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Famous German-Americans

Americans of German, Austrian, or
German-Swiss Ancestry

A Biographical Index | Profiles

An alphabetical list of significant Americans, both living and dead, who were born in German-speaking Europe or had Germanic ancestors—handy for biographical projects or general inspiration. For some of them, you can click on the name or link to learn more. Also see German-Americans listed by category (architecture, music, etc.) Our list also includes Austrian and Swiss-Americans.

Also see:
  Famous Germans | Top 100 Germans | Germanic Trivia

German-Americans
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Featured German-American
Babe Ruth - The "Sultan of Swat" was German?

A

Dankmar Adler (1844-1900) was a Jewish German-American architect and Civil War hero who worked with Louis Sullivan in Chicago. Born in Eisenach, Germany, Adler came to Detroit in 1854 with his widower father, Liebman Adler. Later the Adlers moved to Chicago. More.. (Web)

Felix Adler (1851-1933) was a Jewish German-American philosopher, educator, and reformer who first came to America in 1857. His ideas on "ethical culture" and applied ethics asked people to "act so as to elicit the best in others" and oneself. Adler studied in Heidelberg after coming to the U.S. Although his father was a rabbi, Adler's philosophy called for a "Judaism of the future." More.. (Web)

Josef Albers (1888-1976) Painter and graphic artist, born in Bottrop, Germany. Associated with the Bauhaus, Albers went to North Carolina's Black Mountain College when the Nazis closed down the Bauhaus in 1933. He later taught design at Yale. Author of Interaction of Color (1963). WEB > The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation

John Peter Altgeld (1847-1902) came to the US at the age of three. As a lawyer and a Democratic governor of Illinois, Altgeld was active in prison reform. His defiance of the federal government during the infamous Pullman strike in Chicago ended his political career in 1896. More.. (Web link)

Eberhard Anheuser (see "Adolphus Busch" below)

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) Jewish German-born writer and political philosopher. She held professorships at Berkeley, Princeton, and Chicago. One of her best-known works was Origins of Totalitarianism, published in 1951. Her work was heavily influenced by the German philosophers Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers, with whom she had studied in Germany. After leaving Germany in 1933 she fled to Paris, but in 1941 she and her new second husband Heinrich Blücher arrived in New York, where Arendt wrote for the German-language newspaper Aufbau. WEB > Arendt - Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Fred Astaire (1899-1988) The famous dancer's real name was Frederick Austerlitz; his father was born in Linz, Austria. WEB > Astaire - German-Hollywood Connection

John Jacob Astor (1763-1848) Born near Heidelberg. Came to America in 1783 and became successful in the fur trade (American Fur Co.) and later in New York real estate and banking. At his death Astor was worth an estimated $25 million. Succeeding generations of Astors added much more wealth to the family fortune.

Melissa Auf der Maur (1972- ) Canadian-born rock singer whose family comes from Switzerland. WEB > Auf Der Maur - laut.de (Deutsch) and Melissa Auf Der Maur (official site)

Germanic Trivia
Language and cultural trivia

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Walter Baade (1893-1960) German-American astronomer who was born Wilhelm Heinrich Walter Baade. In the U.S. after 1931, Baade made important discoveries at California's Mount Wilson and Palomar observatories related to star types, supernovas, galaxies, and the size of the universe. He also discovered many asteroids, including Hidalgo (1920) and Icarus (1949). The Walter Baade 6.5-meter telescope is one of two that went into service at the Las Campanas Observatory in the Chilean Andes in Sept. 2000. WEB > Walter Baade (Astronomie.de)

John Banner (1910-1973) was an Austrian-American actor born in Vienna. Banner is best known as Sergeant Schultz in the TV series "Hogan's Heroes." He also appeared in several Hollywood films. Banner became a U.S. citizen and lived with his French wife in Sherman Oaks near Los Angeles until his Sgt. Schultz role ended and the couple moved to France.

Das Bauhaus - Many of the people connected with the German Bauhaus school of design, including its founder Walter Gropius, later lived and worked in the U.S. See: Gropius (Web), Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (Web), and others. WEB > Bauhaus - Germany Today (by Angela Lilleystone, with bios of Bauhaus people) > Bauhaus - Dessau - History (also in German)

John Jacob Bausch (Bausch & Lomb) German immigrant who borrowed money from Henry Lomb to expand his optical shop in Rochester, New York.

Hans Heinrich Bebie (1824-1888) Swiss-American painter (portraits, miniatures) who worked in Richmond, Virginia and Baltimore.

"Bix" Beiderbecke (Leon Bismarck "Bix" Beiderbecke, 1903-1931) - Jazz musician (piano, cornet) and composer born to German-American father Bismarck (sometimes "Bismark") Herman Beiderbecke (b. 1868) and mother Agatha Jane (nee Hilton) in Davenport, Iowa. Bix's paternal grandfather Carl Beiderbecke (1836-1901) was born in Westphalia. His paternal grandmother, Louise Pieper (1840-1922), was born in Hamburg. The two Prussians met in Davenport and were married in 1860. Their son Herman became Bix's father. Bix went to New York and gained fame as a talented jazz musician. He played with the famous Paul Whiteman band and other groups, but his career and life were cut short when he died at 28. WEB > Bixography.com - Bix Beiderbecke Resources

Emile Berliner (1851-1929) is best known for inventing the disk record and the gramophone, but the German-American inventor also has the telephone microphone, acoustic tile, and a light-weight aircraft engine to his credit. Born in Hanover, Germany in 1851, Berliner came to the U.S. as a young man in 1870 and became a U.S. citizen in 1881. WEB > Berliner and the Birth of the Recording Industry (Library of Congress)

Also see German-Americans
by Categories (Architecture, Music, etc.)

Maximilian Berlitz (1852-1921), founder of the Berlitz language schools, was born in the Black Forest region of Württemberg. In 1872 Maximilian Delphinius Berlitz arrived in Westerly, Rhode Island, where he worked as a language teacher before moving to Providence. Quite by accident, he discovered what would later be known as the "Berlitz method" of language instruction when he fell ill, and a French teacher he had hired for his newly acquired school (1878) could speak no English and was forced to use only French for teaching. Soon his Berlitz schools expanded to many more cities across the U.S. and overseas. WEB > Berlitz.com

Hans Albrecht Bethe (1906-2005) German-born nuclear physicist who won a Nobel Prize in physics for his work on the nuclear energy sources of stars (1967). Bethe became a U.S. citizen in 1941 and worked on the Manhattan Project to develop the first atomic bomb in Los Alamos, New Mexico. He later became an opponent of nuclear proliferation and spoke up against the Reagan administration's proposed SDI ("Star Wars") space-based missle defense system in the 1980s. WEB > Hans Bethe (Nobelprize.org)

Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) is most famous for his dramatic paintings of the American West. Born in Solingen, Germany, Bierstadt came to the U.S. with his family in 1832 and grew up in New Bedford, Mass. After art studies in Germany and Italy, he worked primarily in New York, helping establish the "Hudson River School" of painting, a romanticized landscape style inspired by the Hudson River Valley. He began painting landscapes of the western U.S. (Yosemite, Yellowstone) after he joined a survey expedition in 1858. WEB > Albert Bierstadt (Huntfor.com)

Franz Boas (1858-1942) was an anthropologist and ethnologist best known for his work with the Kwakiutl Indians in British Columbia, Canada. Born into a Jewish family in Minden, Westphalia, Boas set new standards for cultural research, and his theories changed the way anthropologists gathered and analyzed data about social populations. He most notably debunked prevailing theories on racial superiority and purity. Broadly educated in Europe (physics, geography, philosophy), Boas settled in the U.S. in 1887 when he was offered an editing position with the journal Science in New York. He later held posts at various American museums and universities, and authored several important books on cultural anthropology. WEB > Franz Boas - Wikipedia

William Edward Boeing (1881-1956) founded Pacific Aero Products in Seattle in 1916. That aircraft manufacturing company later bore his own name. Boeing was born in Detroit where his German father, Wilhelm Böing (1850-1890), had settled (1872) and prospered as a timber baron. William Boeing once visited his father's hometown of Hohenlimburg (now part of Hagen, Westphalia) where some Böing families still live. But it is difficult to research the family today because Boeing-made B-17 bombers destroyed the town's vital statistics records during WWII. WEB > Boeing.com

Wernher von Braun (1912-1977) German rocket scientist who helped put Americans on the moon. More...

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) German author, dramatist, best known for his "Dreigroschenoper" ("Threepenny Opera") co-authored with composer Kurt Weill - German bio (DHM)

Sandra Bullock (1964- ) has a German mother, Helga Meyer, who is an opera singer from Nuremberg, Germany. Bullock, one of Hollywood's most popular actresses, has appeared in "Speed," "While You Were Sleeping," and the two "Miss Congeniality" films.

Adolphus Busch (1839-1913) German-American businessman born in Mainz, Germany. Busch came to the U.S. in 1857. He soon teamed up with father-in-law Eberhard Anheuser in St. Louis (1864) to form Anheuser-Busch and produce the Budweiser (1876), Michelob (1896), and Faust beer brands. Busch, who was a salesman rather than a brewer, pioneered in the use of refrigerated rail cars and the pasteurization process (1870s) that allowed beer to be shipped over great distances and made nationwide beer distribution practical. WEB > The King of Beer (BeerHistory.com) (also see Johann Adam Lemp and Schlafly Beer - History of Brewing in St. Louis)

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Walter Percy Chrysler (1875-1940) When Germany's Daimler-Benz AG merged with America's Chrysler Corporation in 1998 to form DaimlerChrysler, few people realized the complete irony involved. The American founder of Chrysler was a descendent of the German Johann Phillip Kreisler (1672-17??) who sailed to the New World in 1709. W.P. Chrysler was born in Wamego, Kansas on April 2, 1875. He founded the Chrysler Corporation in 1924. His ancestors came from the Rhineland-Palatinate town of Guntersblum.

Adolf Cluss (1825-1905) was a German-American architect born in Heilbronn. He emigrated to the United States after the German revolution of 1848. In Germany he had been a member of the Communist League and worked with both Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Following the American Civil War he became the most influential architect in Washington, DC, especially known for his model schools and other public buildings. In the U.S. he kept his former communist associations quiet. WEB > Adolf Cluss - Goethe Institute, Washington, DC

George Armstrong Custer (1839-1876) was a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and a calvary officer who fought in the American Civil War and later died at the infamous Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana. Custer, born in New Rumley, Ohio, was a fifth-generation descendant of the German Arnold Kuster (1669-1739) and his third wife Rebecca (b. 1671). Kuster was born in Kaldenkirchen, Westphalia and later immigrated to Hanover, Penn., where he met and married Rebecca.

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