Julius Paul and Brunis Rottke married in January 1891. Their daughter Helen was born in December 1891. Then Julius emigrated in April 1892 without them. For three years the little family was separated as Julius sought to make his way in America and save enough money to bring his wife and child over the sea.
Perhaps Julius and Brunis meant to reunite more quickly than they did, but events got in their way. The American economy was already sliding as Julius stepped onto Ellis Island. In February 1893 a major financial crisis hit the country dubbed the “Panic of 1893”. By August, in the words of the Commercial and Financial Chronicle, “Mills, factories, furnaces, mines nearly everywhere shut down in large numbers, and commerce and enterprise were arrested in an extraordinary degree … and hundreds of thousands of men thrown out of employment.” There are no official economic statistics from the time, but estimates of the national unemployment rate are 3% in 1892, 11% in 1893, and 18% in 1894. In New York State the peak unemployment rate is estimated to have been an incredible 35%. Between 1891 and 1895, weekly wages for unskilled labor in the American manufacturing sector collapsed nearly 25%.
We don’t know where Julius and the Krügers lived between 1892 and 1895. All we can say for certain is that by 1895 Julius had made his way to the steel mills in South Chicago. Perhaps he had been originally drawn by the optimism and promise of the World’s Fair which ran in Chicago between May and October 1893. Through his daughter Gertrude’s family, the story was passed down that Julius went to Chicago because his Krüger relatives were already there. In light of our knowledge that Julius and the Krügers came to America together, this may be a misremembrance. Regardless, if Julius was in Chicago during the “panic,” he very likely wound up unemployed. That year the South Chicago Works of Illinois Steel shut down production for a cumulative 15 weeks, and the company’s smaller plants in the area ran only part-time or not at all. In the winter of 1893-94 over 100,000 workers in Chicago went jobless, and the homeless even encamped in the corridors of City Hall. The famous Pullman Strike centered in South Chicago broke out in May 1894 and ended only after bloody clashes between striking workers and both federal and Illinois National Guard troops. This was a full-fledged economic depression, the worst in American history up to that time.
Julius’s younger cousin Ludwig was almost surely with him in Chicago, but uncle Ludwig and cousin Karl probably returned to Poland around this time. Records show that Karl remarried in Maślaki parish (which included Miłaczew) in 1895 and that Ludwig the elder remarried in the village of Wola Łuszczewo near Konin (the same village in which Julius’s mother was born) in 1899. Such “return migration” was not uncommon. For example, in the decade before the First World War, nearly 20% of German immigrants to the United States went back to Europe. Perhaps Karl and his father went home due to unemployment. Perhaps they hadn’t intended on staying permanently in America anyway.
These were the rough beginnings of life in America for the Pauls. In such grim circumstances, no wonder Julius was in no hurry to bring Brunis and Helen to join him.
US Census Bureau, Historical Statistics of the United States.
“The Panic of 1893,” The Life and Times of Florence Kelley, Northwestern University School of Law.
Günter Moltmann, “American-German return migration in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,” Central European History 13 (1980).
Samuel Rezneck, “Unemployment, Unrest, and Relief in the United States during the Depression of 1893-97,” Journal of Political Economy 61 (1953).
David O. Whitten, “The Depression of 1893,” EH.net.