The Penn Libraries’ historic collection of research material on German immigrants to Pennsylvania recently grew to include a set of nine German-language newspapers published in Philadelphia at the turn of the twentieth century. A generous gift of the German Society of Pennsylvania, this collection features some of the most notable German-language newspapers in the country. This gift would not have been possible without the invaluable help of Professor Frank Trommler. The newspapers include Philadelphia Demokrat, Neue Welt, Philadelphia Tageblatt, Philadelphia freie Presse, Philadelphia Morgen-Gazette, Philadelphia Schwäbischer Merkur, Schwäbischer Merkur, Philadelphia Sonntags Journal, and Volks-Stimme: das Socialistische Wochenblatt für die Ost-Staaten.
Spanning the period from the 1870s through World War I, the newspapers provide unique insight into the German immigrant community in Philadelphia and the origins of German-American identity. At that time, first- and second-generation Germans comprised as much as 12% of the city’s population. The papers are an essential source of information about the community’s social, cultural, political, economic, and labor relations, as well as about changes to its ethnic identity over time and through crisis. To maintain a German identity in a new country and, later, to create a new and distinctly hyphenated German-American identity, immigrants created institutions such as cultural organizations, unions, holidays, and memorial events. One of the most effective of these was the establishment of a German-language press. Not only did this serve to preserve the culture and perpetuate the language, it was also a vehicle for publicizing efforts to unify German-Americans culturally and politically. Ultimately, with the advent of World War I, the later issues of the collection record the decline in efforts to ennoble German-American culture.