Despite the fact that they arrived empty handed, the emigrants carried something with them: their language. However, those who had learned how to read in their homeland, longed not only for the familiar sound of the language but for the familiar type fonts as well. German emigrants in North America felt the same. Almost no title was left unpublished in German, from the publication of the first book printed in German on the other side of the Atlantic in 1728, until well into the mid-1900s. From the Bible to the “Communist Manisfesto,” from Goethe’s “Faust” to the “Trumpeteer of Sackingen.” The new cabinet exhibition “From the Luther Bible to Detective Stories. Books for German Immigrants in America 1728 – 1947” opening on April 13, 2014, gives insight into the many peculiar aspects of German-American publishing production including some turbulent times. These are exemplified by rare first editions and impressive reproductions.
In colonial times, German-American printing was dominated by a family of publishers, the Sauer’s, whose founder, Christoph Sauer, immigrated to the British colony in 1724. His publishing business made Germantown, near Philadelphia, the first German settlement in America, into a significant printing town. The first complete Bible in the “New World,” Luther’s version, was published there in 1743. Sauer financed this religious project with the sale of almanacs that were in great demand.
There is evidence that an estimated 3,000 German language books were printed between 1730 and 1830. Initially the center of German immigration, Pennsylvania, soon became a center of German language book production. However, printing shops appeared wherever Germans settled.
With the large wave of German immigration in the 19th century, the significance of New York increased with the practice of reprinting books by German-continental publishers that took root in the 1830s. With the decline of German immigration towards the end of the 19th century, German language book printing dried up. There was an increase in demand as a result of the German exile publishers during the National Socialist era, but this did not last. Franz Kafka’s novel “Amerika” appeared in 1946 towards the end of this era. The novel is titled “The Man who Disappeared” today. It seems this change of name expresses the lost status of German book printing in the United States.