At the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, St. Louis was primarily a French city, although with Spanish influence, since both countries had owned the territory at one time. Between 1803 and 1820, and particularly after the War of 1812 ended in 1814, many Americans migrated west from Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, and the eastern States into St. Louis. These residents and migrants included some of German descent, but not a significant number.

German immigration into St. Louis began in the 1820s, but numbers continued small until the 1830s. Gottfried Duden came to Missouri in 1824 and stayed until 1827 when he returned to Germany and wrote a book on his experiences in Missouri. This book, along with many others of that period, as well as letters from the early German arrivals, promoted German emigration. At the same time in Germany the organization of emigration aid societies, rulers forcing churches to unite, quicker travel by rail as well as steam instead of sail, and rapidly increasing German taxation all contributed to a desire to emigrate.

From the mid-1830s until the World Wars, Germans flooded into St. Louis. Because many forms of transportation centered in St. Louis, some only passed through on their way to other Missouri destinations or other states. But because so many stayed, population in St. Louis more than tripled from 4,977 in 1830 to 16,469 by 1840. The first German church in St. Louis was founded in 1834 by German Evangelical Protestants, but it was quickly followed by German Catholics and German Lutherans, who also formed churches in 1835/6 and 1839. A small number of German Jews also came to St. Louis during this time. They formed a synagogue and began a cemetery. In 1850, more than half of the nearly 78,000 St. Louisans were of German descent. Many joined Union supporters in the Civil War, helping keep Missouri, a slave state, from seceding.

On 3 November 1856, a group of German immigrants on their way to St. Louis arrived in New Orleans aboard the bark Misissippi. A partal list of the names of those passengers is available here.

The rapid influx of immigrants into St. Louis led to a housing shortage, overcrowding, diseases, and the death of many. But it also resulted in opportunities for both the skilled and the unskilled. Most German immigrants had some education and often arrived trained in a trade. They quickly established themselves and contributed to St. Louis’s growth. Many of the industries in St. Louis today were originally established by German immigrants.

Germans also published newspapers which lasted into the 20th century: the Anzeiger des Westens, 1835 to 1912; the Westliche Post, 1857 to 1938; and two Roman Catholic papers, the Amerika, 1872 to 1924 and St. Louis Herald des Glaubens, 1889–1899. A Jewish newspaper called The Modern View published from 1901 to 1943 and focused mostly on the German-Jewish community.

The History and Genealogy Department at St. Louis County Library Headquarters offers special finding aids outlining the German resources available at the library. Click on St. Louis County Library Finding Aids for further information including an extensive German finding aid list.

The St. Louis Genealogical Society sponsors a German Special Interest Group (G-SIG), which meets four times a year. Their current schedule is on our calendar (found at the bottom of the home page) and also available as a flyer on the G-SIG page on this site.


Burnett, Robyn and Ken Luebbering. German Settlement in Missouri, New Land, Old Ways. Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1996.

Burnett, Robyn and Ken Luebbering. Immigrant Women in the Settlement of Missouri. Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 2005.

Goebel, Gert. Longer Than a Man’s Lifetime in Missouri. Columbia, Missouri: the State Historical Society of Missouri, 2013.

“For the Records: German Churches in St. Louis, 1830–1900.” St. Louis County Library Past Ports, v. 7, no. 3, March 2015, p. 1–12.

The German-American Heritage of St. Louis: A Guide. St. Louis: St. Louis Public Library, 1991.
Tolzmann, Don Heinrich, editor. Missouri’s German Heritage. Milford, Ohio: Little Miami Publishing Company, 2004.

Tolzmann, Don Heinrich, editor and William G. Bek, translator. The German Element in St. Louis, A Translation from German of Ernst D. Kargau’s St. Louis in Former Years: A Commemorative History of the German Element. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2001. Reprinted from the German originally published in St. Louis, 1893.
Last modified: 18-May-2017 10:38