An Historical Geography of German Immigrant Labor in Baltimore, 1840-1860

Authors: James Smith*, Towson University
Topics: Immigration/Transnationalism, Ethnic Geography, Historical Geography
Keywords: Immigrant labor, German immigration, industrial revolution, Baltimore, 19th century urbanization
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 25
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper focuses upon German immigrant labor in Baltimore from 1840-1860. The Germans formed the largest single European immigration stream to Baltimore in the nineteenth century. I rethink German immigration through the context and structural forces of the emerging world capitalist system. Germans migrated in the midst of wars, political unrest, crop failure and the rapid social changes of the industrial revolution. Key questions center upon the push factors in central Europe crucial for German immigrants to Baltimore and the pull factors in the urban region, particularly labor market opportunities that made Baltimore an important destination city. How did the skills of German immigrant labor match with craft industries and commerce in the urban capitalist economy of Baltimore? To address these issues, I analyze data from the 1860 census for two Baltimore wards, noting key patterns that emerge in labor and social relations. I combine this information with broader data from the Historical Statistics of the United States, thus gaining deeper insights into immigrant life and work in Baltimore on the eve of the Civil War.

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