The History of the Germans in Buffalo and Erie County, N.Y. - Part I, pages 87 - 91

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this fire. Joseph Grimm, a mason, having served as a guide for the fire men into the steeple of the church and being encircled by the flames, leaped down from the edge of the roof to the ground. He was picked up dead with all his limbs broken. George J. Roth, a fireman, was found in the ruins after the fire, as a charred corpse.

Shortly before the fire in the Music Hall broke out, divine service had begun in St. Louis Church. The congregation was dismissed, and the precious sacred vessels were brought to safety.

Joy and Sorrow in the Fifties

During the years of thirty and forty it was not so easy for the German immigrants to lay a foundation to become familiar with our customs, as for those who came later. They did not find brothers, or relatives, or friends who could at their arrival advise them as to ways and means. Without knowing the English language or the situtation, their life was during the first years a continual struggle for existence, which could only be overcome by eager work and self-denial of all kinds. But still under these modest resources of earning a living, there was a steady increase of brave, reliable Germans, that attained a certain degree of prosperity and independence. The trade and retail business enabled the active and assiduous laborer to secure a home of his own and establish a business.[1] At that time nobody thought of a working day lasting nine or ten hours. In summer they worked from day-break until dark. As the navigation was closed in winter and that was the main source of industry, they had very little to do. Toward the end of the thirties the day wages of a helper were five shillings, those of a carpenter 75 cents to $1. A clerk who was a good saleman received a yearly pay of $150, and for that he had to be on his feet till 10 or 11 o'clock at night during the busy times. He had no holidays because just those were the best business days. According to their salary, provisions were correspondingly cheap. The ambition of every German was to have his own home, and to sleep under his own roof; to accomplish

Caption on illustration at center reads School No. 37, Carlton cor. Orange St., Erected 1869, Addition 1885


[1] The German text reads "Yet skilled trade and small business made it possible for capable and enterprising men to acquire their own businesses and their own homes despite the sparse pay and the payment in store credit for goods. Return to text

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this they never hesitated to undergo many troubles and personal privations. Whether times were good or hard, though earnings were little and means small, they never dropped the aim of calling a little residence their own; and so it happened that already in the middle of the decade, the Germans had surpassed all other nationalities in the possession of their own homes; they even had well cultivated cozy little gardens behind their houses.

As no oppression of care for sustenance was felt at that time, people were more satisfied with their fate, their pretentions in life were only moderate and modest, their customs simple and their enjoyments frugal. They still knew how to be governed by existing circumstances and when it was necessary to cut the coat according to the cloth. People at that time also complained about their fate and moaned, as they have always done; but as they could not have the best, they were satisfied with the good. Their surroundings did not yet force them to display extravagant style, and necessity compelled them to resist the temptation. Every year brought around the time of the term for payment in order to clear the title to their homes, and this fact deterred them from unneccesary expenses.[1]

The German immigration of the third and fourth decennary had conquered many an American prejudice, and to a certain degree they were admitted to the right of citizens. In trade German diligence and accuracy were acknowledged by the Americans. The latter at last were convinced that the Germans indeed had pretty good qualifications; and they preferred German "hired girls" to all other nationalities [of servants] and admitted that the Germans were "honest people".

Caption in illustration at center of page reads [School] No. 32, Old Building, Cedar St. near Clinton, Erected 1851


[1] Translator's note: This paragraph makes more sense in German, found on page 90 of the text. It reads:
"Since they did not have to struggle to make ends meet, the people were content with the limitations of their economic circumstances; their expectations on life were still moderate and modest, their customs were still simple and their tastes were easily satisfied. They still understood how to adjust to changing circumstances when dire need pushed them to the limits. As is the case in every time, people complained and griped about their lot in life but if they couldn't have the best things in life they'd settle for what they could get. Their circumstances did not demand that they create the illusion of prosperity with superficial decorations and extravagant expenditures - true need saved them from succumbing to those temptations. The struggle to pay off the yearly installment payments on their houses was enough to keep unnecessary expenditures in check." Return to text

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Caption under full-page picture reads the Old Music Hall

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The famine in Germany during the years of 1846 - 1847 as well as the consequences of the revolution in 1848 (namely, the persecution, inprisonment and banishment of the youths and men, who had taken part in any political disturbances), had driven great numbers of Germans across the ocean. Although many of the immigrants of '48 went farther west, Buffalo received a number of them. This influenced the "older ones" in the best manner. A new spirit was felt. New societies to promote sociability were founded. Entertainments and fétes, more frequent and of more diversity than formerly, were given.

A great deal of unmerited unpleasantness was not lacking, that interrupted the even tenor of their lives, even though their circumstances were modest.

At that time the money, or rather the kind of money, caused much trouble and sorrow among the people, as well as to those who had it as to those who longed for it. With the exception of change, there was no coin in the retail business, nor in everyday trade. The dollar of our fathers, and silver dollars altogether were unknown in daily life and also the coin of aristocratic gold. There existed a large circulation of paper bills, that is, "bank bills" promising money.

Almost every State of the Union was in want of money, trying to help out with "bank bills". Under certain conditions the government gave to those corporations who asked for it, permission to print "bank bills" up to a certain amount; these were allowed to be circulated and used for banking business. To these bank-notes or "promises of payment" the character of money was given by our wise lawmakers, in opposition to the precepts of the confederation, and in this capacity these "notes" formed the principal element in circulation, until after the War of the Rebellion.[1] Besides these notes of our reliable state banks, a great many other "notes" from other state banks were circulated, which people were not obliged to accept as pay; but the business men, in order to please their customers and also out of business principles, could not refuse them. Our banks, when they accepted "bank notes" from other states, made a small or larger discount according to the financial standing of the foreign bank. To know the amount of this discount a daily study of the course of exchange was necessary on account of its fluctuation. More difficult and important however, was the risk of the business men to find out daily the ability of the innumerable banking institutions to pay, and how many of them had perhaps failed the day before. After being informed on this matter by the reading of the morning papers, it was next necessary to find out how many and what counterfeit bills had made their appearance. For at that time there was shown as much as at present, great skill and trickery in counterfeiting bank-bills. Every


[1]Translator's note: Several times in this text the term "War of Rebellion" has been used. Page 95 of the German text finally clarifies that this term is used for the "Bürgerkrieg", the German term for the American Civil War. Return to text

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business man had to be armed with a magnifying glass and also had to be well acquainted with the art of lithography if he did not wish to run the risk of being flooded within the course of a few weeks with worthless counterfeit notes of bank bills of inferior value. For the small retail dealer and for every person inexperienced in such matters, it was exceedingly difficult to guard themselves against being swindled with worthless promissory notes. Many of the bills were imitated so cleverly that experienced banking-house experts were unable to distinguish a counterfeit bill from a genuine one. Taught by dearly bought experience, it became the rule of the uninitiated, before accepting doubtful bills, to have them examined by the bank where they did their banking.

Despite the fluctuation and instability of all the different denominations of money issued by each state, separately and bearing a large variety of heads, which constantly played havoc with capital and labor, the people in general had become accustomed to the unavoidable; all the more, because especially in our city, active navigation gave more or less impulse to all branches of business.

In the Fall of 1857 suddenly followed the business collapse, the unavoidable consequence of rash speculations and artificially inflated money. Starting in Ohio, caused by the inability of the "Ohio Trust Company" to meet their obligations, the crisis rapidly spread over the entire country, and Buffalo was not spared from bearing her share of the consequences. Many business houses discontinued, a few banks closed their doors, and real estate sank rapidly in value; so much so, that, to use the expression of an old banker, "one could have bought the entire city for a single dollar." Many a German citizen met disaster, through no fault of his own, and lost his earnings of many years toil in a single night. Nevertheless, the ill effects of this crisis were not so apparent in Buffalo this time, as had been the case in 1837, for the reason that no such

Caption under illustration at center reads School No. 39, High St. nr. Jefferson, Erected 1885


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Revised March 13, 2005
Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks