As of 2016, 14.9% of the American population claimed to have German ancestry. And if you’re in the Midwest, that number jumps to around 40%! That’s a lot of German-Americans. You will find more than a few celebrities in that group, too. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and ketchup magnate Henry Heinz are all of German descent. And there’s many more where they came from.
Whether they immigrated to America themselves or had relatives arrive in America before them, these prominent German-Americans have influenced American culture through their publications, films and other works. They’ve made their mark in many fields, including science and technology, fashion, music, philosophy, athletics and politics. They’ve also influenced areas of everyday life, such as food and drink: does the name Anheuser-Busch sound familiar?
Hamburgers and hotdogs taste quintessentially American, but you can trace their origins back to Germany, too.
Walter Gropius, Architect
Born: 1883 | Died: 1969
Walter Adolph Gropius was born in Berlin. He directed the three schools composing the Grand Ducal Saxon School of Arts and Crafts, which became Staatliches Bauhaus Weimar (Public Bauhaus Weimar). The Bauhaus school moved to Dessau in 1925, where Gropius designed the school’s new buildings and the faculty housing, now his best-known work.
After Hitler’s rise to power, Gropius and his wife moved to the United States, where he became a professor of architecture at Harvard University. The home Gropius designed for himself in Lincoln, MA, became a museum and national historic landmark.
Helmut Newton, Photographer
Born: 1920 | Died: 2004
Helmut Newton was born Helmut Neustädter in 1920 in Berlin. He was one of the most famous portrait photographers of the 20th century, known for his erotic and artistic style.
Of German-Jewish and American heritage, Newton left Nazi Germany in 1938 and moved to Australia. He moved to Paris in 1961, where he began his career as a fashion photographer. His work appeared in magazines like French Vogue, and he was awarded the French Grand Prix National de la Photographie.
Newton died in a car accident in West Hollywood in 2004 at age 83. The Helmut Newton Foundation was established the same year.
Julius Oppenheimer, Scientist
Born: 1904 | Died: 1967
Julius Robert Oppenheimer was born to German immigrant parents in New York City. He studied physics and chemistry at both Harvard University and Göttingen University in Germany. Oppenheimer focused his studies on quantum physics, electrons and cosmic rays. In 1943, Oppenheimer was appointed director of the Manhattan Project, a massive effort to create a nuclear weapon before the Nazis during World War II.
After the first nuclear bombs destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Oppenheimer resigned from his position, devastated by the effects of these bombs. He later served as chairman of the General Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission and publicly announced his opposition to the development of hydrogen bombs.
John A. Röbling, Engineer
Born: 1806 | Died: 1869
Johann August Röbling was a pioneer in the design of steel suspension bridges. Röbling was born in Mühlhausen. He attended the Royal Polytechnic Institute in Berlin, graduating with a degree in civil engineering. Röbling immigrated to America in 1831 with his brother and settled in Pennsylvania.
One of his first projects involved improving river navigation facilities. He replaced hempen hawsers with wire cables, developing his own method for stranding and weaving the cables. The demand for these cables soon became so great that he established a factory to manufacture them in Trenton, NJ. The wire rope became an important part of his future bridge constructions.
Röbling designed a number of bridges in America, including the Brooklyn Bridge in New York.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Architect
Born: 1886 | Died: 1969
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was born in Aachen and later moved to Berlin, where he became part of the avant-garde Bauhaus design school.
Mies moved to the United States in 1937, and soon after his arrival, he became director of the School of Architecture at Chicago’s Armour Institute (now the Illinois Institute of Technology).
His architectural style of extreme clarity and simplicity became popular with large American companies. Iconic works like the Farnsworth House in Plano, IL, and the Seagram Building in New York City are among his most renowned works and demonstrate his famous principle of “less is more.”
Eberhard Anheuser, Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc.
Born: 1806 | Died: 1880
Eberhard Anheuser was born in Bad Kreuzbach in western Germany near Mainz. In 1842, he emigrated to the United States.
As a major creditor of the Bavarian Brewery Company, he took over the company in 1860 by purchasing the minor creditors’ interests. He became president and CEO of the brewery and renamed it Eberhard Anheuser and Company. He was joined later by his son-in-law Adolphus Busch, and the company became Anheuser-Busch, now the world’s third-largest brewing company.
Hannah Arendt, Philosopher & Politician
Born: 1906 | Died: 1975
The political philosopher Hannah Arendt was born in Hannover, but the family moved to Königsberg in eastern Prussia and later to Berlin. In 1924, she entered Marburg University, where she studied philosophy. She later moved to Heidelberg.
Involved in Jewish and Zionist politics and fearing Nazi persecution, she fled to Paris in 1933. After the outbreak of the war and following detention in a camp as an “enemy alien,” Arendt fled to the U.S. in 1941. In New York, Arendt wrote for the German-language newspaper Aufbau and directed research for the Commission on European Jewish Cultural Reconstruction.
She published her first major political book, “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” in 1951 and began guest fellowships and professorial positions at American universities.
John Jacob Astor
Born: 1763 | Died: 1848
Born near Heidelberg, John Jacob Astor immigrated to America in 1783 to live in New York City. He entered the fur trade and quickly made a fortune. In 1808, he set up the American Fur Co. and established trading posts along the Missouri and Columbia rivers.
He shipped cargo worldwide, speculated in government securities and acquired large tracts of real estate in New York City. In order to fully devote himself to managing his financial interests, he sold his fur trading business in 1834.
After his death in 1848, Astor donated $400,000 to a public library, which is now part of the New York Public Library in New York City.
John Jacob Bausch, Bausch + Lomb
Born: 1830 | Died: 1926
John Jacob Bausch, also known as J.J., was born in Süßen, Baden-Württemberg, and emigrated to the United States in 1849. Bausch started his own retail optical shop in Rochester using supplies imported from Germany. When the business struggled, he borrowed money from his friend Henry Lomb, and in turn changed the company name to Bausch & Lomb.
After several years, the business became profitable, partly due to the introduction of the company’s popular rubber-framed spectacles. They expanded their existing shop and opened new offices in New York City and Chicago.
Their offerings grew to include binoculars, microscopes, projectors, camera lenses and shutters. One of their most successful products today are Ray-Ban sunglasses.
William Edward Boeing, Aviation Pioneer
Born: 1881 | Died: 1956
William Edward Boeing was born to a German immigrant in Detroit. In 1903, Boeing left Yale University and bought large tracts of timberlands and lumber operations. When he visited the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition with Conrad Westervelt, Boeing saw great opportunities in the aviation industry.
He founded the Pacific Aero Products Company, later renamed the Boeing Airplane Company. He enhanced the company’s profile by transporting commercial airmail between Chicago and San Francisco. The company morphed into a larger entity that eventually included United Airlines. In 1934, the Air Mail Act led him to break up his company into three separate entities: United Aircraft Company, Boeing Airplane Company and United Airlines.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, Soldier and U.S. President
Born: 1890 | Died: 1969
Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower was born in Texas to a family of German immigrants who first arrived in America in 1732 and settled in York, PA.
Eisenhower joined the U.S. military and served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe in World War II and was made the first Supreme Commander of NATO.
Eisenhower ran for president in 1952 with the campaign slogan “I like Ike” and won a sweeping victory. He served for two terms (1953–1960). He broadened the Social Security system and in 1953 created the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Eisenhower was responsible for creating the National Interstate Highway System that America depends on today.
Adolphus Busch, Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc.
Born: 1839 | Died: 1930
Adolphus Busch, born in Kastel close to Frankfurt, was a co-founder of Anheuser-Busch. He used the money that he had inherited from his father to start a wholesale brewer’s supply store and bought a share in a Bavarian brewery from Eberhard Anheuser, his future father-in-law.
After Anheuser’s death, the company’s name was changed to Anheuser-Busch Company. The company saw major success when Adolphus found a method to pasteurize the beer so it stayed fresh and could be shipped all over the world. Now, Anheuser-Busch operates as the world’s third-largest brewing company.
Marcus Goldman, Goldman Sachs Group, Inc.
Born: 1822 | Died: Jul 20, 1904
Marcus Goldman, a German immigrant from the Bavarian town of Fürth, left his country in 1848 for the United States.
Goldman founded his investment business in 1869, when loans and credits were rare and expensive. He bought debt obligation certificates from his clients and sold them to banks in New York, making him a pioneer in the commercial paper business.
He opened an office in New York’s banking and financial district and renamed the company Goldman Sachs when his son-in-law, Samuel Sachs, joined the business.
The business was listed at the stock exchange in 1896. Today, Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. is a leading global investment banking, securities and investment management firm.
Henry J. Heinz, H. J. Heinz Company
Born: 1844 | Died: 1919
Henry J. Heinz was born to German immigrant parents living in Pittsburgh, PA. In 1869, he founded the Heinz company, and seven years later, Heinz tomato ketchup was introduced to the market. After his company went bankrupt six years later, Heinz went on to found F & J Heinz with his brother and cousin, whom he later bought out. Their first product was again tomato ketchup.
In 1919, Henry Heinz died of pneumonia. At the time of his death, the company had more than 20 factories and 200 smaller facilities. Today, Heinz is one of the biggest food companies in the world, selling dressing and ketchup to fast food restaurants globally.
Richard Hellmann, Hellmann’s Mayonnaise
Born: 1876 | Died: 1971
Richard Hellmann was born in Vetschau in the Spree Forest south of Berlin. In 1905, two years after arriving in the United States, he married the daughter of a delicatessen owner in New York City.
His delectable mayonnaise was featured in salads and sold in the deli. Hellmann originally produced two kinds of mayonnaise, and to tell the difference, he simply put a blue ribbon around one of them. Today, Hellmann’s Blue Ribbon Mayonnaise is sold worldwide.
Throughout his life, Hellmann never forgot the city of his birth and was a generous donor. He became an honorary citizen of Vetschau in 1929.
Henry Kissinger, Statesman
Henry A. Kissinger was born Heinz Alfred Kissinger in Fürth in Bavaria to a Jewish family. Fleeing from persecution by the Nazi regime during the Third Reich era, the family moved to New York in 1938.
Throughout his career, Kissinger has played a dominant role in U.S. foreign policy. A diplomat, Kissinger was a Nobel Peace Prize laureate in 1973 with Le Duc Tho for ending the Vietnam War. He also served as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State during the Nixon and Ford administrations. After leaving the government, Kissinger founded a consulting firm, Kissinger Associates, where he still works as a lecturer and foreign policy consultant.
Frederick Miller, MillerCoors
Born: 1824 | Died: 1888
Frederick Miller was born in 1824 in Riedlingen in southwest Germany. Miller discovered his passion for beer working at his uncle’s brewery and later leased the royal brewery of the Hohenzollern in Sigmaringen.
He moved to America in the mid-19th century to escape political unrest and growing restrictions at home. After living in New York City for one year, Miller traveled to Milwaukee, where he bought the local Plank Road Brewery. His small business evolved into one of the world’s largest breweries. Miller Brewery became the second-largest brewery in the U.S. and merged with Coors Brewing Company in 2008 to become MillerCoors.
Franz Daniel Pastorius, Founder of Germantown
Born: 1651 | Died: 1720
Franz Daniel Pastorius was born in 1651 in the Bavarian town of Sommerhausen. He traveled extensively through Europe and studied at the universities of Altdorf, Jena and Strasbourg to become a lawyer.
When a group of Quakers asked him for legal advice concerning the purchase of land in Pennsylvania from William Penn in 1683, Pastorius sailed to the New World to negotiate the contract. A short time later, 13 families from Krefeld joined Pastorius and founded the first German settlement in America: Germantown. Pastorius laid out the new settlement, where he worked as a teacher and writer and served as the mayor.
John D. Rockefeller
Born: 1839 | Died: 1937
While John Davison Rockefeller, Sr. was born in Richford, NY, genealogists trace his line back to Neuwied in western Germany, where his family was known as Rockenfeller in the 18th century.
In 1870, Rockefeller founded the Standard Oil Company, revolutionizing the oil industry and defining the structure of modern philanthropy. As gasoline grew in importance, he became the world’s richest man and first billionaire.
His fortune was used to create the modern systematic approach of targeted philanthropy with foundations that have a major impact on medicine, education and scientific research.
Donald Henry Rumsfeld, Politician
Donald Henry Rumsfeld was born in Chicago, IL. His great-grandfather Johann Heinrich Rumsfeld immigrated to the U.S. from Weyhe near Bremen, Germany.
After attending Princeton University, Rumsfeld pursued a career as a politician and businessman. He served as an aviator in the U.S. Navy before entering the Reserve. He held various positions under President Richard Nixon, including U.S. Ambassador to NATO. Under President Gerald Ford, he served as the White House Chief of Staff.
Rumsfeld became the 13th Secretary of Defense during the Ford administration (1975–1977) and later the 21st Secretary of Defense under George W. Bush (2001–2006) as the youngest person holding that position and being the only Secretary of Defense for two nonconsecutive terms.
Carl Schurz, Politician
Born: 1829 | Died: 1906
Carl Schurz was born in Erftstadt in the Rhineland. During his studies at the University of Bonn, Schurz became fascinated with democratic ideals. When the Revolution of 1848 failed, Schurz fled and eventually emigrated to the U.S. in 1852. He settled in Wisconsin and became well known in the Republican Party. He helped Abraham Lincoln's image among German American voters by giving speeches on his behalf in German.
He was a U.S. senator of Missouri and gained his reputation by encouraging financial responsibility. After retiring from politics in 1881, Schurz moved to New York City, where he continued to work as a journalist, eventually becoming editor-in-chief of the New York Evening Post.
Levi Strauss, Levi Strauss & Co.
Born: 1829 | Died: 1902
Levi Strauss was born 1829 as Löb Strauss in Buttenheim, Bavaria. He is known around the world as the man who invented blue jeans.
Strauss started in the dry goods business after emigrating to New York at the age of 16. Following the California gold rush, he started manufacturing durable work pants using a canvas-like material in San Francisco. In 1872, a Nevada tailor named Davis suggested placing metal rivets at stress points for greater strength. Strauss and Davis patented the idea a year later, and Levi’s jeans were born.
Strauss opened two factories in San Francisco, and Levi Strauss & Co. flourished. When Strauss died in 1902, he left behind an inheritance worth $6 million.
Heinrich E. Steinweg, Steinway & Sons
Born: 1797 | Died: 1871
Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg started out as a carpentry apprentice to an organ builder in Goslar, near Hannover. He fell in love with music and became a church organ player. In 1835, Steinweg built his first square piano; a year later, he built his first grand piano.
Due to the unstable political climate in Germany, Steinweg left Germany with four of his sons and moved to New York in 1851. He established his own manufacturing company under the name of Steinway & Sons in 1853, having changed his name to Henry E. Steinway, and became the leading piano manufacturer in America. Steinway & Sons currently provides more than 95% of the world’s concert halls with their concert grand pianos.
Friedrich von Steuben, Soldier & Statesman
Born: 1730 | Died: 1794
Friedrich Wilhelm Ludholf Gerhard Augustin von Steuben was born in Magdeburg, Prussia. He became an officer in the Prussian army.
In 1777, von Steuben emigrated to the U.S. and, with the help of Benjamin Franklin, he reported to Washington and was commissioned to train the troops. Under von Steuben's training, the army became more successful in fighting the British troops. His influence on military structure and organization is still felt today.
A number of U.S. cities and counties are named for von Steuben, and today he even has his own holiday. As part of German-American Friendship Week, the Steuben Parade draws huge crowds in New York City and several other cities around the U.S.
Johann Sebastian Bach, Composer
Born: 1685 | Died: 1750
Born in the town of Eisenach to a large family of talented musicians, Johann Sebastian Bach grew up surrounded by music. At the age of 9, he lost both of his parents, which forced him to become independent very early. By age 15, Bach was a professional singer, violinist and organist.
His most famous works were completed during his 27-year tenure as cantor of St. Thomas School and director of music for the Church of St. Thomas in Leipzig.
Bach composed more than 1,000 musical works and pieces, of which more than 220 survive today. He is now considered one of the biggest contributors to German music.
Ludwig van Beethoven, Composer
Born: 1770 | Died: 1827
Ludwig van Beethoven grew up in Bonn, where he showed tremendous musical talent at an early age. In 1792, he moved to Vienna, where he previously studied with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Beethoven worked as a freelance composer and was a favorite guest of the noble families who frequently invited him to give concerts and lessons in Bonn and Vienna.
Beethoven wrote one of his most famous piano melodies, "Moonlight Sonata," in 1801, just as he was beginning to lose his hearing. By 1817, he was completely deaf, yet he still wrote some of his greatest music, including his powerful "Ninth Symphony," which includes "Ode to Joy.”
Richard Wagner, Composer
Born: 1813 | Died: 1883
Wilhelm Richard Wagner was born in 1813 in Leipzig. Admired today as one of the greatest composers of all time, Wagner struggled during the earlier part of his career in Germany and Paris. In 1843, Wagner finally earned the recognition he had hoped for with his piece "The Flying Dutchman.”
He became Kapellmeister at the Dresden State Opera for the next six years, until he was thrown out of Germany for participating in the 1848 Revolution. He fled to Switzerland, where he spent his time composing. King Ludwig II of Bavaria financed many of Wagner’s grand operas and later built the Bayreuth Festspielhaus (Bayreuth Festival Theater) specifically to accommodate them.
Bertolt Brecht, Author
Born: 1898 | Died: 1956
Eugen Berthold Friedrich Brecht was born in Augsburg. He studied medicine and worked in a hospital in Munich during World War I. After the war, he moved to Berlin, where he began to work with the composer Hanns Eisler. He also met Helene Weigel, who would become his second wife. The couple fled to Scandinavia and then to the U.S. when Hitler came to power in 1933.
In 1947, Brecht returned to Europe and eventually settled in communist East Berlin. There, he founded the Berliner Ensemble, which is still one of the most famous German theater companies. Among Brecht's best-known works is "Die Dreigroschenoper" ("The Threepenny Opera"), a modern classic composed by Kurt Weill.
Brothers Grimm, Linguists
Jakob (1785–1863) and Wilhelm Grimm (1786 –1859), known as the Brothers Grimm (Brüder Grimm), spent their childhood in Steinau, Hesse. While living and working in the city of Kassel, the brothers heard neighbors tell wonderful folktales that had been passed down for generations.
To preserve these stories, the brothers wrote many of them down and published them in a book known today as "Grimm's Fairy Tales." "Snow White," "Sleeping Beauty," "Cinderella," and "Hansel and Gretel" are all tales first recorded by the Brothers Grimm.
The brothers are also considered to be the founders of modern linguistics in Germany. "Das Deutsche Wörterbuch" (German Dictionary), published in 1854, was an important step toward establishing a uniform German language.
Immanuel Kant, Philosopher
Born: 1724 | Died: 1804
Immanuel Kant grew up and spent most of his life in Königsberg in East Prussia. Today, Immanuel Kant is known as one of the greatest German philosophers and is considered one of the most influential thinkers of modern times.
At the age of 16, Kant enrolled as a theological student at the University of Königsberg, where he was introduced to the works of Sir Isaac Newton and decided to pursue an academic career. After completing his degree in 1755, he taught at the university for 15 years, lecturing first on science and mathematics but gradually covering almost all branches of philosophy.
Friedrich Hegel, Philosopher
Born: 1770 | Died: 1831
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was born in Stuttgart in southern Germany. His career as a university teacher started in 1801 when he lectured in Jena. He was called to the University of Heidelberg in 1816 and later was granted a professorship in Berlin.
Hegel was highly influential in German philosophical thinking. He is credited with developing the Hegelian dialectic system, which is a process of arriving at the truth by stating a thesis, developing an antithesis, and combining and resolving them into a coherent synthesis. The influence of his works can be found in later philosophies – Kierkegaard’s existentialism, Marxism and many others.
Martin Luther, Reformer
Born: 1483 | Died: 1546
Born in Eisleben in the German kingdom of Saxony in 1483, Martin Luther became one of the most important religious leaders in history, igniting the Protestant Reformation.
In 1517, Luther sent his famous 95 theses against the misuse of indulgences to Cardinal Albrecht of Mainz, and it is said that he also posted them on the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg. Four years later, Luther permanently severed his ties with the Catholic Church, which led to his excommunication by Pope Leo X. When the emperor declared Luther an outlaw, Luther’s supporters smuggled him to Wartburg Castle in Eisenach. There, he translated the Bible from Latin to German, making it possible for more people to read it.
Thomas Mann, Novelist, Essayist
Born: 1875 | Died: 1955
Thomas Mann was born in Lübeck in northern Germany. Upon completing his education, it did not take long for Mann to publish his breakthrough success, “Buddenbrooks,” for which he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1929.
In 1933, Mann emigrated to Switzerland and went on to the U.S., where he was given an academic position at Princeton University. He also served as a consultant in Germanic literature for the Library of Congress. During World War II, he became the outspoken voice of the "other Germany" against the Nazi regime.
After the war, Mann moved back to Switzerland, where he died in 1955. The Thomas Mann Archive is located in Zurich, and the Buddenbrookhaus is in Lübeck.
Karl Marx, Philosopher
Born: 1818 | Died: 1883
Karl Heinrich Marx was born into a Jewish family in Trier in western Germany. He studied philosophy in Bonn and Berlin, and worked as a journalist in Brussels, Paris and London.
Marx was a philosopher, revolutionary, political thinker, and the chief theorist of modern socialism and communism. In Paris, he formed a lifelong association with Friedrich Engels. The two collaborated on “The Communist Manifesto.”
After 18 years of preparation, Marx published the monumental work “Das Kapital,” which formed the body of thought and belief known as Marxism. His theories were of immense political influence, and many consider him the founder of economic history and sociology.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Philosopher
Born: 1844 | Died: 1900
Friedrich Nietzsche was the son of a pastor, born in Rocken near Leipzig, East Germany. He studied Greek and Latin at the University of Bonn. H.L. Mencken wrote of him: “He was undoubtedly the greatest German prose writer of his generation, and even when one reads him through the English veil, it is impossible to escape the charm and color of his phrases and the pyrotechnic brilliance of his thinking.”
Morality and religion with a twist is one way to describe Nietzsche’s philosophical teachings. He put the power in your hands: To take control of your own good and evil, be your own law enforcer and live at a level of experience beyond the conventional standards of what is right and wrong.
Friedrich Schiller, Author
Born: 1759 | Died: 1805
Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller was a German poet, dramatist, philosopher and historian. He was born in Marbach am Neckar in southwestern Germany.
Schiller's dramas are powerful expressions of the idea of striving for freedom and self-determination, which were quite popular values among German Americans. In 1859, the centennial of Schiller's birthday was widely celebrated in the U.S. by German Americans.
Among Schiller's best-known dramatic works are "Die Räuber" ("The Robbers"), "Kabale und Liebe" ("Intrigue and Love"), "Don Carlos," "Wallenstein" ("The Wallenstein Trilogy") and "Wilhelm Tell" (“William Tell”).
Schiller's close friendship with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – both lived in Weimar – was not only inspiring to both but also led to a legendary creative collaboration between the two geniuses.
Arthur Schopenhauer, Philosopher
Born: 1788 | Died: 1860
Arthur Schopenhauer was born in Danzig in northeastern Germany (now Gdańsk, Poland). Schopenhauer traveled throughout Europe with his family and studied in Göttingen, Jena and Berlin.
Schopenhauer’s philosophy in the U.S. and around the world is frequently called the philosophy of pessimism. One of the central themes in Schopenhauer’s work is the function of will, and he argues that the nature of the world is will. He presented these ideas in his most famous book, “The World as Will and Idea,” which greatly influenced composer Richard Wagner and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.
Albert Schweitzer, Philosopher
Born: 1875 | Died: 1965
Albert Schweitzer was born in Kaiserberg, Alsace-Lorraine, today part of France. The theologian, philosopher, musician, physician and medical missionary won the Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian work in Africa in 1952.
Schweitzer obtained a doctorate from the University of Strasbourg. His book “The Quest of the Historical Jesus,” published in 1906, made him a worldwide influential personality in theological studies.
Dedicating his life to philanthropy, Schweitzer moved to Africa, where he stayed until his death. He and his wife established a hospital and treated thousands of patients. His work continues to have strong moral appeal and serves as a source of encouragement for medical missionaries around the world.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Author
Born: 1749 | Died: 1832
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born in Frankfurt am Main. This poet, playwright, novelist, scientist and statesman is arguably Germany’s most celebrated author and considered by many to be the greatest German literary figure of the modern era.
Goethe studied law in Leipzig and Strasbourg and later lived in Weimar. He was one of the great intellectuals of his time; in addition to writing a number of brilliant plays, poems, novels and autobiographical works, he also painted and drew. Goethe had a lifelong interest in the natural sciences and pursued studies in geology, biology and anatomy.
Sandra Bullock, Actress
Sandra Bullock was born in Arlington County, VA, to Helga Meyer, a German opera singer. Bullock grew up in Nuremberg, where she lived until the age of 12, singing in the children's choir at the Staatstheater Nürnberg.
Bullock's first notable role in a Hollywood production was in "Demolition Man" (1993). Bullock has been recognized for movies such as “Two Weeks Notice” and was awarded a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for her performance in "The Blind Side."
Bullock also owns and runs the production company Fortis Films and was awarded the Raul Julia Award of Excellence for her work and co-production of "The George Lopez Show."
Doris Day, Actress & Singer
Born: 1924 | Died: 2019
Doris Mary Ann von Kappelhoff, known as Doris Day, was born to German immigrants in Cincinnati, OH. Day started her career as a radio performer and vocalist, and from there went on to work in movies. Day performed in a number of musicals and won the Academy Award for Best Song twice.
In the early 1960s, her career received another boost with popular films such as "Pillow Talk," co-starring Rock Hudson. From 1968 to 1973, Day starred in her own sitcom, "The Doris Day Show." As her acting career neared its end, Day focused her attention on animal protection, and she lobbied for laws regulating the treatment of animals. Day was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004.
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Director
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck is a member of an old German aristocratic family. Von Donnersmark studied philosophy, politics and economics at New College in Oxford before joining the University for Television and Film in Munich (HFF München). In 1998, he produced his first short movie, "Dobermann," which was awarded the Max Ophuls Prize for best short movie and the Shocking Shorts Award. In 2007, his first larger movie project, "Das Leben der Anderen" ("The Life of Others"), won an Academy Award for best movie in a foreign language. Von Donnersmarck continues to produce movies in Hollywood.
Kirsten Dunst, Actress & Producer
Kirsten Dunst was born in Point Pleasant, NJ, to a German father and a Swedish mother. Dunst started out in showbiz at the age of three filming television commercials.
She made her feature film debut in a segment of Woody Allen's 1989 film "New York Stories." Shortly thereafter, her family moved to Los Angeles, where her film career took off. In 1994, she made her breakout performance in "Interview with the Vampire.” Her performance earned her a Golden Globe nomination, the MTV Movie Award for best breakthrough performance, and the Saturn Award for best young actress.
Dunst lives in California and started a production company, Wooden Spoon Productions.
Leonardo Wilhelm DiCaprio, Actor
Leonardo Wilhelm DiCaprio was born in 1974 in Hollywood, CA. His mother, Irmelin Indenbirken, is German, while his father is of Italian and German descent. DiCaprio's grandparents immigrated to the U.S. in 1955. They returned to Germany in 1985.
DiCaprio aspired to enter the movie business from an early age. DiCaprio’s role in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" earned the then-19-year-old his first Academy Award nomination. After several other acclaimed movies, the 1997 mega-blockbuster "Titanic" co-starring Kate Winslet turned both of them into international movie stars. The movie won a total of 11 Academy Awards. DiCaprio is known for being a committed environmentalist.
Marlene Dietrich, Actress & Singer
Born: 1901 | Died: 1992
Singer and actress Marlene Dietrich was born in 1901 in Berlin-Schöneberg. Dietrich grew up studying the violin and started her career as a stage and film actress. In 1930, her role in the German movie "Der Blaue Engel" ("The Blue Angel") turned her into an international superstar. She started acting in American movies soon thereafter.
Dietrich was known for her deep, smoky voice and sultry style. During World War II, she was one of the first celebrities to purchase war bonds and also performed for the troops overseas, for which she was awarded the Medal of Freedom.
From the 1950s on, Dietrich continued to perform in concerts and cabarets around the world.
Rainer W. Fassbinder, Director, Screenwriter, Actor
Born: 1945 | Died: 1982
Rainer Werner Fassbinder was born in Bad Wörishofen. He became a movie theater addict at a very early age and made his first short films at the age of 20.
Fassbinder had an outstanding career in theater, films, television productions and adaptations. By 1976, the prizes he’d won at major film festivals; premieres and retrospectives in Paris, New York and Los Angeles; and a first critical study on his work appearing in London had made him a familiar name among cinematographers and audiences all over the world. His sudden death in 1982 symbolically marked the end of the most exciting and experimental period that German cinema had known since the 1920s.
Roland Emmerich, Film Director
Roland Emmerich was born in Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg, and is known for his blockbuster movies.
Emmerich attended film school in Munich and produced his student film, "The Noah's Ark Principle," which was chosen to open the 1984 Berlin Film Festival. The movie became a huge success and was sold to more than 20 countries. Emmerich's career in Hollywood started with "Universal Soldier" (1992), which was followed by two television movies and a theatrical sequel. In 1996, he directed the mega-hit "Independence Day," which was followed by "Godzilla," "The Patriot" and "The Day After Tomorrow." With a penchant for science fiction and special effects, Emmerich is among the major league of directors.
Grace Kelly, Actress
Born: 1929 | Died: 1982
Grace Kelly was born in Philadelphia to Jack Kelly and her German American mother, Margaret Katherine Majer. The family played a prominent role in Philadelphia, as her father was a self-made millionaire and Olympic gold medalist sculler.
Kelly began her career in Hollywood in the 1950s. She starred in three of Alfred Hitchcock's films and earned an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress and won the Academy Award for best actress for her role in “The Country Girl.”
Kelly was known for her unique style and impressive beauty. She starred in 11 motion pictures before abandoning her Hollywood career in 1956 after marrying Rainier III, Prince of Monaco.
Heidi Klum, Model & Actress
Heidi Klum was born in Bergisch Gladbach in western Germany. She shot to fame when her picture appeared in the 1998 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Since then, Klum’s photo has adorned the covers of major magazines around the world.
Klum has designed several clothing lines, shoes for Birkenstock, swimsuits, and jewelry for Mouawad; she also has her own fragrance line. Klum has appeared in films, television shows, music videos and video games.
In recent years, she has gained even more popularity as the host of “Project Runway” and “Germany’s Next Top Model.”
Diane Kruger, Actress
Diane Heidkrüger was born in Hildesheim, Germany. She started her career at a young age as a dancer in London, then went on to become a model in Paris. When she decided to pursue a career in Hollywood, she changed her name to Diane Kruger for the benefit of American audiences.
Her first major role was in the television movie “The Piano Player,” which also starred Dennis Hopper and Christopher Lambert. Her role in “Wicker Park” garnered her more acclaim, as did her appearance as Helen of Troy in Wolfgang Peterson's epic “Troy.” Kruger went on to co-star with Nicolas Cage in “National Treasure.”
Elvis Presley, Singer & Actor
Born: 1935 | Died: 1977
Elvis Presley was born in 1935 in Tupelo, MS. His last name was anglicized after his ancestor Johann Valentin Pressler emigrated to the United States from Germany in 1710.
Presley is known as the King of Rock N' Roll, and American sales earned him gold, platinum and multi platinum awards for 150 different albums and singles. Among his many awards were 14 Grammy nominations and three Grammy awards, one of which was a Lifetime Achievement Award at the young age of 36.
In the 1950s, Presley served with the U.S. Army in West Germany and landed with other troops in Bremerhaven, which now sponsors an annual Elvis festival. Subsequently, he recorded several songs in German.
Gabriele Susanne Kerner was born in Hagen in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. She became famous as pop icon Nena with her platinum song “99 Luftballons” (“99 Red Balloons”), which even reached the top of the U.S. charts. She is one of only a few German pop singers to land a hit in the United States.
The band split up in 1989, and Nena began producing and recording children's songs in the 1990s. Nena made a comeback in 2002 with the tremendous success of her album “Nena feat. Nena” and reached platinum status in Germany.
Ruth Westheimer, Educator
Ruth Westheimer is one of the world's most popular sex educators. She is also known as “Dr. Ruth,” diving right into racy conversations in intimate detail.
Dr. Westheimer was born in Frankfurt and grew up with her Orthodox Jewish parents until she was 10. After going to school in Switzerland, she joined the Haganah, fighting for Israel's independence. She immigrated to the U.S. to study at Columbia University and got her doctorate in education.
She pursued a career in sex education and gave lectures while running her own practice and hosting a radio show. She has achieved international success, written several books, launched her own website, and won awards, including an honorary doctorate from Hebrew Union College.
Boris Becker, Tennis Player
Boris Becker was born in Leimen in southwestern Germany. At the age of 17, he became the youngest player to win the prestigious tennis tournament at Wimbledon, England.
Becker, famous for his powerful serve on Wimbledon's grass courts, won the top tennis title two more times in his career and was ranked the world's No. 1 tennis player in 1991.
Becker retired from professional sports in 1999. Today, he coaches younger players. Besides running a marketing company, Becker is a commentator at Wimbledon for the BBC and participates in the International Blackrock Tour of Champions and in World Team Tennis.
Lou Gehrig, Baseball Player
Born: 1903 | Died: 1941
Henry Louis "Lou" Gehrig was born as Ludwig Heinrich Gehrig, the son of German immigrants in the Yorkville section of Manhattan. Today he is known as one of the best baseball players of the 20th century.
In 1923, Gehrig joined the New York Yankees and established himself as a bona fide star, becoming one of the greatest run producers in baseball history.
He officially retired from the Yankees and professional baseball on July 4, 1939, due to health issues. Later that same year, Gehrig was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame at age 37, making him the youngest inductee.
Steffi Graf, Tennis Player
Stefanie Maria Graf was born in Mannheim in southwestern Germany. She is considered one of the greatest female tennis players of all time. Her main weapon was her powerful forehand and one of the fastest serves in women's tennis.
Graf became a tennis pro at the age of 13. Just six years later, Graf won a "Golden Slam," taking all four major titles in professional tennis plus a gold medal at the Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea, in 1988.
She retired from tennis in August 1999 after winning the French Open for the sixth time and was voted German Athlete of the Century. Graf founded the charity organization Children for Tomorrow and is an active ambassador of the World Wildlife Fund.
Jürgen Klinsmann, Soccer Player & Coach
Jürgen Klinsmann was born in Göppingen in southern Germany and is one of the most well-known German soccer personalities.
Klinsmann is best known for being a member of the West German national team that won the 1990 FIFA World Cup. After retiring from professional soccer in 1998, he went on to play under the pseudonym Jay Goppingen for the Orange County Blue Star in the American Premier Development League in 2003.
He returned to Germany and managed the German national team to a third-place finish in the 2006 FIFA World Cup. For his success in coaching, he was awarded Germany’s Federal Cross of Merit. From 2011 to 2018, Klinsmann was head coach of the US national team. Today he lives in Los Angeles, CA.
Dirk Nowitzki, Basketball Player
Dirk Nowitzki, the seven-foot-tall former center for the Dallas Mavericks, was born in Würzburg. In 2002, Nowitzki led the German national basketball team to the FIBA World Championship, and in 2005, he was the leading scorer and MVP in the EuroBasket.
Over the years, Nowitzki has been referred to as the "German Wunderkind," leading the Mavericks to 11 consecutive NBA Playoffs, including the NBA Finals in 2006 and the franchise's very first championship in 2011. He was the first European to have won the NBA's MVP award. Additionally, Nowitzki is a 14-time NBA All-Star and an 12-time member of the
Babe Ruth, Baseball Player
Born: 1895 | Died: 1948
George Herman "Babe" Ruth was born in Baltimore, MD. His maternal grandfather, Pius Schamberger, was a German immigrant. On his father’s side, he descends from Georg Ruth, who migrated from Germany (Palatinate) to the U.S. in the 18th century.
Ruth began his career as a pitcher, but soon moved to the outfield and gained fame as a slugger. He was nicknamed "Babe" by teammates on his first professional team, the Baltimore Orioles. After the Boston Red Sox sold him to the New York Yankees in 1920, he became the most famous athlete in the United States. Ruth's larger-than-life personality was a hit with fans, and he is often credited with making baseball the dominant American sport of its time.
Rammstein, German Band
Rammstein is a heavy metal rock band from Berlin. They broke onto the German rock music scene in 1994 after winning an amateur band contest, and their six-member lineup hasn’t changed since.
Their first record, “Herzeleid,” initially wasn’t commercially successful when it was released in 1995, but the band gained a loyal following thanks in part to their compelling live performances, which often include pyrotechnics. As a result, their second album, “Sehnsucht,” debuted at No. 1 in Germany and resulted in a worldwide tour that lasted almost four years.
Rammstein records songs almost exclusively in German, yet they are popular throughout the world with audiences who don’t speak the language.
Venture to Germany to discover memorials, museums and historical sites dedicated to cultural heritage. See where famous Germans were born and raised and search museum collections and archives for clues about your ancestors, bringing their emigration story to life.
Get inspired to discover your German heritage with these suggested trip itineraries.