Astor, John Jacob
Over the course of John Jacob Astor's career, he applied his great entrepreneurial talent to build the first modern American trade empire with partners in Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Continue Reading »
Aust, Gottfried
German immigrants Gottfied Aust and Rudolph Christ established a long-lasting, important, and distinctive pottery tradition in the southern United States. Master potter Gottfried Aust settled in Bethabara, one of the earliest Moravian communities in North Carolina, in 1755. He and his apprentices and journeymen, including Rudolph Christ (who replaced Aust as master in 1789), were some of the earliest American potters to experiment with the production of creamware, white, salt-glazed stoneware, and tin-glazed earthenware. Together, Aust and Christ developed a distinct aesthetic tradition that would continue to be appreciated centuries later for both its visual and aesthetic qualities. Continue Reading »
Bechtler, Christopher
Jeweler, watchmaker, and gunsmith, Christopher Bechtler founded the most successful private mint in the eastern United States. During its peak production from 1831 to 1840, Bechtler’s North Carolina mint rivaled the output of the federal mints and was a significant stimulus to the economy of the state. Continue Reading »
Brune, Frederick W.
Frederick W. Brune was one of the most prominent merchants in Baltimore's history. Brune immigrated to Baltimore from Bremen in 1799 and worked as a partner in the merchant house of Von Kapff & Brune, which was later renamed F.W. Brune & Sons. Continue Reading »
Demuth, Christopher
Christopher Demuth was a tobacconist whose business — Demuth’s Tobacco Shop — operated for over two centuries at the same location in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Continue Reading »
Dickert, Jacob
Jacob Dickert was a leading gunsmith in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the center of early American rifle-making throughout the eighteenth century. Over his long career, which extended from the French and Indian War to the War of 1812, Dickert helped transform Lancaster’s scattered, independent, small-scale gunmakers into a coordinated industry that could fulfill enormous government contracts and petition Congress for trade protection. Continue Reading »
Gratz, Michael
Brothers Barnard Gratz and Michael Gratz were merchants and land speculators from the Prussian occupied territory of Silesia whose commercial enterprises connected Philadelphia to port cities in other continental American colonies, the Caribbean, and Europe, and to the North American frontier. Continue Reading »
Hasenclever, Peter
Peter Hasenclever was a German-born international businessman active from approximately 1733 until 1792. From 1764 to 1770, he resided in the British colonies of New York and New Jersey, where he established an ultimately unsuccessful transatlantic enterprise to produce, transport, and market iron and steel. Continue Reading »
Heckscher, Charles August
Charles August Heckscher hailed from an influential, well-to-do, and sophisticated Jewish family of merchant-bankers in Altona and the nearby, independent city-state of Hamburg. In 1829 he emigrated from Hamburg to the United States to become a successful merchant and entrepreneur. He acquired wealth by opening a trading house in New York City and later used his personal capital to invest in anthracite coal mining and transportation operations in eastern Pennsylvania. By the time of his death shortly after the end of the Civil War, he was one of the leading colliery operators in the nation. Continue Reading »
Keppele, John Henry
John Henry Keppele was a successful, respected, and well-known butcher, innkeeper, merchant, ship owner, and real estate entrepreneur. Continue Reading »
Living the American Dream? The Challenge of Writing Biographies of German-American Immigrant Entrepreneurs
Biographies of businesspeople offer a new integrative perspective not only to trace the lives, careers, and business ventures of significant immigrants but to answer core questions of American, business, and migration history in a new way. The Immigrant Entrepreneurship project aims to explore hundreds of biographies; the sheer amount of this material has made clear that biographies can be used not only to analyze individual lives but also to address general questions in the history of capitalism and modernity. Continue Reading »
Ludwig, Christopher
Christopher Ludwig was one of the most successful German immigrant entrepreneurs in the British North American colonies and later the United States during the late eighteenth century. Following his arrival in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1754, Ludwig converted his savings and culinary skills into a bakery and confectionary shop in the Letitia Court district. The enterprise thrived, which allowed Ludwig to expand his bakeshop and branch out into other business endeavors. Within two decades Ludwig had amassed significant wealth that included ownership of numerous properties in the region. Continue Reading »
Merchants of Migration: Keeping the German Atlantic Connected in America’s Early National Period
This essay examines how, in the period 1800-1820, merchant practices refined during the colonial era helped to bring thousands of Germans to the New World, in a period before regular commercial shipping between Germany and the United States could furnish large-scale immigration. Continue Reading »
Miller, Henrich
A printer, journalist, bookseller, and translator who had traveled much of the eighteenth-century Atlantic world before beginning his publishing business in Philadelphia in the early 1760s, Henrich Miller counteracted ethnic isolationism among German immigrants and ensured their investment and enfranchisement in the emerging public sphere of early national America. From his ardent rejection of the Stamp Act to his enthusiastic support of American Independence, Miller did not merely witness and report the momentous political, civic, and cultural changes occurring in North America, but he actively shaped and participated in these events. Continue Reading »
Nolte, Vincent
After coming to New Orleans as a result of the Hope-Baring Operation during the Napoleonic Wars, Vincent Nolte went on to become one of the largest cotton dealers in the city after the war ended. In the great financial crisis of 1825, his business failed for the first time, and in the next great financial crisis of 1837-1839, he went bankrupt a second time. Likewise, his effort to begin anew in Europe also failed. In his final years he turned to writing, leaving behind several economic texts, as well as an autobiography. Continue Reading »
Parish, David
Born into a rich Scottish merchant family based in Hamburg and in the neighboring formerly-Danish village of Nienstedten, David Parish was a merchant, financier, and entrepreneur who acquired riches, fame, and professional success in Europe and the United States between 1802 and 1823. Parish embodied the possibilities of his era: He used his personal abilities and social networks to become one of the most influential players in the international financial community; he was honored by his peers as well as by politicians like Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand, Friedrich von Gentz, and President James Madison. His downfall, however, resulted from a mixture of hubris, miscalculations, and general problems connected with the banking crisis of 1826. Continue Reading »
Project Introduction
Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present
A GHI research project Continue Reading »
Rapp, Johann Georg
In 1803, George Rapp left his native Württemberg for the United States of America in search of the Promised Land. Between 1804 and 1825, Rapp and his sectarians established three utopian communities in the United States, each housing as many as eight hundred people. In order to realize his goal of a perfect society, Rapp established an organizational model that clearly defined interactions between his society and the outside world and religious observances. His so-called Divine Economy enabled him to negotiate between the community’s practice of an inner-communal socialism, external capitalist entrepreneurship, and spiritual millennial beliefs. Moreover, by adhering to this model, Rapp and his followers transitioned successfully from self-sustaining agricultural work to frontier marketing, manufacturing, and global business activities. Continue Reading »
Reed, John
John Reed, an illiterate Hessian deserter during the Revolutionary War, founded the first commercial gold mining operation in the United States around the year 1803. Continue Reading »
Rittenhouse, William
William Rittenhouse became the first paper maker in British North America when he established the Rittenhouse paper mill outside of Germantown, PA, in 1690. He also created a paper-making dynasty that held a virtual monopoly on papermaking in the British colonies for almost forty years and produced paper for 150 years. Continue Reading »
Salomon, Haym
Haym Salomon, best known for his role in helping to finance the American Revolution, served as the broker to Superintendent of Finance Robert Morris from 1781 to 1784. He immigrated to colonial New York in the mid-1770s. His working knowledge of many European languages enabled him to broker bills of exchange from several countries, including France and Spain. The descendants of Haym Salomon, along with members of the American Jewish community, have used his legacy as “the financier of the American Revolution” to construct an American Jewish heritage with roots in the nation’s very beginning. Continue Reading »
Sauer, Johann Christoph
Johann Christoph Sauer was the most active publisher of German-language print in colonial America. Through his publishing work, based in Germantown, Pennsylvania, he became the mouthpiece for many German immigrants’ opinions on the political and religious controversies of the mid-eighteenth century. Continue Reading »
Schieffelin, Jacob
Jacob Schieffelin, the Philadelphia-born son of a German immigrant businessman, engaged in furnishing stores and provisions for the British Army in Canada, was an entrepreneur who moved vigorously into commerce and real estate speculation wherever he found himself. Continue Reading »
Stiegel, Henry William
Henry William Stiegel was part of an early wave of German entrepreneurs who journeyed to British North America in the late seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries. He established himself as both an ironmaster and a glassmaker. Continue Reading »
Wistar, Caspar
Caspar Wistar established the first successful glass manufacturing business in North America. Continue Reading »
Yuengling, David Gottlieb
David Gottlieb Yuengling founded the eponymous brewery in 1829 that eventually became both the largest domestically-owned brewery in America and also the oldest. From its location in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, roughly 90 miles northwest of Philadelphia, D.G. Yuengling was able to serve the thousands of miners working in the relatively remote coal and slate belt regions of Eastern Pennsylvania, along with the booming towns that sprung up around them. Continue Reading »
Zenger, John Peter
John Peter Zenger was a printer in colonial New York during the early eighteenth century. He leveraged a colonial political scandal to prop up his struggling printing business and eventually emerged a successful proprietor of a print shop as well as publisher of the New-York Weekly Journal. Continue Reading »

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