young German-American girl named Maria Ludwig earned a place in
history by bringing water to cannon crews in the heat of revolutionary
war battles. Known today as “Molly Pitcher,” she took her
husband’s place, manning the artillery, when he was killed in the
Battle of Monmouth in1778.
1852 and 1854, more than half a million Germans arrived in New York.
Although most German-Americans settled in Manhattan at first, they
began to move to Queens to establish farms and settle the undeveloped
areas. Their contribution to Queens’ early development can still be
the most visible and long lasting German-American family name in
Queens is Steinway, famous for the pianos that bear their name to this
day. Arriving in 1850 on a steamer from the German port city of
Bremen, a prominent New York newspaper listed William Steinway as one
of the city’s 400 millionaires 33 years later.
Conrad founded College Point where he manufactured rubber and brew.
Steinways began manufacturing in Manhattan in 1853, with a factory on
Varick Street. In 1870, just two years away from selling their
25,000th piano, the Steinways bought a mansion located on 80 acres in
Astoria, Queens. On Nov. 5, 1872, 10th Avenue was renamed
Steinway Avenue. It would later be changed to Steinway Street.
the 1880s, the Steinways began construction on a new factory complex
in Astoria, at 37th
Street and 19th
Avenue. The Astoria plant produced the heavy iron “plates” that
held the piano strings in place. Several other parts for
pianos were produced in Astoria and sent to a factory on Park Avenue
and 53rd Street for final assembly.
Steinway piano was such an exceptional produce, earning the First
Grand Gold Medal of Honor at the Paris Exposition Universelle, that
demand in Europe led one of the Steinway brothers to open a factory in
the city of Hamburg, in their native Germany in the 1880s.
1909, Steinway and Sons moved all piano making operations to the
Astoria factory. William Steinway sought to plan a community for
workers in the neighborhood, building home sand parks and establishing
the Steinway Kindergarten, a private school for pre-schoolers. In
February 1889, he had established the Astoria Homestead Company to buy
and sell real estate in the area. Around the Astoria factory many
traditional German beer gardens thrived, catering to the hundreds of
workers at the sprawling complex.
World War II, the Nazi’s seized the Hamburg factory, selling pianos
for hard currency, then using the facility to produce war materials.
In Astoria, the Steinway factory produced hundreds of olive drab
upright pianos for the military, and then put on 1,200 workers to
producing troop-carrying gliders. In July of 1943, Allied bombers
leveled the factory in a raid on Hamburg.
pianos are still being manufactured at the Astoria plant, as they have
been since 1909.
the 1850s, another German-American, Johann Knorr came to the United
States and soon settled in the quiet Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood.
Many Germans were moving to Ridgewood from Williamsburg, Yorkville and
Harlem, near the end of the civil war. Knorr, a master cooper by
trade, began making beer barrels in Ridgewood, catering to the needs
of the many brewers in the area such as the Welz-Zerwickws Brewery
which was once located on Myrtle Avenue near Madison Street. Knorr and
his sons, Martin and Christopher, built a factory at Irving and
Decatur Streets in 1908. Their wooden beer barrels were used
throughout the city and teams of draft horses pulling wagons of
barrels became a familiar sight in Queens. By the 1920s, Knorr and
Sons were supplying the barrels used in almost every brewery in the
northeastern United States.
Licht came from Germany in 1832. Settling in Ridgewood in the 1850s,
he established the Eagle Fireworks Company on Forest Avenue, one of
two major fireworks producers in Queens at the time. A dozen buildings
produced rockets and firecrackers, and during the civil war the plant
produced fuses for artillery shells.
other fireworks plant in Ridgewood was established in 1865 and stood
on Knickerbocker Avenue. The consolidated Fireworks Company was
founded by German-born Theodore Scharfenburg, who died in 1908.
and neighboring Glendale still bear a noticeable German accent. German
can still be heard on the street and many of the shops and restaurants
feature authentic German entrees and pastries. Neiderstein’s
Restaurant on Metropolitan Avenue is something of a landmark in
Glendale. Parts of the original Neiderstein’s were already 25 years
old when the Civil War ended.
neighborhoods such as Ridgewood often featured beautiful picnic
grounds where families could spend a day outdoors, eating, drinking
beer and listening to traditional music. One of these beer gardens,
the Ridgewood Park and Coloseum was located on what is now
appropriately named Summerfield Street.
beer hall, carousel and bowling alley were among some of the
diversions available to German-American families. Nearby Banzer’s
Park also offered ample picnic grounds, and was later renamed Cypress
Hills Park. At what is now the intersection of Myrtle Avenue qand
Woodhaven Boulevard, a two-story saloon and restaurant once stood in
what was called Eldorado Park.
Point was another prominent German-American neighborhood in Queens. In
the1860s, the farmland in College Point was a popular weekend retreat,
well served by a ferry to Manhattan’s Yorkville. By the 1880s, the
residents of College Point were primarily Prussian-American employed
in German-owned businesses.
employers included the Hugo Funk Silk Mill, the Conrad Poppenhusen
Enterprise Works (a rubber factory), the Germania Marine Works and
several breweries. Poppenhusen operated the largest of the factories,
manufacturing combs from a patented rubber process, which was secured
as collateral for a loan to inventor Charles Goodyear.
built a bridge to Flushing and homes for his workers in College Point.
In 1868, he established he Poppenhusen Institute to provide
instruction in the arts and sciences. Poppenhusen also founded
German-American social benefit organizations, kindergartens, insurance
companies and railroads.
Poppenhusen Institute still stands on 14th
Road in College Point.