QUERY: Origins of term "melting pot" ( Mon, 10 Nov 1997 20:37:02 -0600)

[Debbie Hall <dhall@iolani.honolulu.hi.us writes:]

One of my colleagues asked this morning about the origins and original meaning of the term "melting pot." Can anyone out there help point me in the right direction to answer this question?


Debbie Hall

Iolani School

Honolulu, HI dhall@iolani.honolulu.hi.us

Re: QUERY: Origins of term "melting pot" (9) ( Tue, 11 Nov 1997 11:56:15 -0600)

[Dietrich Herrmann <herrmann@RCS.URZ.TU-DRESDEN.DE writes:]

The term "melting pot" dates from early twentieth century with the drama "The Melting-Pot" by the British-Jewish author Israel Zangwill which became very popular immediately after its first performances in 1908. The idea of melting pot is much older, however. Look at Crevecoeur's "Letters from an American Farmer" of 1783, for example (NB: The "Letters" were practically unknown in the U.S. until the turn of the century.). Among German immigrants, there had been much talk of a "Schmelztiegel" (=melting pot) as early as middle of 19th century. Then there is also an obscure, posthumously published text originating from around the 1850s by Emerson in which he talks about a "smelting pot".

One aspect that is generally overlooked is the changed meaning of melting pot: While the melting pot-concept until the time of around World War I ideally sees individuals melting into a not always clearly defined American mainstream, it afterwards rather means the melting and fusing of different nationalities/ethnic groups into the American nation. You can see this change by looking at texts and pictures that describe the melting pot. The individuals that act in stage performances such as in the famous Melting Pot Performance of the Ford English School of 1916 are not acting in their own right but as representatives of their nationalities. In a way this change reflects a change in the understanding of immigrant assimilation and integration, a change that occurred in the 1910s and 1920s, but also in the definition of the American nation (see for example Louis Adamic's Nation of Nations).


Philip Gleason, "Melting-Pot - Symbol of Fusion or Confusion," American Quarterly 16 (1964), 20-46;

---, "Confusion Compounded: The Melting Pot in the 1960s and 1970s," Ethnicity 6 (1979), 10-20 (both articles are reprinted in Gleason's book Speaking of Diversity (1992));

Werner Sollors, Beyond Ethnicity. Consent and Descent in American Culture (1986);

Harper, Richard C., "The Course of the Melting Pot Idea to 1910" (Ph. D.

Diss. Columbia U., 1967);

(and my own _"Be an American!" Amerikanisierungsbewegung und Theorien zur Einwandererintegration_ (Frankfurt/New York: Campus, 1996))

Hope this helps.


Dr. Dietrich Herrmann

Sonderforschungsbereich 537 "Institutionalitaet und Geschichtlichkeit"

Technische Universitaet Dresden

01062 Dresden


Tel. +49-351-463-5723

Fax +49-351-463-7774


[Kenneth Waltzer <waltzer@pilot.msu.edu writes:]

Metaphors of mixing, melting, appear earlier in American experience than the turn of the 20th century in Emerson and elsewhere, but Israel Zangwill's play, "the Melting Pot," which ran on Broadway in the first decade of the 20th century, is a good place to start for examining the origins (and popularity) of the term. Zangwill emphasized the powers of the American crucible, making over newcomers, melting them into something new. President Teddy Roosevelt liked the play. But the term had a certain flexibility and range to it, and could be used by people to mean different things-and it was. It could mean "melting," i.e., making over into something American. The emphasis could be on a process creating homogeneity from difference. Or it could mean "mixing," i.e., taking many different ingredients into the pot. Present mixture, future homogeneity. The term was (and is) actually quite elastic. A good deal of the immigration debate during the first two decades of the twentieth century could be accomodated within the range of the metaphor. Proponents of diverse immigration from S. and E. Europe could use the melting pot image. Henry Ford marched his workers through the melting pot at English Americanization class ceremonies. Nationalist Americanizers sought to stir the melting pot. Only the most racist anti-immigrationists spoke about a "melting-pot mistake" or about an America where mixing was misguided. Unfortunately, they won-and shaped the legislation of the 1920s.

It has been odd to me how, since the 1960s, the "melting pot" became something hard and fast in discourse about ethnicity and race, something to which to counterpose metaphors of "stew" and "salad bowl." Earlier, it was something more elastic, with greater range. True, earlier cultural pluralists like Horace Kallen and Randolph Bourne argued against the "melting pot" even then, putting forward different metaphors (an "orchestra," a "federation"). But I'm struck at the range and elasticity of the term at its origins, its reification in more recent times.

Ken Waltzer

Center for Integrative Studies in Arts and Humanities Michigan State U.

E. Lansing, MI 48824

[Lawrence G Charap <lgc1@jhu.edu writes:

I'm sure that by now you have heard responses, but I'll add mine: "The Melting-Pot" was a popular play about Ameirca written by a Jewish Briton, Israel Zangwill, which came out in 1909. The term seemed to catch on instantly as a touchstone for debates over ethnicity, although there seem to have been synonyms for it previously in American history. Zangwill's play is the "classic" source both for the term and the theory of America it represents.

Lawrence Charap ** Department of History ** Johns

Hopkins University. lgc1@jhu.edu

Now on the web, sorta. http://jhunix.hcf.jhu.edu/~lgc1

[Sam J. Thomas <sthomas@hs1.hst.msu.edu writes:]

I believe the term originated with the play, The Melting Pot, by Isreal Zangwill. The first performance was in 1908. The play denigrated hyphenated Americans and those who were disinclined to quickly assimilate. To paraphrase the hero, David (a young Russian immigrant), A curse on Frenchmen, Germans, Poles, Italians, etc. We are Americans. The popular and immigrant press gave the play mixed reviews, but both Nativist and Southern and Eastern immigrant journalist panned the play-the former because they mistrusted and wanted to restrict immigration and because they were now thinking that the immigrants from those countries were unassimilable; the latter because the play insulted various national heritages and seemed to advocate "leaving it all in the Old Country. The play appeared in book format in 1909, and Zangwill didicated it to arch-Americanist Teddy Roosevelt.

Sam Thomas


Mich/ State Univ


Re: QUERY: Origins of term "melting pot" ( Wed, 12 Nov 1997 06:00:00 -0600)

[Sharon McIrvin Abu-Laban <sharon.mcirvin.abu-laban@ualberta.ca writes:]

For an interdisciplinary (political science and English literary criticism) perspective on the origins and permutations of the term "melting pot," I recommend a recent article by my daughter and one of her colleagues. See:

Yasmeen Abu-Laban and Victoria Lamont. "Crossing Borders:

Interdisciplinarity, Immigration and the Melting Pot in the American Cultural Imaginary." Canadian Review of American Studies. Volume 27, Number 2, 1997, pp. 23-43.

Sharon McIrvin Abu-Laban


Department of Sociology

University of Alberta

Edmonton, Alberta CANADA