The distinguished surname Schmidt can be traced back to Brandenburg, the birthplace of modern Germany. Historically known as Brandenburg-Prussia, this region eventually expanded to incorporate the Rhineland, Westphalia, Hannover, parts of Saxony, Pomerania, Silesia, and Hessen. The Germanic Semnonen tribe lived here, then the Slavic tribe of the Heveler, who held this territory until the arrival of the Christian Saxons.
Bearers of the family name Schmidt were found in the northern provinces that were later to make up Prussia, where the name emerged in mediaeval times as one of the notable families of the region.
Family names undergo changes in spelling or pronunciation throughout their history. Additions of a phrase at the beginning or end of the root name became a quite common indicator of a person's character, place of origin, or religious beliefs. In the Middle Ages, scribes would often record a name simply by its sound. Therefore the numerous variations of the name Schmidt include Schmidt (northern Germany), Schmid (southern Germany), Schmitz (Rhineland), Schmied, Schmitt, Smith (English), Smit, to name a few examples.
Albrecht the Bear, margrave in 1184, drove the Slavic tribe of the Wenden eastwards, naming the conquered territories Brandenburg. In 1323, members of the Bavarian nobility became rulers until the Emperor replaced them with the Hohenzollern dynasty, who made Berlin their capital in 1486 and introduced the Reformation in 1539. The Hohenzollerns continued their expansion by gaining possession of East and West Prussia, as well as the duchy of Cleve on the Rhine. In 1701, Frederick I crowned himself King of Prussia in the East Prussian capital of Koenigsberg, naming his entire country Prussia, after the former inhabitants the Prussen.
During this period of change, the family name Schmidt moved to Prussia, where they emerged as a notable family name within the territories of northern Germany early in the Middle Ages. One branch of the Schmidt family took the Latin form of the name, "Fabricius"; after being named to the nobility they were among the first to use the German form of their name, but were forced by the violence of the Thirty Year's War (1618-1648) to flee their lands and settle in Brandenburg. There were many houses of the same family name and they branched to many locations, even some to distant regions where members of the family were enlisted mainly into military, political or religious service. Schmidts have been traced to Sweden, Rotterdam, and almost all regions of Germany of the 17th and 18th centuries, including Silesia, Saxony, Berlin, Mecklenburg, and as far south as Switzerland. Among the many examples we found of ennobled bearers of this name in the 16th century are: Martin Schmidt of Goerlitz, emissary to Moscow for Kaiser Maximilian I, who was ennobled in 1537; Johann Fabricius, the founding ancestor of the Schmidt auf Altenstadt baronial dynasty, who served Kaiser Maximilian II with distinction in the campaigns against the Turks and was ennobled in 1564.
Many bearers of this name were raised to the nobility in the 18th and 19th centuries for outstanding civil service, including Johann Christian Schmidt in 1752, and Gerhard von Schmidt, a prominent Prussian privy councillor, in 1787. Prominent bearers of the family name Schmidt during this time period were Bernhard Schmidt (1630-1708), known as "Father Smith", who was a famous organ builder; Georg Philipp Schmidt (1766-1849), known as "Schmidt from Luebeck", who was a physician and Romantic poet; Friederich Wilhelm Schmidt (1764-1838), who was a Prussian pastor and poet; Christoph von Schmid (1768-1854), Roman Catholic priest and writer of Christmas carols, who was ennobled in 1837; Hermann Theodor Schmid (1815-1880), Bavarian civil servant and prolific author who was ennobled in 1876; Karl von Schmidt (1817-1875), Prussian calvary general, who fought in the Franco-German war and later made the Prussian calvary the most efficient calvary then in existence; and Erich Schmidt (1853-1918) was a literary historian and editor of Goethe's works.
Prussia gained strength as the rulers promoted settlement of its agricultural and industrial regions by skilled workers and craftsmen. Prussia became a haven for political and religious refugees, including Salzburg Protestants and the French Huguenots.
The greatest King was Frederick II, whose reform of the civil service, the cultivation of the land, and encouragement of industrial development made Prussia the unifying force behind the German empire. The Prussian army became the most feared and respected military force in Europe. Frederick's successors were defeated by Napoleon, and Prussia was divided in half. However, the Congress of Vienna in 1815 gave the rich territories of the Rhineland and of Westphalia to Prussia. Prussian strength was due to Bismarck, who defeated Austria and Denmark. By 1871, Germany was united under Prussian power in the Franco-Prussian War. In 1919, Prussia became a state of the new Weimar Republic, only to be incorporated into the German Democratic Republic in 1952, after giving its lands east of the Oder river to Poland.
The flow of migration to the New World began around 1650, and continued well into the 20th century. Pockets of German settlements include Pennsylvania, Texas, New York, Illinois, California, and Ohio. In Canada, German settlements centered around Ontario and the Prairies. Settlers bearing the family name Schmidt include Anna Maria Schmidt, who came to New York State in 1710, and Johannes Schmidt came to Germantown, Pennsylvania between 1683 and 1709. Arnd Schmidt emigrated with his family and with many other Schmidts to England or America in 1709; of the over one hundred Schmidts who landed in Philadelphia between 1720 and 1760 we found: Georg Michael Schmidt in 1732, Georg Schmidt in 1728, Andreas Schmidt in 1737, and Elias Schmidt in 1752. Heinrich Friedrich Schmidt came with his wife Lisette Teufel and their three children to Texas in 1845. Johann Heinrich Schmidt came to Georgia in 1738. Heinrich Schmidt arrived in Canada in 1783, and Peter Schmitz came to Texas in 1846.
The prominent figures with the surname Schmidt in our modern period include Franz Schmidt (1874-1939), who was a Viennese composer, pianist and cellist; Arno Schmidt (1910-1979), who was a controversial experimental writer; Helmut Schmidt (b.1918) was chancellor of West Germany from 1974-82; Adolph Schmidt (b.1904) was U.S. ambassador to Canada 1969-74.
The oldest Coat of Arms of the family name Schmidt is:
A blue shield displaying a lion bearing a black hammer.
The Crest of the family name is:
A black hammer.
The family motto is: "Virtus nobilitat" (Virtue ennobles).