Anti-Immigrant Hysteria

German-language newspaper target of anti-immigrant hysteria

Gummerman printing shop

217 ½ E. Front St., Bloomington

Location notes: Building still stands today.

When the U.S. entered World War I (1914-1918) in 1917, joining the British, French and Italian Allies against the German and Austro-Hungarian Empire, German-Americans became suspect. Local Germans were monitored, and their civil rights and language use were restricted. The German-American Bank became the American State Bank. The Turnverein, the German social club, changed its name to the Columbia Fraternal Organization. German churches ceased sermons and hymns in German; in rural McLean County some communities saw German churches attacked and their hymnals and bibles burned.

The business most visibly affected by this anti-immigrant hysteria was Gummerman Printing, which published the Bloomington Journal in German.

The paper’s publisher was John B. Gummerman (1878-1961), an immigrant from Bavaria, who learned the printer’s trade in Aurora, Illinois. Gummerman, now a U.S. citizen, purchased the printing company and the Journal from Julius Dietrich in 1912.

After the U.S. declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, Gummerman received a notice that it was “an act of disloyalty to the United States to print any paper or other publication in the German language,” with the Journal ordered to stop German language publication. Local German churches were also confronted and instructed to cease German language sermons and services.

Fearing action against his business, Gummerman complied, though he produced a bilingual paper. In his editorial in German after the order, he wrote: “The Journal will keep on being a champion of true democracy and liberty. We shall make our greatest efforts to bring to light persons who claim to be patriots, but when it comes to genuine patriotism from the heart of man, are found wanting, and commit undemocratic acts to cover up their own selfish motives.”

The paper continued until 1939, printing its last bilingual edition in 1931. The printing company stayed in business until the early 1990s, run by Gummerman’s son Bernie and his grandson Kurt.

For additional Immigration stops, visit Sigmund Livingston and Herman Schroder. Or use our map feature to customize your personal Social Justice Walking Tour through downtown Bloomington.