Rom

Berg, Joseph: Das Leben und Leiden Jesu Christi. Milwaukee, Wis.: Milwaukee Book Co., 1910.

This ornate book describing the life of Christ is an example of religious material that was printed in German in Wisconsin. The introductory passage from Das Leben und Leiden expresses its desire to “wake or strengthen one believer’s soul to the Lord, to fortify this soul’s Love for God in this nonreligious and loveless time.” All of the biblical events are described in a narrative and familiar style.

Book cover: Vierhundert Jahre Amerikanischer GeschichteZimmerman, G. A.: Vierhundert Jahre Amerikanischer Geschichte. Zur 400jährigen Jubelfeier der Entdeckung Amerikas. Milwaukee, Wis.: Geo. Brumder, 1893.

The author’s intention was not to create a “Source-study of proven, scientific work” but rather to “offer a popular historical summary of the North American Continent especially the Union, to the Germans of our land.” The first chapter gives general geographic information and description of the earliest European expeditions, the Vikings. The following chapters recall the key periods in American history including colonization, the fight for independence and creation of a constitution, and the Civil War.

Illustration: Landung der Pilgerväter (p. 66)
Landung der Pilgerväter (p. 66)
Illustration: Die Schlacht am Little Horn und der Tod Custers (p.647)
Die Schlacht am Little Horn und der Tod Custers (p.647)

Book cover: Populäres Handbuch des Grasbaus, Futterpflanzenbaus, und der MilchwirthschaftBuschbauer, Hans: Populäres Handbuch des Grasbaus, Futterpflanzenbaus, und der Milchwirthschaft. Milwaukee, Wis.: Geo. Brumder, c1883.

In the 19th century Midwest agriculture was still relied upon as the main economic activity. Books such as Futterbau und Milchwirtschaft were very useful for the large German population of the area. The book gives directions and techniques needed to operate a successful farm. From planting to milking and processing milk and butter, the author incorporates all of the necessary information for a German-speaking cultivator, and proceeds to familiarize even the experienced farmer to the unfamiliar environmental conditions of Wisconsin, and aspects of the land and climate, including tips on how to feed during the severe winters, which would be otherwise unknown to a newcomer.

Illustration facing p. 160
Illustration facing p. 160

Germania Kalender für das Jahr 1915. Milwaukee, Wis.: Geo. Brumder, 1915.
(Library holds years 1881, 1884-1925)This book is a chaotic and fun compilation of facts, figures and dates from the year 1915, including Metric Conversion tables, the date of Easter until the year 1950, the length of the days in St. Louis, phases of the moon and remembrances for the birth of Martin Luther or the German capture of Straßburg of 1870. It also contains short historical narratives, and anecdotes, jokes, and longer romantic tales for a little light reading, along with illustrations of cathedrals in Nürnberg, Straßurg and Lübeck. The last 50 pages consist of advertisements picturing everything from a magic formula for faster hair growth to agricultural equipment, private medical practices and insurance policies. They are mainly in German but English words are already creeping into the immigrant’s language.

Page 1 of 'Wisconsin's Deutsch-Amerikaner bis zum Schluß des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts'
P. 1, Bd. 1.

Hense-Jensen, Wilhelm: Wisconsin’s Deutsch-Amerikaner bis zum Schluß des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts. Bd. 1. Bd. 2 von Hense-Jensen Wilhelm und Ernest Bruncken. Milwaukee, Wis.: Verlag der Deutschen Gesellschaft (Germania), 1900.

In these two volumes, published by the Deutsche Gesellschaft von Milwaukee to celebrate the state’s 50th anniversary, Wisconsin is described as the “most German-like out of all the communities in the Union.” The first volume charts the history of Wisconsin and the German settlers who helped shape it. It follows the trails of the pioneer German immigrants, the elements of German culture that were adapted to the New World, the settlers’ roles in the Civil War and in forming a new government, and the impact of the industrial revolution. The second volume continues to explore the impact of German culture on the developing culture, the political ramifications that were affecting the German citizens (for example, the Bennett Law campaign) and pictures the spirit of the German Volk at the turn of the century.

Book cover: Praktisches Kochbuch für die Deutschen in AmericaDavidis, Henriette: Praktisches Kochbuch für die Deutschen in America. Milwaukee, Wis.: Geo. Brumder, c1897.

The forward of this book defines the volume’s objectives: “A cookbook featuring German food in America should not be strictly German or American, but rather German-American. It should incorporate great tasting recipes from the German kitchen while not ignoring the equally good native foods and dishes that are unique to this region.” The book focusses on baking (bread, etc.), canning, sandwiches and lunch specialities, candies, and “Speisen für Kranke” (Food for the sick). All of the chapter headings, recipe names and some ingredients are entered both in English and in German. There are also two tables of contents, one in each language. Favorite German recipes including Sauerkraut and Red Cabbage are presented side by side with American specialities incorporating cornbread and pancakes.

Küchenkräuter. VII. Facing p. 28
Küchenkräuter. VII. Facing p. 28


Illustrations from Amerikanisches Gartenbuch für Stadt und Land...Buschbauer, Hans: Amerikanisches Gartenbuch für Stadt und Land… zurAnlage des Hausgartens und zur Kultur der Gemüse, Obstbäume, Reben, Forstbäume und Blumen. Milwaukee, Wis.: Geo. Brumder, c1892.

This detailed, illustrated guide supplies helpful hints to both the beginning gardener and the experienced horticulturist in growing vegetables, fruits, cultivating a vineyard, caring for forest trees or a flower garden, and more. In the “Gemüse” section, for example, the type of soil, amount of watering, sunlight and growing time are discussed as well as common culinary uses of certain herbs and vegetables. A detailed alphabetical index is located at the front of the book for easy reference, and some English translations, especially of fruit names, are included.

Book cover: Der deutsche Farmer im Busch und auf der Prairie...Buschbauer, Hans: Der deutsche Farmer im Busch und auf der Prairie. Praktisches Lehr- und Handbuch für alle Zweige der Amerikanischen Landwirthschaft… Milwaukee, Wis.: Geo. Brumder, c1882.

This book’s main objective is to provide a comprehensive overview of all elements included in the management of a farm, and to make the reader aware of his/her farming choices, for example equipment or planting procedures and methods which have proven time and again successful. It is intended for German immigrants who either lacked experience in farming, especially under unfamiliar environmental conditions, or were only skilled in a few specific farming techniques.

Book cover: Das Neunzehnte Jahrhundert.Zimmermann, G. A.: Das Neunzehnte Jahrhundert. Geschichtlicher und kulturhistorischer Rückblick. Milwaukee, Wis.: Geo. Brumder, 1900-1902. Drei Bände.

Illustration: Szene aus der Schlacht bei Shiloh
Szene aus der Schlacht bei Shiloh

The three volumes provide a comprehensive summary of 19th century historical events from across the globe, focussing on Central European politics, esp. events in Germany and France. The chapters are divided into sections of about 5 years and relate current events and political developments from Western Europe, Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, The far east and other parts of Asia, as well as the Americas, esp. the United States. The second part of each volume is primarily concerned about cultural and scientific advancements, such as literature, philosophy, art and theater; physics and biology; new technological advancements; progress in medicine; and industry and commerce. The last chapters also explore the political development of state and society: capitalism, socialism, feminism, and catholicism.

Illustration: Bismarck im Reichstag
Bismarck im Reichstag

Zimmermann, G. A.: Bismarck: Seine Zeit und Sein Wirken. Milwaukee, Wis.: Geo. Brumder, 1899.

In January 1887 Georg Köppen, the editor of Germania set out to depict the life and accomplishments of Bismarck in a volume meant as a comprehensive resource tool for German Americans. Zimmerman found Köppen’s notes and completed the work. He writes in a patriotic and elaborate fashion, calling Bismarck “The greatest German of our time.” The biography included stories of the childhood, youth, and wander years, episodes and anecdotes from his adult life as well as excerpts from letters and speeches. It describes at length Bismark’s parliamentary offices, legation, foreign policy, and understanding of the “Germany Question”. The volume also researches the German-French War, Bismarck’s distinction as a military hero, chancellor, and details of the monarchy. Zimmerman also illustrates Bismarck’s overall relationship to America and his life as “Christian and Human.”

Illustration: Bismarck und Napoleon nach der Schlacht bei Sedanvor dem Weberhäuschen Bei Donchery
Bismarck und Napoleon nach der Schlacht bei Sedan vor dem Weberhäuschen Bei Donchery

Book cover: Der arme Heinrich oder Die Pilgerhütte am WeißensteinBarth, C. G.: Der arme Heinrich oder Die Pilgerhütte am Weißenstein. Milwaukee, Wis.: Geo. Brumder, no date.

This book is part of a series of stories called “Narratives for Christian Children.” It tells the story of the poor orphaned Heinrich’s spiritual journey with his trusty bible and mother’s wisdom and the adventure he finds along his path.

Book cover: Der Wolkenbruch und Christian der VogelstellerNathusius, Marie: Der Wolkenbruch und Christian der Vogelsteller. Milwaukee, Wis.: Geo. Brumder, no date.

These two short stories are religious narratives for children. Striking is the deep theological questions the stories address such as predestination, or why bad things happen to good people, etc. These teachings are presented in the form of a little girl’s adventures while traveling to the city, and in other innocent ways.

Title page of 'American-German Letter Writer'American-German Letter Writer. Milwaukee, Wis.: Geo. Brumder, c1888.

The “Complete guide to correspondence on all subjects of every-day life”, written in English and German, contains detailed descriptions of form and functions of personal and business letters while guiding the user in “penmanship, orthography, punctuation, grammar, style, necessary rules about letters, postal rates and regulations” the volume also offers a treatise on the subject of bookkeeping and its practical application, along with an appendix listing signs, abbreviations and other helpful tools. The lexicon was designed for the native German speaker (the right handed page is in German), who is in the process of adapting to a field where a thorough understanding of English is vital.

Title page of 'Das Buch vom gesunden und kranken Menschen...'Bock, Karl Ernst: Das Buch vom gesunden und kranken Menschen. …Führer zur Erhaltung und Pflege der Gesundheit, sowie zur Heilung des Kranken Körpers. Milwaukee, Wis.: Geo Brumder, c1880.

In the foreword, the publishers emphasize the scientific base of the book and warn against quackery of many pseudo-medical books and doctors. The objectives of this book are primarily to teach about the human body and how to care for it, and to provide scientific tips and suggest simple cures for illnesses that can be treated without requiring the assistance of a physician. By promoting self-help, the author hopes to lessen “Quackfalberei” in the community. (The book was also published under the title ” Der Familien-Artzt” in the same year by the same publisher).

PoemKirschbaumer, Luisa: Denken und Träumen. Chippewa Falls, Wis.: s.n., c1926.

The collection includes 229 poems, categorized in 6 chapters: Nature, Love, War, Society, Immigration, and Satire.

Chapter 1, p. 1.
Chapter 1, p. 1.

Kappe, Ernst. Kleine Weltgeschichte… Ein Lesebuch fürs Volk und seine Jugend. 2. Auflage. Milwaukee, Wis.: Geo. Brumder, 1905.

Ernst Kappe emphasizes that historical events are not random coincidences in a chaotic game, but the decisions of an omnipresent God, of whom young people need to be aware, tying in historical lessons with religious doctrine. The first half of his book begins with a condensed creation story and moves quickly through Egypt, Lebanon, Greece and so on through antiquity, ending with the “Jahrhundertwende”, 1900. Part two begins with the discovery of the Americas and concerns itself strictly with American history, (complete with Statehood charts, lists of presidents and a chronological history of major events in North America and United States history).


Page from 'Kleiner Liederschatz'Brockmann, J.H., Kleiner Liederschatz. 2. Auflage, Milwaukee, Wis.: Northwestern Publishing House, c1881.

This book is a collection of both secular and religious songs and hymns, including holiday songs and some patriotic verses. Browsing through this collection reminds the American reader of the origin of many traditional songs such as Silent Night or Oh Christmas Tree, and many others that have been adopted by American culture.

Die Bibel mit Bildern von Schnorr von Carolsfeld oder die Heilige Schrift des Alten und Neuen Testaments. Nach der deutschen Übersetzung von Martin Luther. Milwaukee, Wis.: Geo. Brumder, 1905.

Illustrations from and cover of 'Die Bibel mit Bildern von Schnorr von Carolsfeld oder die Heilige Schrift des Alten und Neuen Testaments'


Unter dem Apfelbaum by Alfred Ira.

Antigo, Wis.: Antigo Publishing Co., c1914.


Lutheran minister Rev. Albert Friedrich Wilhelm Grimm founded the Antigo [Wisconsin] Publishing Company in 1898. Grimm was born in Petershagen, Pomerania, in 1864, and immigrated with his parents to the United States in 1874. He graduated from Concordia Theological Seminary (Springfield, Illinois) in 1888, the same year he married Mathilda Moldenhauer. He served as a pastor in Antigo, Wisconsin, but after the death of his oldest son in 1919, he left the ministry to devote himself to the business of the Antigo Publishing Company. Grimm is best remembered as a prolific author of short stories, plays, recitations, choral works, and novels in German, which he wrote under the (known) pen names of Alfred Ira, E. J. Freund., and E. Stern. He died in 1922 at the age of 59.

View Unter den Apfelbaum on GoogleBooks

Poem by Alfred IraHandwritten poem by Alfred Ira.

For Mayor Godfrey Buehler by Julius Gugler

Text of the play

(PDF from Other Witnesses: An Anthology of Literature of the German Americans, 1850–1914. Edited and with introductory essays by Cora Lee Kluge.)