Immigrant Entrepreneurs up Close and Digital: German American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present

Saturday, January 9, 2016
Galleria Exhibit Hall (Hilton Atlanta)
Jessica Csoma, German Historical Institute
Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present is a comprehensive digital project coordinated by the German Historical Institute Washington DC which explores the links between immigration and entrepreneurship across three centuries. Online at, the project offers a systematic, in-depth analysis of two components of the conventional ethos that the United States is “a nation of immigrants” and “the land of opportunity.” The importance of immigration in the nation’s economic development—as a source of low-cost labor and highly-skilled human capital—has long been acknowledged. Similarly, the American economic system’s openness to entrepreneurial activity is generally recognized as one of its defining characteristics and a central factor in its continued vitality.

The founding of Germantown, Pennsylvania, in 1683 marked the beginning of a flow of German immigrants to America that continues to this day. More than forty-two million American citizens claimed German (or part-German) ancestry in the 2000 census—nearly one in six people. While earlier migrations from Germany consisted mainly of farmers, craftsmen, laborers, and later political refugees, today’s quotient of incoming Germans leans toward higher-skilled migrants. How did those who came as, or became entrepreneurs in the United States, integrate themselves and their businesses into the American marketplace? Did their journey give them a certain entrepreneurial advantage? What role did transatlantic networks and the transfer of skills and knowledge play? These are only a few key questions the Immigrant Entrepreneurship project seeks to answer.

A multi-year undertaking now in its final phase, the project website comprises a collection of over two hundred biographical articles on first- and second-generation German-American entrepreneurs from 1720 to today. In addition, thematic essays look at larger historical themes and trends, such as the impact of Prohibition, German Jews and peddling, and the business of migration itself. All essays are accompanied by a wide range of archival photographs, video clips and audio recordings, interviews with contemporary entrepreneurs, business documents, company memos and corporate reports, personal correspondence and diary entries, and statistical data on migration.

Visitors to the poster session will be invited to view the poster and an interactive display of selected essays and digital tools from Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present. Researchers can search for specific entrepreneurs or browse by period, theme, or region. The site offers a comprehensive bibliography of primary and secondary source material related to the history of German immigrants in the U.S. Educators will find ideas for using the website in the classroom in the teaching tools section. The Immigrant Entrepreneurship website thus provides an invaluable, user-friendly resource to a wide range of students, scholars, and educators studying German-American entrepreneurs in particular but also more generally interested in long-term patterns and transformations in the interplay between immigration and economic innovation.

See more of: Poster Session #2
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