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German Migration to Pittsburgh

German Migration to Pittsburgh

by Larry Ciptak

from Out of This Kitchen: a History of the Ethnic Groups and Their Foods in the Steel Valley


Germans were the first settlers in western Pennsylvania, initially migrating here as early as 1708, and living in settlements by 1788.

The first Germans settlers in the early 1700's were from the Palatinate (a district in south-west Germany that belonged to Bavaria until 1945), mostly of the lower social class. A second migration between 1728 and 1804 brought middle and upper class Germans to Pennsylvania.

The mass influx of the Germans during the early eighteenth century frightened earlier immigrants. Over half the landlords in Pennsylvania in 1734 were German, and in some towns street signs were printed in both English and German. Natives worried about the preservation of their language–and even of their government–against the ever-rising number of Germans.

Unlike the transient Scotch-Irish who emigrated during the same eras, the Germans had a sedentary nature, and settled quickly. The Germans–Mennonites, Tunkers, Schwenkfelders, Yiddish-speaking Jews, Reformed and Lutheran–were distinguished by their sobriety, thrift and industrious nature.

The Pennsylvania towns of Harmony, Berlin, and Dunkard were originally German settlements, and Thiel College in Greenville was established in 1865 with the contributions of a Pittsburgh man of German descent to the Evangelical Lutheran church.

In 1910 Germans made up the largest ethnic element in Pittsburgh, nearly 14 percent. Of the nearly 2,400 German mill workers in 1910, over half were employed in skilled or semi-skilled capacities, averaging $14.55 a week.