German Speaking Immigrants in California

Fritz LangMarlene DietrichArnold SchwarzeneggerJohann SutterHeinrich Mann

Fritz Lang            Marlene Dietrich          Arnold Schwarzenegger      Johann Sutter            Heinrich Mann            Lion Feuchtwanger

“This [country] will in a few years become a…colony; instead of [their] learning our language, we must learn theirs, or live as in a foreign country."
– Benjamin Franklin, publisher of die Philadelphische Zeitung, the first German newspaper in America, 1751.


Though Franklin’s exaggerated and xenophobic statement never became a reality, his foresight that America would be inundated with a population of German immigrants did prove correct. According to the 2000 US Census Bureau, approximately 42.8 million Americans – roughly 15% of the total population – claim German ancestry. The national percentage is even higher when Bavaria is included. In fact, individuals of German descent comprise the largest ancestry group in the US! The concentration of German-Americans is particularly heavy in the American Midwest and on the West Coast, and individuals of German ancestory are the largest ethnic group in 22 US States. Similarly, 8 million individuals in California – roughly 22% of California’s population of 36 million – are of German descent!

The purpose of this website is to briefly outline the contribution of notable German immigrants, and individuals hailing from German speaking countries, in the history of California. Germans have played a vital role in the mapping, creation, and governing of California: they introduced the cultivation of vineyards to California’s southern region; they produced the first map that connected the Baja region to the greater state; they helped establish the first missions in lower California; they revolutionized the film indutry: and currently, they govern the state.

This site will take you on a tour of California’s German history, and at the end provides links to different sites of modern Californian-German interest. Genießen Sie, und viel Spaß!

Notable German Immigrants 

1. Early Immigrants, 1683 – 1850

In 1683 Father Eusebius Franciscus Kino, educated in Germany and sought after by The University of Ingolstadt, established the first mission in Lower California.  He also discovered the overland route to California, thus proving that Baja California is a peninsula.  Kino urged the Spanish expansion into California and Arizona. His map of Baja California demonstrates his knowledge of the state’s topography, and later influenced further exploration of California.

The renowned German scientist, Alexander von Humboldt, included a chapter in his 1811 book Political Essay of the Kingdom ofNew Spain called “Intendancy of New California.”  Although Humboldt never set foot in Californian, his research done from archives in Mexico City and from first person accounts, provided the first reliable writings on California's geography. Similar to Kino, the writing’s of Humboldt would influence later exploration.

In 1816, Adelbert von Chamisso, documented his observations of San Francisco Bay’s natural environment safely from the deck of Otto von Kotzebue’s ship. One of Chamisso's  observations included California’s state flower, the Golden Poppy.  He named it Eschscholtzia Californica, after his friend Dr. I. Eschscholtz.

Johann August Sutter, came to California in 1835 and established the colony New Helvetia, or “New Switzerland,” in the Sacramento Valley. Known as the “Emperor of California,” due to his management of the colony as a feudal system, Sutter started the agricultural boom in the Sacramento Valley. His fort became the nucleus of all economic activity in Northern California.The discovery of gold on Sutter’s land, much to his dismay, crumbled his authority over the inhabitants of Northern California and initiated the flood of “49’s” who came in search of wealth.

2. German Immigrants, 1850 – 1930

Claus Spreckels, born in Lamstedt, Hanover – present-day Lower Saxony – immigrated to North Carolina in 1846. He eventually made his way to San Francisco were his brewing and sugar companies yielded a fortune.

Adolph Sutro, a native of Aachen, Prussia, immigrated to San Franciso in 1850, aboard a steamer aptly named "California." After having established successful trading businesses in Stockton and San Franciso, Sutro became the mayor of San Francisco in 1894. Today, one may tour the ruins of his bathhouse, Sutro Baths, or visit Sutro Forrest, both of which are in San Francisco.

Arnold Genthe, born in Berlin, immigrated to San Francisco in 1895 and found work as a tutor. Genthe's real passion was photography and Chinatown. He photographed the inhabitants of Chinatown, often unknowningly to his subjects. His 200 plus photos are the only historical photographs of Chinatown before 1906.

3. German Immigrants, 1930 - today

Karl Freund was a famous Austrian cinematographer who began his career working for the UFA studios in Germany on such films as Fritz Lang's Metropolis. After immigrating to California in 1929, Freund worked on such films as Dracula (1931) and Key Largo (1948). For the hit series I Love Lucy, Freund developed the three-camera technique. This technique is still used today for filming live-action television shows.

Austrian-born Fritz Lang - undoubtly, one of the greatest directors of the twentieth-century - immigrated to Los Angeles in 1932 after his anti-Nazi film, Dr. Marbuse, guaranteed his exlcusion from the UFA ( Universum Film AG) orgranization. Lang made such visonary films as Metropolis, M, Woman in the Moon, and Fury.

Heinrich Mann, the elder brother of nobel-prize winner Thomas Mann, immigrated to Los Angeles in 1933 after the Nazis rose to power. Though a popular novelist in pre-1930's Germany, Heinrich remained virtually unknown in the America, and eked out his remaining years as a screenwriter for Warner Brothers. His 1905 novel, Professor Unrat, was made into the highly successful 1930 film "The Blue Angel."

The German-Jewish writer, Lion Feuchtwanger, immigrated to Los Angeles in 1941 after having escaped from the German internment camp Les Milles the previous year. Feuchtwanger was an extremely popular German author, both in Europe and abroad, and today his 30,000 plus collection of books is housed at the University of Southern California. The Feuchtwanger Memorial Library houses an extensive collection of rare works of German literature and German exile literature. In 2001, the International Feuchtwanger Society was founded in Los Angeles. The Society's primary objective is "to increase awareness of the life and works of Lion and Marta Feuchtwanger and other German émigrés."

Arnold Schwarzenegger, born in 1947 near Graz, Austria, became an American sensation through his action films and status as Mr. Universe. Today, he is the 38th Californian Governor


Germans are still immigrating to California, and continue to contribute to its culture. Today, there are numerous opportunities for individuals who wish to learn more about German culture, society, and language.  Below is a brief , though certainly not exhaustive, list of German events, associations, and resources in California.


The Goethe-Institut, functions as the cultural institute of the Federal Republic of Germany. Established in 78 countries, the Institut offers language courses, both online and in the classroom, and a host of cultural events, for instance the San Francisco Berlin and Beyond Film Festival. There is a branch in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

German Consulate Gerneral San Francisco-  Provides information about travel in Germany, German-Americans, domestic and overseas language schools, and newsletters. It even provides podcasts for the German enthusiast on the move!

Swiss Consulate General San Francisco - Similar to the German Consulate. Provdes information about travel in Switzerland, Swiss-American cultural and learning links, and newsletters.

Information and Links to German Culture in California- A user friendly website that provides information about German culture in Northern and Southern California.  Included is a list of German restaurants, legal help, doctors and even German language newspapers & magazines.

German Clubs in California- A list of contact information for German Clubs in California.  Clubs include the Allgemeiner deutscher Frauenhilfsverein in San Francisco, and  Die Gemütlichen Schuhplattler Phonix Club in Anaheim. No matter where you live in the state, you will surely be able to locate a nearby club.

The Sacramento German Genealogy Society- Located in the heart of Sacremento, the SGGS is a non-profit organization, founded in 1983, that "promotes the search for family histories of members who have a German heritage.”  Some services are reserved for members, but many are available to the general public, or anyone who is interested in finding out about their German heritage.

The German American Business Association- is “a member-driven non-profit organization that fosters transatlantic knowledge-sharing and networking among German-American and Californian business and tech communities.”  There are chapters in both Northern and Southern California, as well as three in Germany.

United German-American Societies of the East Bay, Inc.-  Includes a list of up-coming events as well as links to other German-American sites.  Events include cultural activities such as Festliche Weihnacht, a traditional German Christmas concert with sing-along and Santa Claus, and Karneval, a costume carnival with music.


California Staatszeitung (No Web site) Mailing Address: 1201 N. Alvarado St., P.O. Box 26308, Los Angeles, CA 90026 Tel. 213.413.5500 - Fax 213.413.5469 Email: A German newspaper published in Los Angeles that covers domestic and international news.

The Atlantic Times is a free "monthly newspaper from Germany" whose mission is to " narrow the dangerous rift that has lately opened up between America and Europe." Articles are devoted to German-American relations, business ties, cultural topics, and politics. The publication is in English.

Neue Presse is one of the newest and best of the German Zeitungen in the US. Founded in 1986, this weekly newspaper is published in Palm Desert in southern California. Mailing address: 42-335 Washington St., Ste. F #385, Palm Desert, CA 92211 (the address on their website is outdated!)

Deutsche Welle provides the only German TV programming in the US (check local listings for time and availabilty). Their website, available in 30 languages, publishes news, contains podcasts, and radio broadcasts.

The University of California, Berkeley has an online collection of German books that is simply amazing!


Print Sources

Internet Sources

Dr. Michaela Grobbel , Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, Sonoma State University   
Created by SSU German students Andrew Kranzman and Cassie Mangum    Last Updated 05/16/07