Germans in Wisconsin | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Germans in Wisconsin

Germans in Wisconsin | Wisconsin Historical Society
Dictionary of Wisconsin History.


Germans were the largest immigrant group to settle in Wisconsin in the 19th century. They were also the largest group of European immigrants to the United States in the 19th century.

Most entered in three major waves between 1845 and 1900, spurred by political, social, and economic upheavals in Europe. The earliest groups came for largely religious and political reasons. Those who migrated after mid-century were primarily farmers, artisans, and laborers.

German settlement in Wisconsin was particularly heavy from 1846-1854 and from 1881-1884.  In 1850, the census recorded 38,064 Germans; in 1870, 162,314; 184,328 in 1880; and 259,819 in 1890.  By 1900, German-born residents constituted about ten percent of the total population and around 47 percent of the foreign-born population in Wisconsin.

The German-born population peaked in 1900 at 268,384 and declined afterward. The decrease in population was not accompanied by a reduction in German cultural and economic influence, however. In 1950, persons of German heritage dominated 41 of Wisconsin's 72 counties, and they were the primary ancestry in Green Bay and Milwaukee.

[Source: Wisconsin's Cultural Resources Study Units, Wisconsin Historical Society]

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