None of the historical German states had overseas colonies, so not until the 1680s did the first significant groups of German immigrants arrive in the British colonies, settling primarily in New York and Pennsylvania. Immigration continued in very large numbers during the 19th century, with some eight million arrivals from Germany. They were pulled by the attractions of land and religious freedom, and pushed out of Europe by shortages of land and religious or political oppression. Many arrived seeking religious or political freedom, others for economic opportunities greater than those in Europe, and others simply for the chance to start fresh in the New World. The arrivals before 1850 were mostly farmers who sought out the most productive land, where their intensive farming techniques would pay off. After 1840, many came to cities, where "Germania"-German-speaking districts-soon emerged.
German Americans have been influential in almost every field in American society, including science, architecture, industry, sports, entertainment, theology, government, and the military. German American generals Baron von Steuben, John Pershing, Dwight Eisenhower, and Norman Schwarzkopf commanded the United States Army in the American Revolutionary War, World War I, World War II, and the Persian Gulf War, respectively. Many German Americans have played a prominent role in industry and business, including John D. Rockefeller, William Boeing, Walter Chrysler, George Westinghouse, and Donald Trump. Some, such as Brooklyn Bridge engineer John A. Roebling and architect Walter Gropius, left behind visible landmarks. Others, including Albert Einstein and Wernher von Braun, set intellectual landmarks. Still others, such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jack Nicklaus, Doris Day, and Leonardo DiCaprio, became prominent athletes or actors.
German Americans established the first kindergartens in the United States, introduced the Christmas tree tradition, and originated popular American foods such as hot dogs and hamburgers. German Americans have also dominated beer brewing for much of American history, beginning with breweries founded in the 19th century by German immigrants Eberhard Anheuser, Adolphus Busch, Adolph Coors, Frederick Miller, Frederick Pabst, and Joseph Schlitz.
German American celebrations are held throughout the country, one of the most well-known being the German-American Steuben Parade in New York City, held every third Saturday in September. There are also major annual events in Chicago, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, St. Louis and other cities. Like many other immigrants that came to the United States, an overwhelming number of people of German or partial German descent have essentially become Americanized.