The New Yorker Staatszeitung, nicknamed the "Staats," waslaunched on December 24, 1834 by the city's German Jacksonian Democrats.After languishing under a series of owners, it was sold in 1845 to JakobUhl. Uhl, a native of Wuerzburg in Franconia, had been jailed for takingpart in a democratic riot in Frankfurt in 1833, left for New York in 1835,and was hired as printer by the Staats the next year. In 1837, he marriedAnna Behr, 1815-1884, also from Wuerzburg. Uhl supported the German revolutionof 1848-1849 in his paper, and collected funds. When he died in 1852, theStaats had become the foremost paper of the city's estimated 60,000 Germans.But this success also forced the Staats early on to adopt a centrist linetowards divisive issues of the day, in contrast to the short-lived, radicalGerman papers of that era.
In 1850, Uhl had hired Oswald Ottendoerfer, 1826-1902, a Sudeten Germanfrom Zwittau in Moravia,who had fought in the German revolution. In 1859,he married Uhl's widow. Under his stewardship, the Staats flourished, andbecame a daily in 1854. He also continued its liberal policy, and steeredit through two great crisis. During the long struggle over state rightsand slavery, Ottendorfer, a Democrat by party affiliation, and opposedto centralized bureaucracies, supported a moderate position that was attackedby German Republicans. Then, in 1866, the German Con-federation fell apart.New York Germans split between partisans of a reunited Germany under Prussianleadership, even at the price of leaving out the 12 million Germans ofthe Habsburg Empire, and those who, like Ottendorfer, were horrified. Thesplit healed only after the German victory over the French Empire, andthe creation of a special alliance between Vienna and Berlin.
The number of Germans in the city grew rapidly, as did their clubs andsocieties, while older immigrants and their children created an elite groupthat provided the necessary structure and leadership. Many new German paperswere established. Despite the competition, the Staats remained the largest,and even became the third largest daily in the city. In 1886, the largest,the "N.Y. World," sold 149,000 copies a day, followed by thethe "N.Y. Tribune" with 80,000, and then the Staats with 60,000.The came the "N.Y. Times," with 40,000, the German-Republican"Herold," with 35,000, the English "N.Y. Evening Post"with 17,000 and the Socialist "N.Y. Volkszeitung" with 10,000.In addition, there were scores of German-language weeklies and trade publications,and in Brooklyn the large "Freie Presse." The Ottendorfer's belongedto the emerging German-American elite. They were active in local philantropies.They built in 1875 the Isabella Home for the Aged, later the Ottendorferbranch of the New York Public Library, and donated close to $500,000 toGerman hospitals in the city. He also was active in local politics, runningseveral times as reform mayoral candidate against corrupt Tammany Halland nativist Republicans. He failed, but was elected several times presidentialelector on the Democratic ticket. Ottendorfer had no children. Uhl's, whoowned the majority of the stock, were not interested running the paper.To preserve the Staats, they decided to sell to Herman Ridder.
Ridder, 1851-1915, was born in New York of Westphalian parents. He grewup in poverty in the Lower East Side, but then made money selling lifeinsurance. In 1878, he founded the weekly Katholisches Volksblatt, andin 1886 the Catholic News. In 1890, Ridder was sold a tenth of the sharesand its made business manager. He acquired complete ownership in 1906.Like Ottendorfer, Ridder was a leading member of the German community andactive in politics. He was an important member of the local DemocraticParty, served as president of the American Newspaper Publishers' Association,and in 1908 received the influential post of treasurer of the DemocraticNational Committee, <the only publisher of an ethnic paper to ever holdeither honor>. Although immigration from the Second German Empire hadbegun to shrink around 1900, it had been replaced by Germans from the HabsburgEmpire. There would be no shortage of readers. Yet, around the same time,storm clouds began to gather. The Progressive movement, popular among thestill politically dominant Anglo-American middle-class, opposed pluralisticAmerica. They wanted to eradicate the use of non-English languages in thecountry, <and were especially offended by US-born German-speakers suchas the Ridders>, impose prohibition, and ensure a foreign policy biasedtowar ds Great Britain. The Staats was a proud local symbol of oppositionto all that. It was vilified, especially after the outbreak of World WarI, for the Ridders fought British war-guilt and atrocity propaganda, andcollected relief for war victims in Central Europe. This was legal, andperfectly proper partisanship. But it angered those Americans who believedthat Germany was an evil empire and that to side with the "Huns"was un-American.
Victor Ridder died in November 1915. His sons Bernard, Victor and Josephnow steered the Staats through trying times. After April 1917, as mostGerman-Americans, they took the position that since the legal governmentof the country had declared war, it must be supported, whatever one feltabout the morality of that decision. But German-Americans were subjectedto unprecedented persecution, described as "hysteria" in thememoirs of Treasury Secretary William Gibbs McAdoo. As David Bennett, ahistorian at Syracuse University, noted, it became a sign of patriotismto stone the neighborhood German butcher shop. The Staats, a much morevisible target, was boycotted by advertisers and newsdealers, and harassedby zealous agents of competing federal intelligence agencies, the Bureauof Investigation <Forerunner of the FBI> and the American ProtectiveLeague, a vigilante group that cooperated with it, the Treasury SecretService, the Military Intelligence Department, the Navy Intelligence Department,and the nasty little secret service created by New York Attorney GeneralMerton Lewis, a Republican, to tar the Democratic administration with softnesstowards sedition. In this witchhunt, many German-American institutionsperished. The Ridders were saved only by the sudden end of the war, andtheir connections to the city's powerful democratic machine and Catholicchurch.
After the war, those German-American societies that had survived becameactive again. Their future looked reasonably bright, for there would bemany immigrants from war-torn Europe, and little persecution as many Americansbegan to have second thoughts about the war. In New York, mayor Hylan presidedover relief efforts for Germany and Austria as early as 1919, and spokeagainst the surreal terms of the Versailles Treaty. The German-Americanpress would continue to wield influence, even if much less than beforethe war. And so the Ridders bought the Herold and other dailies that hadnot survived.
These hopes were dashed by the 1924 Immigration Act, which abolishedfree immigration and gave Central Europe only small quotas, while the publicschool system drastically cut the number of second-generation bilingualspeakers. In 1926-1927, the Ridders purchased the Long Island Press andthe Journal of Commerce, laying the foundation of the Knight-Ridder mediaconglomerate. The Staats became a sideline, and was merged in 1934 withthe Herold as the Staatszeitung und Herold. (Herold was dropped from themasthead in 1991). It still sold 80,000 copies a day in 1938, but was greatlyharmed by World War II and the resulting prejudice against all things German,which could not be offset by the trickle of German immigration. In 1953,the Staats was sold to the Steuer family, became a thrice-weekly, and thena weekly. In 1989 the Steuer family sold the Staats to Jes Rau, the formerAmerican correspondent of Die Zeit of Hamburg, Germany. Circulation declinesslowly but inexorably---as it does for the older ethnic press in general.Still, the Staats remains the premier German-American paper, and the soleoutlet for German-Americans of New York, Florida and Philadelphia, sincethe English-language press does not report much about them. For instance,Governor George Pataki and Senator Alfonse D'Amato marched at the SteubenParade in New York in 1995. They knew it was a major occasion to show respectto a still noteworthy group of voters, and Guliani and D'Amato have marchedfor several years. Recent grand marshalls were Eric Braeden, the actor,and Cardinal O'Connor. But what did the "newspaper of record"of the city tell its readers about this event? The New York Times's solefeature about the parade was the picture of a girl herding a goose, taken,it seems, in the early 1960s. As you can see, one still needs the Staatszeitungto get the full picture!