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Buy American, or Not!

Updated on July 19, 2020
gmarquardt profile image

gmarquardt has an M.A. in history and German from SWTSU and has over 30 years teaching experience at public high schools.

Logos of German companies.
Logos of German companies.

The amount of German products for sale in the United States just might surprise you.

The quantity of products sold in the United States but made in foreign countries is enormous. As more and more Americans desire to purchase items "Made in USA," the clarity of what is truly produced by American labor becomes blurred. Certain American owned products are "Made in China" and it is quite difficult to ascertain which products are produced where. For example, many American vehicles have parts manufactured in foreign countries, then shipped and assembled in the United States. Even iconic labels are no longer American. Gerber baby food, founded in Michigan in 1927 and known by mothers from New York to San Francisco, was bought out by Switzerland's Nestle Company. Today, all Gerber baby food is produced abroad, yet consumers still identify Gerber as American.

There are plenty of "American-made-only" consumers out there, but it is difficult to determine exactly what is or is not made with American labor. The Toyota Tundra, a Japanese vehicle, was developed and is manufactured entirely in the United States, but is seen as a Japanese vehicle. Nevertheless, certain economists argue that outsourcing American products keeps costs down for U.S. consumers and, therefore, they have nothing to complain about. Most Americans, however, seemingly prefer to buy products that are only made in the USA. But a question still lingers: in today’s global economy, is it pragmatic to buy only American-made products? Take for instance products origination from an important trading partner that shares American ideals in democracy and actively participates in protecting and advancing those freedoms around the globe. Does Made-in-Germany warrant the same attention and negative connotations as Made-in-China? As a result of direct investment, the United States benefits in over ten billion dollars annually from German firms. German companies employ many American workers and create jobs. Germany is one of the United States’ largest trading partners; would it be wise to boycott their products and purchase American only? The major problem is, then, how to determine whether or not a certain purchase is really beneficial for the United States economy.

Germany has the largest economy in Europe, and is the fourth largest economy in the world, after the United States, China and Japan. Today it is the third largest exporter in the world but throughout the 1990s, Germany was the largest exporter. Although only half the size of Texas and with a population of 82 million, the German economy is larger than all Spanish speaking economies combined. German products are well known throughout the world for their innovation, engineering and design. Made-in-Germany is seen as a sign of high quality. But what is not so clear is whether certain products are actually German, and how would one know? Many German products, much like many American products, are made throughout the globe. A Made-in-China product could be a German or an American owned business. Just how many products that are purchased every day can be traced back to Germany? Or at least, how many profits lead back to Germany, even if the product was made in China or elsewhere? Recently the AHK German American Chambers of Commerce released the 2011 rankings of German companies. Using that list, the following products are a sampling of German manufactured goods that are common in the United States. Using the AHK 2011 rankings, numbers next to company names denotes their ranking (1-50). If no number is listed, the company did not make the top fifty. The subsequent products are not words or names in everyday language that came from German inventors, such as the diesel engine, invented by Rudolf Diesel (1858–1913) or megahertz, the frequency of radio waves named after Heinrich Rudolf Hertz. Rather, these products are items that one might not know much about, such as Heckler und Koch rifles. A leading producer of weaponry, many American soldiers use German-made rifles. In fact, the rifle used by Seal Team Six to kill Osama bin Laden was reportedly an HK416. Plenty of Dollars are spent not only by American consumers on German goods, but by the U.S. government as well. What other products, then, are "Made-in-Germany?"

Continental tires.
Continental tires.

Many German products are well known throughout the world, including the excellent designs from the automobile sector. In fact, the company with the number one (1) ranking on the AHK list is Daimler Group which makes Mercedes, Maybach and the Smart line of cars. Gottlieb Daimler (1834–1900), an inventor and engineer founded Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft, and united with Karl Benz (1844-1929) to create Daimler-Benz AG. Another important automobile manufacturer is (2) Volkswagen, which has a long history of seeling cars in the United States. Although VW (along with most German automotive companies) now has a factory or two in the United States, many of their premier vehicles are made only in Germany. (5) BMW is based in Munich but also has an American factory. Karl Friedrich Rapp (1882–1962) helped create the company Rapp Motorenwerke GmbH, which later became BMW AG. Based in Stuttgart is (27) Porsche, created by Ferdinand Porsche(1875–1951) whose car designs are known throughout the sports car world. Other important automobile companies include Audi, created by August Horch (1868–1951) in 1909. Adam Opel (1837–1895), founded the company that bears his name. Opel is not well known in the U.S. as they are available only in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. Other German companies in the automotive sector, providing parts and specialized equipment include (33) ZF Group North American Operations Inc., (35) Freudenberg-NOK General Partnership, (42) Brose North America, Inc., and (46) Behr America, Incorporated. (14) Continental Automotive Systems is based in Hannover, Germany and is a leading tire producer in the United States. Many new vehicles come equipped with Continental tires mounted on them.

Zwilling 8 inch Chef's knife.
Zwilling 8 inch Chef's knife.

German steel is considered by many to be high quality material used in many different applications. Friedrich Krupp (1787–1826), steel manufacturer and founder of (11) ThyssenKrupp AG is one of the world's largest steel producers. Today ThyssenKrupp produces elevators, steel products and cement. Zwilling knives are known as some of the best knives in the world. Gordon Ramsay’s guest chefs on Hell’s Kitchen always receive a set of Zwilling knives. Johann Peter Henckels, founder of J.A. Henckels, is one of the largest and oldest manufacturers of kitchen knives, scissors, cookware and flatware and produces the famous Zwilling knives. Construction here in the United States is quite important to the economy and certain American companies are affiliates of German firms. For example, (17) Turner Construction Company, (22) Lehigh Hanson which makes cement products, (38) Knorr Brake Holding Corporation which produces railroad equipment, (45) GEA Engineering Services and (48) Flatiron L Construction are all German owned. In addition, many precious metals for engineering are manufactured at (15) Heraeus Incorporated.

Bosch power tools.
Bosch power tools.


As steel is essential to the automotive industry, the automotive sector helped establish other industries. Robert Bosch (1861–1942), an engineer and inventor, founded (10) Robert Bosch GmbH and turned it into a world-wide company. Bosch started with engine components such as starters, magnetos, wiring and spark plugs. His company now employs 300,000 workers who operate in more than 60 countries, making electronics, appliances, tools and engine parts. In 2011, the company had sales of around €51.5 billion. The company files more than 4,100 new patents annually. Moreover, they are part owners of other brands, such as Buderus, Skil, and Dremel. Other household producers include The Kärcher company specializes in pressure washers and floor cleaning machines. Kärcher invented the hot water pressure washer in 1950 and today has over 100 commercial and industrial-grade machines available for purchase. Every six seconds someone purchases a Kärcher piece of equipment. And today the company is the world's largest maker of cleaning and floor care equipment. Another large German company is (42) Stihl Incorporated. Stihl produces handheld outdoor power equipment such as weed-whackers and chain saws. In fact, they sell more chain saws than any other company.

Braun coffee pot.
Braun coffee pot.
Krups waffle maker.
Krups waffle maker.

Luxury items are sold in the United States under Hugo Boss who’s fashion designs are world famous. Braun GmbH is a world-wide company that manufactures electric shavers, OralB products, blood pressure monitors, coffee makers and other home appliances. Pronounced "brawn" in English, in German it is correctly pronounced much like the English word "brown." For marketing reasons the company decided to change the pronunciation, giving it a more rugged feel. Carl Miele (1869–1938) founded the company bearing his name, a manufacturer of high-end appliances. Not to be confused with Thyssenkrupps, Krups is a company that produces many modern household products such as coffee pots and waffle irons. Other luxury items include Junghans watches. Erhard Junghans started his watch business in 1861. Known for technological breakthroughs as the first clock to feature a calendar (1879) and more recently the first radio-controlled solar-powered watch (2000), Junghans is also well-known for their current designs.

Larger German corporations include (04) BASF, founded by Friedrich Engelhorn (1821–1902) who turned it into the largest chemical company in the world. Other chemical companies producing specialty chemicals in the United States include (28) Evonik Degussa Corporation, (31) Lanxess, (32) Helm U.S. Corporation, (34) K+S North America and (41) Wacker Chemical Corporation. Werner von Siemens (1816–1892) invented the first electric streetcar and established (05) Siemens, which is now the largest Europe-based electronics and electrical engineering company. It also hires more Americans in the United States than any other foreign-based company. Siemens technology is part of the recent NASA Curiosity robot mission to Mars. Siemens is also a leader in wind technology. As of summer 2012, over one-quarter of all electricity produced in Germany now originates from renewable energy sources. The German government set a goal of 35-percent renewable energy by the year 2020 and as a result Germany is the leading producer of wind turbines and solar power technology in the world. Many of the wind turbines assembled in western Texas are German made. Another German energy company in the U.S. is (36) E.ON Climate & Renewables North America.

There are plenty of pharmaceutical companies with German origins. (09) Bayer, founded by Friedrich Bayer (1825–1880) is now one of the largest chemical and pharmaceutical companies in the world. Other medical companies include (16) Fresenius Medical Care Holdings, Inc., (13) Boehringer Ingelheim, (19) SAP Americas, (37) B. Braun Medical, Inc., and Merck. Consumer goods related to medical conditions are produced by (39) Beiersdorf, Inc., makers of Nivea and Eucerin skin care products. Ophthalmic equipment is often German made and owned, such as those made by Carl Zeiss Ag. A producer of fine optical instruments, telescopes, gun scopes and ophthalmic lenses, the company was founded by Carl Zeiss (1816–1888).

German shoe company, made in Vietnam, sold in America.
German shoe company, made in Vietnam, sold in America.

Two of the more interesting German entrepreneurs are Adi Dassler (1900–1978) and Rudolf Dassler (1898–1974) who together founded the Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik shoe company in Herzogenaurach. After the brothers had a disagreement and separated, Adi created (21) Adidas from ADI DASler. In the 1936 Olympics, Jesse Owens wore Adidas shoes. In the 1954 World Cup, known as The Miracle of Bern in Germany, the German team beat the excellent Hungarian team in a rain soaked final. The key, according to legend, was Adi’s new soccer shoes with new screw-in cleats. While the Hungarians slipped and slogged through the mud, the Germans changed their cleat size at half-time and were able to score the winning goal in the second half. Adi’s brother, Rudolf Dassler, founded his own separate shoe company, (40) PUMA in 1948. Another shoe company that offers its wares in the United States is Birkenstock, suppliers of sandals. In 1774, Johann Adam Birkenstock founded the company that still bears his name.

Other entrepreneurs include Kaspar Faber (1730–1784) who founded Faber-Castell, one of the world's largest manufacturers of pens, pencils, art supplies and high-end writing instruments. For an excellent history of the company, dating back to 1730, click here. J.S. Staedtler founded Staedtler Mars GmbH in 1835, which supplies the world with writing, artist and engineering drawing instruments. In addition, Staedtler has a long history of unique engineering patents, including creating the first mechanical pencil.

Melitta coffee filters. Made in the USA, but a German company.
Melitta coffee filters. Made in the USA, but a German company.

Another fascinating entrepreneur was Amalie Auguste Melitta Bentz (1873–1950), who invented the coffee filter and started the company Melitta. Manufacturers of coffee and coffee makers, they are mostly known for their paper coffee filters. Historically, most coffee was simply boiled water with mixed-in coffee grounds. One boiled the coffee and put the right amount of ground coffee beans into the water, and then drank it. The problem was, of course, that there was no filter and the last cup had all the grounds in it. Texans learned to stir their pots of coffee quickly and add an egg near the end of the boil, hoping the egg would gather all the grounds. Known today as "cowboy coffee," the last few cups were still thrown out due to the grounds. In Dresden, Amalie experimented for years until she finally got her patent in 1908 for a paper coffee filter. Coffee consumption subsequently soared and Melitta brand coffee filters are still sold throughout the world.

Haribo, German gummies.
Haribo, German gummies.

In addition to German coffee, other food products are well known. The plethora of beer products cannot be accurately reproduced here. However, Knorr and Maggi are two of the more common food labels. Both produce mixes and sauces. German candy is quite popular in the United States with Riesen and Werther’s Originals, both owned by Storck. Founded by August Storck-Oberwelland in 1903, he created the Werther's Sugar Confectionery Factory which is today August Storck AG. Moreover, Hans Riegel, (1893–1945) founded Haribo in the city of Bonn. His company’s name stands for HAns RIegel BOnn. Haribo is the largest producer of gummy candies in the world. Other food companies include two of the fastest growing grocery stores in America. Established by Karl (1920- ) and Theo Albrecht (1922- ), the brother entrepreneurs created (18) Aldi and soon bought (12) Trader Joe’s.

Miscellaneous companies include (20) Lufthansa: the "official" German airline travels around the world to most destinations. Publishing in the United States is dominated by (29) Random House Bertelsmann. Bertelsmann bought out Random House a few years ago and combined their name. Paul Reuter (1816–1988), a pioneer of news reporting, founded Reuters, a well known and respected news agency. (08) DHL Holdings Incorporated owns those bright yellow trucks with DHL written on the side. Competing with the brown FedEx trucks, DHL stands for Deutsche Handel und Logistic. They deliver packages to almost everywhere in the world. Banks such as Deutsche Bank join insurance companies as German financial businesses that operate in the United States, including (07) Allianz of America, (23) Munich Reinsurance America, Inc., and (26) Hannover Life Re America. One of the leaders of telecommunications in the world, (03) T-Mobile USA competes as the top cellular company in the world.

A last minute addition found at the local hardware store.
A last minute addition found at the local hardware store.

There are plenty of products that are not named here. Coo-coo clocks, time pieces, toys, computer parts and software along with many other products are German owned and operated. It just goes to show that so much of our world is much smaller than we ever thought. Now if I could just figure out how the cornflakes I purchased this morning in Texas were made in Germany....

My breakfast, made in Germany!
My breakfast, made in Germany!


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    • glassvisage profile image


      8 years ago from Northern California

      Wow! I learned a lot! I didn't know all of these products were German - I had always thought Haribo was Asian for some reason :P Thanks for sharing this. I try to buy American but sometimes it is too difficult or expensive to find and buy something that is completely American-made.

    • Letitialicious profile image


      8 years ago from Paris via San Diego

      Interesting and voted such. I've thought of doing something similar on common French products, but given how well you've written this one, maybe I'll just sit back and hope you write one on the subject!

    • vespawoolf profile image

      Vespa Woolf 

      8 years ago from Peru, South America

      I knew our Wusthof knives and Carl Zeiss camera lens are both German, but I didn't know about many of these other products. It's quite a paradox that many who think they're buying American are actually buying German! I knew about Aldi but Trader Joe's? That's a big surprise! My husband is a huge fan of anything German because of quality and workmanship. I don't know if anyone can explain the cornflakes, though. : ) Another well-written and fascinating hub. Thanks!

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 

      8 years ago from California

      Excellent Hub. My grandfather came from Germany because of political oppression.

      We seldom notice that many of the amazing technological improvements of the last 70 years came about because the genius of Germany fled to the country of liberty and free market capitalism.

      When I visited Germany I was amazed with how machinery like the county ran. But the interesting thing about Germans is they do allow themselves to no be German a couple of times a year. New Years they go crazy with fireworks and make a huge mess of the streets. New years day is spent cleaning the mess from the night before.

    • fpherj48 profile image


      8 years ago from Carson City

      A favorite topic of mine. American hard, if not near-impossible to find on any given shopping trip. I appreciate knowing the NAMES of American made products. At the very least, we can keep out eyes open to them or do a search to find out WHERE to get them

      I understand there's an ALL American-Made Store about 40 miles from here and I've made a mental note to visit it, but haven't yet.

      If they were more visible and more available, I, personally would buy American every time despite the extra cost...

      Krups coffee pots are great. A friend of mine has one and he's had it for years. It makes a good cup of coffee.........Nice Hub....thanks for the info. UP++


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