Zimmerman Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Zimmerman Surname Meaning

Zimmermann is a German occupational surname, the older German term for a carpenter (more modern terms are zimmerer, tischler, or schreiner). Zimmermann combined either zimmer meaning “room” or zimber meaning “timber” with mann meaning “man” or “worker.”  This gave room worker or worker in wood and then carpenter.

The second “n” in Zimmermann usually got lost in its travels to America and other English-speaking countries. And a number of Zimmermans in America adopted the English surname form of Carpenter. Later some Zimmerman arrivals were Jewish.

Zimmerman Surname Resources on The Internet

Zimmerman Surname Ancestry

  • from Southern Germany, Switzerland and from Jewish emigrants
  • to America and Canada

Zimmermann appeared at an early time in southern Germany and in Switzerland. Early recordings were:

  • Cunrod Zimmermanin of Tailfingen in Wurttemberg in the charters of Balingen in 1200
  • Henricus Zimbermann in Zurich, Switzerland in 1245
  • while Cunrat Czimeri was seen in Wurttemberg in 1335.

Johann Jacob Zimmermann, born in Wurttemberg in 1642, was a nonconformist Lutheran minister who developed a following in Hamburg. He planned to establish a colony in Pennsylvania, but died on the voyage across in 1694.

The Zimmermann name has spread across Germany. Today it is the 20th most common surname in Germany, numbering some 160,000, and the 14th most common in Switzerland, numbering around 20,000.

America. The Zimmerman and Zimmermann spellings are both found in America, although Zimmermann has been the less common – less than 10 percent today.  Pennsylvania provided the first landing point. Indeed, even by the time of the 1840 census, Pennsylvania accounted for 45% of all the Zimmermans in America.

Pennsylvania.  Maria Zimmerman, widow of the theologian Johann Jacob, did arrive with her children in Pennsylvania in 1694 as part of the Hamburg group under the new leadership of the mystic Johannes Kelpius. Kelpius started a religious community at Wissahickon Creek near Philadelphia.

This community dissolved shortly after Kelpius’s death in 1708, but the Zimmerman presence in the area continued after that time:

  • Maria’s son Jacob was a Mennonite preacher at Skippack in Montgomery county
  • and his son Christopher held family residences at Worcester township in Montgomery county and at Whitpain township near Philadelphia.

Later, a number of Zimmermans moved away – to Tennessee in the late 1700’s and to Ohio and Indiana in the early 1800’s.

Heinrich Zimmerman came from Bern in Switzerland to Germantown, Pennsylvania in 1706 where he established himself as a physician. Around 1726 he began buying land in Lancaster county.

“When he applied for his patent and gave his name, the official in charge said, ‘That would be Carpenter in English,’ and the patent was thereupon issued in the latter name.”  

From that time on, many of the descendants adopted the English name, while a few adhered to the original Zimmerman.

Michael Zimmerman came on the Edinburgh in 1753 and settled in Lancaster county. Thirty years on, he moved to new land in Somerset county in western Pennsylvania. A later Zimmerman there, Daniel Burnside Zimmerman, was one of the pioneers of the coal industry in Somerset county in the early 1900’s.

Elsewhere.  Another early arrival was Jacob Zimmerman from the Rhineland Palatinate who came with his wife Anna to Schoharie in upstate New York around 1713. By the 1750’s his family had settled on land in what is now Manheim in Herkimer county. The family spelling here often became Timmerman.

Christian Zimmerman, also from the Rhineland Palatinate, had initially come to Philadelphia in 1751. But then, seven years later after his marriage, he moved to the Moravian settlement in Friedberg, North Carolina.

“Christian and his wife Anna were threatened by Indians shortly after their arrival and took shelter in 1760 at the Bethabara fort for several months.”  

Some of their children remained in North Carolina; others migrated to Indiana.

Zimmermans in the late 1700’s in the Orangeburg and Spartanburg counties in South Carolina appear to have originated from earlier Zimmermans that had come to the Germanna settlement of Germans in Virginia in 1717.

“Jacob Zimmerman, born in Orangeburg county in 1798, married Mary Riley, a celebrated beauty who was known as the “belle of Orangeburg.’ He and his brother Major David Zimmerman moved to Cedar Springs in the eastern part of Spartanburg county. Their cousin John Conrad Zimmerman had purchased the Glenn Springs plantation in 1830, not far from Cedar Springs.”  

The Zimmermans in Spartanburg county grew to be sizeable and descendants have organized reunions.

Heading West.  Some had come to Pennsylvania and then headed West.

David Zimmerman, for instance, was an immigrant from Switzerland who had arrived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania around 1830. There he and his family met up with Dr. William Kiel, a German mystic planning his own religious communities. The Zimmermans followed him in 1842 first to Bethel, Missouri where they developed a reputation as glove-makers and then in 1863, via the Panama isthmus, to Aurora in Oregon territory.

Jacob Zimmerman from Baden came to Philadelphia in 1843 and initially settled with his wife in Cincinnati, Ohio. They then headed west on a wagon-train to Oregon with their two children in 1851. They were one of the early settlers of Fairview. Later, in 1869, they purchased land at Gresham where they built their home and started a dairy farm. Three generations of the Zimmerman family lived there. It now operates as a historic house museum.

Another Zimmerman line went further afield, to Alaska. John Willms Zimmerman had arrived from Germany around 1848 and settled in Illinois. His grandson John Franklin, better known as Frank, trained as a mining engineer and rushed out to Alaska in 1897 at the time of the Gold Rush. Frank died in a mining accident at Dome Creek in 1929. His widow and children moved to Los Angeles.

Jewish.  Charles Sasha Ubsushone arrived in New York from Ukraine in 1913 at the age of sixteen to join his relatives who were already living there. On entry, an official at Ellis Island changed his name to Charles Sasha Zimmerman and he was thereafter known by that name. Sasha had a career spanning five decades as a trade union official in New York with the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union.

Another Jewish immigrant from Ukraine was Zigman Zimmerman who arrived in 1910 and settled in Duluth, Minnesota. His line led to Bob Zimmerman, better known as Bob Dylan.

Canada. Zimmermans came to Canada from various places – the earlier ones across the border from America, later ones from Germany and Russia.

From America came:

  • three Zimmerman brothers from New Jersey – Peter, James and Mathias – who were Loyalists and reached Clinton township in the Niagara region of Ontario in 1794. Peter and Mathias moved to Halton county in 1814, Peter to Burlington and Mathias to Nelson township.  
  • while Samuel Zimmerman arrived in the Niagara region from Pennsylvania in 1842. He proved a shrewd businessman who quickly made a fortune in construction work. However, he died at the young age of forty-two in a railway accident.

Henry Zimmerman from Baden came to the Wellesley township in the Waterloo region of Ontario sometime in the 1850’s. He was a wagon-maker by trade. In his latter years he became an inn-keeper, having acquired what came to be known as the Zimmerman House in 1882. He and his wife Catherine had apparently twenty children between 1860 and 1888. Henry died in 1898.

Nathan Zimmerman and his son Benjamin arrived in Winnipeg, Manitoba from Russia in 1882, escaping the political persecutions and pogroms against Jews at the time. Nathan started as a peddler and later opened a pawnbrokers’ shop. Benjamin became a leader of the Jewish community in Winnipeg and a successful businessman.

Meanwhile Heinrich Zimmerman from a Mennonite community in Ukraine came to Manitoba in 1903 and later settled in Saskatchewan.

Zimmerman Surname Miscellany

The Zimmermans’ Hazardous Journey to America.  Johann Jacob Zimmerman, his wife, and their four children sailed from Rotterdam in the late summer of 1693, but were forced to spend the winter in London.

In February 1694 they headed out again aboard the Santa Maria, which in light of ongoing troubles between England and France, was armed with fourteen cannons. They arrived in Deal on the Kent coast and lingered for nearly two months while they awaited a protective convoy from Plymouth.

Finally underway, they encountered the enemy in May.  After a battle that lasted 24 hours, the convoy captured some thirty guns from the French frigate and a merchant ship.

It is not known when Johann died.  He may have been killed in the melee, but he was undoubtedly buried at sea. Their party finally sailed up the Chesapeake Bay in June and landed at Bohemian Manor in Germantown, Philadelphia. 

Zimmerman and Zimmermann.  The Zimmerman and Zimmermann spellings are both found in America, although Zimmermann has been the less common – less than 10 percent today.  The early arrivals from Germany and Switzerland all dropped their second “n.” There were only two Zimmermanns – one in New York and one in Illinois – recorded in the 1840 US census.

The table below shows the Zimmermann/Zimmerman breakdown by the time of the 1920 US census.

State Zimmermann Zimmerman Total Zimmermann %
Wisconsin   160    600    760    21
Texas    30    150    180    16
Missouri    60    410    470    13
Minnesota    40    270    310    13
Illinois    90   1,030   1,120     8
Elsewhere   420   9,540   9,960     4
Total   800  12,100  12,900     6

The states with the high percentage of Zimmermanns here are those in the Midwest where the immigrant numbers came mainly in the mid/late 19th century.

Daniel Burnside Zimmerman.  Daniel Zimmerman, born in 1863 in western Pennsylvania, had two very successful careers – one as a cattle rancher in the West and the second as a coalmine operator in Somerset county, Pennsylvania.

His business career began in 1877 when, at the age of fourteen and drawn by a magazine article, he left home for North Dakota and made his first cattle purchase.  By 1892 he had negotiated with Native Americans to begin cattle ranching on a large scale.   Soon the Zimmerman ranches would be regularly shipping 40,000 cattle to market each year. As a contemporary recalled:

“He was one of the most extensive and successful rangers in the West. For more than ten years he has numbered his cattle and sheep by the thousands, extending his rations from his original field, North Dakota and Montana, to Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Texas.”

In 1899 he was the first Somerset county man to open a coalmine locally. By 1907 his coalmine interests totaled more than 140,000 acres and he was the county’s largest independent coal operator.  For years he employed hundreds of men in deep mines and expanded his business operations to include timber, grist milling, and farming.

In 1915 he commissioned an enormous personal residence on a hill adjacent to the Somerset county courthouse, the highest point in Pennsylvania.  His Georgia Manor still stands today, now functioning as the Georgia Inn, and is on the National Registry of Historic Places.  While some call it pretentious, others call it a national treasure.

Zimmermans in Spartanburg County, South Carolina.  Coming to Spartanburg county in South Carolina in the early-to-mid 1800’s, six Zimmerman families and settled on farms primarily in the Glenn Springs/Cedar Springs area. They were prominent, progressive and productive. Among the first and second generations there were doctors, lawyers, teachers and mill overseers.

Many if not all of them operated farms.  One was a partner/owner in the Bivingsville/Glendale Mills and other enterprises. Another owned and operated the Glenn Springs Hotel.  Some served on county boards and directors of business enterprises.  Some were real estate dealers.  And a number made a lot of money.  Carrie M. Zimmerman died at the age of 93 in her father’s old homestead in Glenn Springs in 1930.  She was listed as a capitalist.

Dr. William Zimmerman, a surgeon who was born in Glenn Springs, returned to Spartanburg in 1913 after finishing his internship in New York.  Joining with Dr.Steedley, they built the Steedley Hospital in 1916.

Mennonite Zimmermans in Canada.  Heinrich Zimmerman, born in 1866, came from a Mennonite community in what is now Ukraine.  In July 1903 he departed with his wife Dora and their five children from Odessa to Halifax in Canada. They then traveled overland to their destination of Winkler, Manitoba.  Sadly his wife Dora suffered from a debilitating illness soon after their arrival in Winkler and she died in April 1905.

However, with the help of the Mennonite Brethren church, Heinrich was able to marry again.  Her name was Elisabeth Willems. She was a widow with nine children and they were living near Waldheim in the province of Saskatchewan. In March 1906 Heinrich embarked for Saskatchewan with his five children and they were married on the day that he and his party arrived there.

Heinrich and Elisabeth were members of the Brotherfield Mennonite Brethren church.  Heinrich was a fine carpenter and the pulpit there is a fine example of his work.

In 1920 the Zimmerman family departed Saskatchewan for Reedley, California.  Whilst there Heinrich built cupboards for people’s homes, on which he painted flowers. 

Bob Zimmerman aka Bob Dylan’s Jewish Ancestry.  Zigman Zimmerman was born in Odessa on Christmas Day 1875 and grew up in an atmosphere of active, vicious anti-Semitism.  He seems to have run a shoe-making business before he fled Tsar Nicholas II’s pogroms in 1906.

He arrived in the US in 1907, through Ellis Island in New York.  From there he moved northwest until he came to Duluth, Minnesota.  He worked as a peddler and sent for his family soon afterwards.  By 1910 they had arrived.  They squeezed into a small apartment on 221 West 1st Street.

Zigman was still a peddler at this time. But by 1917 Zigman, now styling himself as Zigmond H. Zimmerman, was a ‘solicitor’ working for the Prudential Life Insurance Company.  That job did not last that long and he was later a dry goods salesman and a shoe salesman.  He died in July 1936 from a heart attack on the street during a heatwave.

His son Abram, or Abe as he was known, was born in Duluth in 1911 into a family of four other children. By the age of seven he was shining shoes and delivering newspapers and by eighteen he had started working for the Standard Oil company, first as a messenger boy and then as a clerk. At the age of twenty-two, in 1933, he married.  Their first child, Robert Allen Zimmerman, was born eight years later in 1941.

In 1947 the family moved to Hibbing, Minnesota where Abe’s brothers Maurice and Paul had set up Micka Electric Company in the year that Bob was born.  Abe became an appliance salesman there.  When Bob’s little brother David was a bit older, their mother Beatty started working as a clerk at Feldman’s clothing shop.

Abe died of a heart attack in 1968, by which time Bob Zimmerman as Bob Dylan had become famous.

Zimmerman Names

  • Johann Jacob Zimmermann was a nonconformist Lutheran minister who organized the departure of his family and his followers in Hamburg to Pennsylvania in 1694 (although he himself was unable to complete the journey). 
  • Daniel Zimmerman had two successful careers, one as a cattle rancher in the American West in the late 1800’s and the second as a coalmine operator in western Pennsylvania in the early 1900’s. 
  • Arthur Zimmerman from New Jersey was one of the world’s greatest sprint cyclists and winner of the first world championship in 1893.
  • Ethel Zimmermann, better known as Ethel Merman, was a Broadway star of the 1950’s and 1960’s. She was often referred to as the first lady of musical stage comedy. 
  • Bob Zimmerman from Minnesota changed his name to Bob Dylan in 1960. As a singer-songwriter and performer he has been a major figure in American popular culture for more than half a century.

Zimmerman Numbers Today

  • 42,000 in America (most numerous in Pennsylvania)
  • 6,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Zimmerman and Like Surnames 

The first wave of German immigration into America came in the early 1700’s from the Rhine Palatine and Switzerland.  They were fleeing religious persecution at home.  Most ended up in Pennsylvania, bringing their Mennonite church with them.  Some went to the Mohawk Valley in upstate New York.  Their Germanic names often changed under English rule to English-style names.  Thus Fischer became Fisher, Schneider Snyder, Hubner Hoover and so forth.

The reasons for immigration were different in the 19th century – in search of a better life, sometimes to avoid the draft.  They came from all German states and went not just to Pennsylvania but all over as the middle and west of the country was opening up.  And they brought German skills with them, notably beer-making.

Here are some of the notable German surnames in America that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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