German Society of the City of New York (Deutsche Gesellschaft)

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The German Society of the City of New York was created in 1784 as a charitable organization to assist newly arrived German immigrants in their orientation to the United States. William Steinway's high regard for the Society and its work and his continuous support of its activities for the welfare of fellow German-Americans is reflected in over fifty diary entries relating to the Society from 1862 to 1895.

The German Society was officially founded on October 4, 1784. Thirteen men created the Society, basing it on the model of the Philadelphia German Society. (5, p. 682) By year's end, membership had increased to 34. The following year the Society created a charter under its first president, Emmanual von Lutterloh. (1) In 1787 General von Steuben became president. He gave the Society three plantations of 100 acres each for the placement of poor German immigrants to pay off their passage. (1) The Society bid on bonded German immigrants and placed them in farms on the Hudson River. At the second annual meeting Henry Astor became a member and Jacob Astor joined in 1804. (1) The German Society incorporated as a New York City corporation in 1804. This led to the resignation of all Upstate New York members. (7, p. 23) In 1837 John Jacob Astor became president, working hard to set it on its right course and generously supporting it financially; in the end he bequeathed "$20,000 on the condition that the Society use the money to establish a permanent office with salaried staff" (7, p. 27) where immigrants and others could seek assistance.

Originally, the German Society assigned tasks to individual members. Society officials would meet German immigrants at the ships, offering assistance and protection from criminals who tried to steal their baggage and sell them counterfeit railroad and boat tickets. (7, p. 28) As the Society grew, it organized into committees reporting directly to a Board of Directors. The Information Office published booklets on immigration to be distributed in Germany. The Work Office helped immigrants find employment. The Welfare Committee assisted with housing and legal problems. The medical team provided free doctor visits and medication. In 1845, the German Society was formally organized into wards "with volunteers responsible for designated areas". (7, p. 28) (3, p, 41)

In 1859 the German Society established the German Savings Bank, in 1867 the German Hospital and in 1876 the German Legal Aid Society (7, p. 38) Funds to support the Society's many charitable activities and operations were raised through membership fees, which by 1873 were raised to $10 (Diary, 1873-02-26), subscriptions and musical benefit performances. (5, p. 684) In 1868 the Society's business department was created to provide currency exchange, fund transfers, passenger ticket sales and savings accounts for immigrants. William Steinway personally recruited Julius Hoffmann as business manager for the Society (Diary, 1869-09-30) The business department activities were located on Fulton St. and generated the needed revenue stream so that all profits could be assigned to its designated charity funds. Society President Phillip Bissinger stipulated that only interest from investments could be disbursed; capital could never be used to cover expenses. (7, p. 36)

For years the German Society worked together with the Irish Immigration Society to lobby for New York State to assume jurisdiction over immigration. In 1847, under President William F. Havemeyer, a state law established the Board of Commissioners of Emigration with ten commissioners, including six governor appointees, the mayors of New York and Brooklyn and the presidents of the German Society and Irish Immigration Society. (7, p. 29) Soon the German Society and the Irish Immigration Society were fighting for control of the Board. (7, p. 36) Germans were granted an additional representative on the Board because German emigration to the U.S. surpassed that of emigration from any other country, but in 1873, the state legislature withdrew the additional representative from the Board as well as the German Society president. The German Society sponsored a mass meeting of "German citizens" at the Cooper Institute to protest the policy. (2) William Steinway, a member of the Board (Diary, 1869-01-30, 1873-02-26) and the Finance Committee (Diary, 1873-06-19) called the meeting to order. (Diary, 1874-04-06)

William also served on the Centennial Festival committee (Diary, 1884-05-14) and wrote in his diary of arranging the program for the Centennial (Diary, 1884-05-27, 1884-05-28), readying it for printing (Diary, 1884-09-16) and being "excessively busy" on the day of the celebration. (Diary, 1884-10-04) He was also involved in settling the Centennial financial accounts. (Diary, 1884-10-11) William continued to serve the Society on the Revisions Committee, also responsible for examining the Treasurer's books. (Diary, 1886-02-27, 1887-02-28). This Centennial was celebrated at Steinway Hall and with a banquet at the Liederkranz Hall (Diary, 1894-10-04). Over 1,100 members attended, the largest gathering ever of the Society. (7, p. 40) Carl Schurz spoke about the history of the Society. Julius Hoffmann read a letter from President Grover Cleveland who had sent his regrets. German and American flags flew at City Hall in honor of the Society's Centennial. (6)

William Steinway mentions the German Society for the last time in his diary in 1895, when he noted that he gave a reporter from the New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung a "dictation" about the 25 year career of Julius Hoffmann at the German Society. (Diary, 1895-01-02) A month later the newspaper again printed the Society's annual report. By this time the Society offices were located in the building of the German Savings bank at 14th St. and 4th Ave. (5, p. 684) The Society had grown to 1,248 members, who paid $42,610 in dues and fees. It assisted had 4,184 poverty cases, delivered 6,463 meals to the unemployed and had found 5,493 places of employment for German immigrants. (4)



  1. "An ancient organization," The New York Times, Feb. 3, 1895, p. 16.
  2. "The commissioners of emigration censured," The New York Times, April 7, 1874, p. 5.
  3. Eickhoff, Anton. In der neuen Heimath. Geschichtliche Mittheilungen über die deutschen Einwanderer in allen Theilen der Union. New York: Steiger, 1884, available from
  4. "German Society – The year-end report has been published and verifies fruitful activities," New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung, February 22, 1895, p. 9.
  5. Henrici, Max. "Die Deutsche Gesellschaft von New York," Das Buch der Deutschen in Amerika. Philadelphia: Walthers Buchdruckerei, 1909, pp. 682-684, available from
  6. "The work of a century," The New York Times, October 5, 1884, p. 2.
  7. Wust, Klaus. Guardian on the Hudson: The German Society of the City of New York 1784-1984. New York: The German Society of the City of New York, 1984.