The German-American Press
JAMES M. BERGQUIST
In the length of its history and in the prodigious volume and variety of its product, the German-American press represents a phenomenon unlike any of the other ethnic presses in America. From the days of its founding by struggling and resourceful eighteenth-century printers down into the twentieth century, the evolution of the German-American newspaper paralleled the history of American journalism as a whole and was influenced by the same changes in technology, communication, and society. Besides that, of course, German-American journalism was a facet of a very complex and constantly changing immigrant group whose geographical distribution, social structure, and leadership varied with each successive wave of new migration.
Although the precise number will never be known, bibliographers of the German-American press have placed the number of publications issued in German at somewhere around 5,000 during the course of American history. 1 That includes not only newspapers and periodicals of general circulation (which are the primary focus of this essay) but also a bewildering variety of religious and literary journals, trade union publications, organs of mutual benefit and fraternal societies, children's magazines, women's magazines, agricultural journals, and many other special-interest publications. In addition to demonstrating the great variety of the German press, the total output also lends support to the generalization that the German-language press was really an American press published in the German language: its concern was always overwhelmingly with American affairs and the life that the Germans found in the United States, and events and affairs in the old country were usually at the periphery of its interest. 2
The conditions under which the German press began in eighteenth-century America helped to establish its particularly American character. Probably neither the struggling printers who began the earliest papers nor their readers were very familiar with the standards of journalism in Germany, where newspapers were aimed at a narrow elite of educated and politically conscious people. In any event, such standards were no guide to successful immigrant journalism in America. The risky conditions of the printer's trade, the rudimentary nature of the