Articles and Reviews

"The Origins of German-American Day," Don Heinrich Tolzmann (September 21, 2010)

Tolzmann's Stammtisch

Don Heinrich Tolzmann and former President Ronald Reagan in 1987 for the first German-American DayA Special Day in History

Since 1987, German-American Day has been celebrated nationally. How this national day came about and why it takes place on the 6th of October is explained by our Stammtisch columnist, Dr. Don Heinrich Tolzmann, who is widely known as the "Father of German-American Day." (Photo: With President Reagan in the Rose Garden of the White House on October 2, 1987.)



The Origins of German-American Day

Tolzmann and Reagan in a color photo from 1987By Don Heinrich Tolzmann

On the 6th of October, thirteen German families led by Franz Daniel Pastorius came ashore in Philadelphia from their ocean voyage on the Concord and founded Germantown.

Although Germans first settled at Jamestown in 1608, it was not until 1683 that a permanent German settlement was established at Germantown.

Since then, the 6th of October has always held a special place in the annals of German-American history.

In 1876, the U.S. celebrated its Centennial and German-Americans got the idea of celebrating the 200th anniversary of the founding of Germantown, which then took place on the 6th of October in 1883.

In the following years, this celebration came to be known as German Day and was widely celebrated across the country until World War I.

In 1976, the U.S. celebrated its Bicentennial and it was then I began writing and speaking on German contributions to America. In so doing, I came upon the German-American Bicentennial that was celebrated in 1883 and got the idea of recommending that the German-American Tricentennial should be celebrated in 1983.

As Secretary and then President of the Society for German-American Studies (SGAS), I began writing and speaking widely on the idea, which quickly caught on.

As a result, President Reagan appointed the Tricentennial Commission and the 300th anniversary was celebrated across the country in 1983. Just as in the 19th century, the 6th of October began to be celebrated annually.

In 1986, a proposal was approved in Cincinnati at the annual SGAS meeting to obtain national recognition of the 6th of October as German-American Day.

As SGAS President, I then drafted a resolution and asked my congressman, Rep. Thomas Luken to submit this in the House. At the same time, the resolution was sent to Sen. Richard Lugar of nearby Indiana for submission to the Senate.

In writing the resolution I kept the purpose of the event in mind, as well as its past history. The resolution as submitted passed both Houses of Congress.

German-American Day emblemThe proclamation noted that the Tricentennial was celebrated on the 6th of October 1983 "in honor of the contributions made by German immigrants to the life and culture of the United States” and that “such contributions should be recognized and celebrated every year."

Reference was also made to U.S.-German relations as symbolized by the German-American Friendship Garden in Washington, D.C.

After submitting the resolution to Congress, I contacted German-American organizations - national, regional, and local - across the country, enlisting their support in the campaign to pass the resolutions through Congress, asking them and their members to write to their Representatives in Congress in support of the resolution.

Although the resolution did not make it through Congress in 1986, it passed unanimously October 2, 1987, as by that time the campaign had gained nationwide support and momentum.

During the Rose Garden signing ceremony at the White House, I spoke on the purpose of German-American Day, stating that its primary purpose of German-American Day is to celebrate German contributions to the making of America, as well as the friendly relations between the U.S. and Germany.

I also presented President Reagan with a copy of my book on the Cincinnati Germans, knowing that it would become part of the Reagan Presidential Library.

As we approach the annual celebration of German-American Day on the 6th of October, it is well to keep its purpose in mind, as well as its history, which reaches back through the German-American Tricentennial and Bicentennial to the founding of Germantown in 1683.

I am glad to be part of that continuum and contributed to the national recognition of German contributions to the making of America.

Yours truly,
Dr. Don Heinrich Tolzmann, Cincinnati

P.S. For information on the author’s latest book, German-Americana: Selected Essays, please click HERE

FROM: (21 September 2010).