German heritage prevalent in Illinois

German American Day is celebrated every October 6, and in Illinois there are many reasons to celebrate.

German ancestry remains prevalent in Illinois, as it has for a century and a half. German-American strength helped shape Illinois history through a Civil War and two World Wars against the old country.

Of nearly 1.8 million Illinois residents in 1860, nearly 325,000 were of foreign birth. Germans were the largest ethnic group with 130,000 people, nearly 8% of the state’s total population. About 20% of Chicago’s population was German. Many arrived after the failed German Revolution of 1848.

A high concentration of Germans was also found in St. Clair County near Belleville. Others settled in towns such as Quincy, Alton, Peoria, Springfield and Galena. In the northern Illinois community in Peru, Germans numbered 1,000 out of a total population of 3,500 in 1854.

The names of a number of cities and towns across the state honor German heritage, including Schaumburg, New Baden, New Minden, Germantown, Darmstadt, New Berlin, and Meppen.

Many Germans were farmers, while others were skilled workers, merchants, and artisans. Some followed the folk crafts of their homelands and worked as butchers, bakers, shoemakers, furniture and cart builders, and cigar makers. The architecture of traditionally German-American buildings, often of brick, can still be seen throughout the state.

German-language newspapers were found throughout the state, even in the smallest towns. In 1859, future presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln bought the press and type to start a German-language Republican newspaper. In Peoria, future Illinois Secretary of State Edward Rummel, a native of Baden, Germany, ran a German paper and printing store that produced products in German and English.

John Wood, who founded the town of Quincy and served as governor of Illinois for 10 months in 1860-1861, was born to a German mother. In 1892, John Altgeld, a native of Prussia, was elected to a term as governor of Illinois and is best known for pardoning three of the defendants of the infamous Haymarket Riot.

Politically, German support was crucial and their weight was felt at Illinois’ first Republican state convention in 1856. German influence was also a key factor in the 1860 presidential race and, at the Republican National Convention in Chicago, German resolutions were even incorporated. in the national platform. The Germans were seen as staunch abolitionists, although some scholars dispute this claim.

Nearly 6,000 Illinois Germans enlisted in the first six months of the Civil War, comprising virtually three entire regiments. One of the main German commanders was Friedrich Hecker, a renowned revolutionary of 1848 who was a gentleman-farmer near Belleville, in the heart of heavily German colonies.

Another German regimental commander in St. Clair County was Gustave Koerner, who served as Lieutenant Governor of Illinois from 1852 to 1856 and was pallbearer at Lincoln’s funeral in Springfield.

In 1910, more than 319,000 German immigrants were in Illinois, and more than one million people of German descent—one-tenth of the national total—lived in the state. With nearly 400,000 first and second generation German immigrants, Chicago was the sixth largest German city in the world in 1914.

The high concentration of Germans caused protests at the outbreak of World War I, as many people of German descent spoke out against their adopted country’s stance against their homeland.

Music by German composers such as Mozart and Beethoven was banned in some public places, and some German-Americans were under surveillance by state and federal authorities.

Other German-Americans were forced to recite loyalty oaths in public performances. Within a few years, the use of the once important German language faded away in schools and churches.

As a result, many Germans in Illinois drifted away from their heritage. From 1914 to 1920, the number of Illinois residents who identified themselves as German in the census dropped more than 41%, to 112,000.

But many Germans remained loyal to the American cause and played an active role in the war effort, both at home and abroad.

A quarter of a century later, dislike for German residents was a minor issue during World War II, as many chose to focus their distaste on Adolf Hitler rather than their German neighbors.

Today, Illinois’ German heritage is celebrated at festivals and carnivals throughout the state, while communities in Chicagoland, Moline, Peoria, Gibson City, Mascoutah, Waterloo, and Millstadt feature popular German restaurants. .

Museums and research centers on German-American history and heritage are found in several major metropolitan areas, including Chicago, Frankfurt, and the Quad Cities.

Tom Emery is a freelance writer and historical researcher from Carlinville. He can be reached at 217-710-8392 or [email protected]