German Americans of Cleveland

Cleveland Press Articles

Germany on the Cuyahoga

By Eleanor Prech
Cleveland Press, March 31, 1976

The Germans were in the front ranks of the immigrants who brought considerable skill to Cleveland and who had a major share in the city's commercial and industrial development. And no other group influenced the early growth of Cleveland's cultural life as did the Germans.

Statistics show that 185 German teachers were on the payroll of the Cleveland School Board in 1890 and that fully half of the pupils in Cleveland's public schools received instruction in German.

In numbers there were 27,000 Germans here in 1876 as compared to 13,000 Irish, 11,000 English, Welsh and Manx and 2,000 Scots.

Already at the time there were three evening newspapers known as Wachter am Erie (Independent), the Anzeiger (Republican), and the Columbia (Democrat).

And it wasn't until 1852 that the word "beer" was known in Cleveland when two Germans, Schmidt and Hoffman, founded the first brewery. Before only ale had been consumed.

A far step from beer was the Christmas tree and that too was introduced to Cleveland by a German in 1851. He was Rev. Heinrich C. Schwan, pastor of Zion Lutheran German Church.

German organizational, religious and cultural life here reached its peak during the 40 years that followed the Civil War, ending in the 1910's.

Germans were among the leading pioneer merchants, bakers, architects, wholesale grocers, meat packers, organ manufacturers, and greenhouse operators.

The oldest department store, Fries and Schuele, was founded in 1868. A wholesale grocery and liquor store known as J.C. Weideman was founded in 1861. Jacob Laub came to Cleveland in 1877 and Julius Spang in 1882.

The Cleveland School of Pharmacy came into being in 1882 and in 1865 the Cleveland College of Physicians and Surgeons was founded by Dr.Gustav C.E. Weber and others.

In later years companies such as Draco Corp., the Ohio Machine & Boiler Co., the Cleveland Soap Manufacturing Co., the Haserot Co. and others were founded by German-Americans.

Among the many German names in the political field were State Representative William Hudlett, Sheriff John Sulzmann, Sheriff Ralph Krieger, and Mayor Fred Kohler.

As far as musical life was concerned the Germans were among the first to be active in this field in Cleveland. They brought a great love of music and as early as 1848 founded the "Frohsinn" society. But it collapsed when its director went to California in 1849 to hunt gold.

Probably the strongest of 21 different societies was the Cleveland Gesangverein, formed in 1852. It sponsored a national Saengerfest (singing festival) that brought 24 societies from other towns here in 1859.

By 1927, 2,000 school children performed in the 36th national Saengerfest of the North America Saengerbund. Bruno Walter was festival director and 8,000 heard works by Beethoven, Wagner and Gluck in Public Hall which had been built in 1922.

Another imprint on local life was the activity of the Cleveland Turnverein, organized in 1850 with the slogan "Exercise with all your might in God's green house."

The skills of German barrel makers were used by John D. Rockefeller, founder of the Standard Oil Co. The first American Rockefeller immigrated from Germany in the 1720's, but by the time John D. was born he was only about "three sixteenths" German.

Many Turners joined the Union Army during the Civil War. By the time the war ended it was ascertained that Germans had made up one-fourth of the 10,000 soldiers given to the Union cause from Cuyahoga County. Eleven Ohio regiments were comprised mostly of Germans.

From 1836 when the first German society was founded until 1907 Cleveland Germans established:

Forty-nine Protestant churches (12 Evangelical-Protestant; 11 Lutheran, nine Reformed. five Methodist, four Union Brethren, four Baptist, one Episcopal, one Mission, one Christian, one United Christian).

German Catholics established seven Catholic churches; there were two Protestant and two Catholic German hospitals; a home for the aged; there were six German-speaking Jewish synagogues.

The grand total of 214 major organizations in 1910 did not include church societies, nor those of other German- speaking Clevelanders such as the Banater Germans, the Saxons and the Austrians.

The Transylvanian Saxons who emigrated from Western Germany to Transylvania in Romania came to this country as early as the 1880's. Their numbers here were large enough to establish St. John Lutheran Church and St. Thomas Evangelical Lutheran Church and to found the largest and only Saxon insurance group in America here in Cleveland. It is the alliance of Transylvanian Saxons which recently purchased a new building at 5393 Pearl Rd., Parma, which they aim to make a cultural center.

The newer German immigrants from parts of Yugoslavia, Hungary and Romania known as Danube Swabians have been extremely active here for the past 20 years.

Their Society of the Danube Swabians includes youth and adult groups in folk dance groups, bands, song groups and the German language school. Their activities center around Banater Hall, 3580 W. 140th St., and at their new farm in Olmsted Twp. known as Lenau Park.

Photo caption: German hospital--German Reformed church members founded German Hospital at 1212 Scranton Rd. in 1894 and built the hospital at 3303 Franklin Blvd. in 1896. The name was changed from German Hospital to Fairview Hospital in 1917. It is now the County Nursing Home.