Select Wagner Surname Genealogy

The German surname Wagner is an occupational name for a waggoner or carter, derived from the Old German wagen meaning "wagon."   Wagner from waganari may also mean a wagon maker. 

Clearly being a waggoner was a position of some importance in medieval times as no fewer than thirty three coats of arms were granted to name-holding families.  The name spread in Europe beyond German-speaking lands to Holland (as van Wagenen) and also to Eastern Europe.

The Germanic pronunciation - "w" as "v" sounding and the long "a" - gave way in America to "w" as "w" and a short "a."

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Select Wagner Ancestry

Wagner is the 4th most common name in Austria and the 8th most common in Germany.  It is mainly to be found in southern Germany.  The largest concentrations of the name are in Saarland, Rheinland Pflalz, Thuringen, Hessen, Bavaria, Baden-Wurttemberg, and Saxony.

The Wagner numbers today are approximately:
  • 220,000 in Germany
  • and 22,000 in Austria.
This compares with the roughly 60,000 Wagners whose ancestors crossed the Atlantic and now live in America.  Wagners starting coming in 1710, following the religious disturbances in the Palatine.

England.  The Wagner numbers in England are small. 

The best-known of these Wagners are probably the Wagners of Brighton - descendants of Melchior Wagner who had arrived in England from the Saxon city of Coburg in 1709 and became the hatter to King George I.  The Rev. Henry Wagner, the vicar of Brighton between 1824 and 1870, and his son the Rev. Arthur Wagner founded and funded a succession of Anglican churches in Brighton for the benefit of its rapidly growing population.  From another line came Sir Anthony Wagner, the long-serving officer at the College of Arms in London. 

America.  In its Dutch form Van Wagenen, the name was one of the earliest in America, Geertie Van Wagenen being born in Kingston, New York in 1686.   His descendants, the Van Wagoners, were to be found in the Hudson valley.

New York.  German Palatine refugees started arriving in America in 1710, including Johan Peter Wagner from Hesse Darmstadt who purchased land from the Indians and settled in New York's Mohawk valley.  The stone house that was built there in the 1740's is still standing today. 

From this line came Webster Wagner, born in Montgomery county, New York in 1817, who started out working with his family as a wagon-maker.  Then, after serving as an employee for the New York Central Railroad for many years, he invented the idea of the sleeping car and the luxurious parlor car.  His innovations were first used on the NY Central and later spread to other lines.  Webster Wagner died in an unfortunate rail accident in 1882 while riding in one of his sleeping cars.

Pennsylvania.  The German Wagner influx was mainly into Pennsylvania, which is still the state with the largest number of Wagners (the early spelling was sometimes Waggoner).  These Wagners included:
  • Rev. Tobias Wagner from Wurttemberg who arrived in America in 1712 as a Lutheran missionary and was a pastor for many years in Berks county.
  • Abraham Wagner who came in 1737 with his brother Melchior also for religious reasons.   He was from Silesia and belonged to the small Schwenkfelder sect there.  Abraham became a successful physician in Montgomery county and left a considerable estate on his death in 1763. 
  • Jacob Wagner who left Rheinsheim in Baden-Wurttemberg for Lancaster county in the early 1740's before starting a trek to Rowan county, North Carolina twenty years later.  Wagners of this line were to be found in Tennessee and Texas.
  • Joseph Wagner who came to Pennsylvania from Austria around 1820 and squatted in wild land in what is now known as the Poconos.  His family cut down wood to supply props for the coal mines.  A descendant George Wagner started the family Christmas tree nursery business.
  • Peter and Katheryn Wagner who were Bavarian immigrants who settled in Mansfield (near Pittsburgh) in the years after the Civil War.  Peter worked in the coal mines there.  Their son Honus Wagner played baseball for the Pittsburgh Pirates and is considered to be one of the best baseball players of all time.
  • and Louis Wagner who arrived in the Pittsburgh area in 1840 and moved onto Lawrence county.  His family owned the Wagner farm in Ellwood City which they still do.
From the Rheinland to New York in 1885 came a Wagner family, whose youngest son, Robert F. Wagner, became US Senator for New York and whose grandson Robert F. Wagner Jr. was three times Mayor of New York.

There were also Wagners in America from Russia, although these Wagners were of German heritage - such as George and Susannah Wagner who came to New York in 1893.  Their story was narrated in Fonda Baselt's 1994 book A Wagner Family Odyssey

  Early Wagners came to French Quebec, either from German-speaking Alsace or Hessian soldiers stationed there who remained.  Wagners from Germany went mainly to Ontario.  William Wagner arrived there in 1850 and eventually settled in Manitoba where he founded the farming community of Ossowa.  The lawyer and politician Claude Wagner was the son of a Jewish violinist immigrant from Central Europe.

Australia.  Johannes Gottfried Wagner from Silesia came out to Brisbane in 1838 as a missionary.  He tried to convert the local aborigines to Christianity, with what success it is not known.   He later became a Presbyterian minister. 

Henry Wagner, a shepherd, emigrated from Hesse in 1855 after some bad harvests and made his home in Toowoomba.  Since those early pioneering days, the Wagner family of Toowoomba has become through its various enterprises one of the wealthiest in Queensland.

Select Wagner Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Wagner Names

Webster Wagner pioneered the use of the sleeping car and the luxurious parlor car on American railroads.
Honus Wagner,
known as "the Flying Dutchman," played baseball for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the early 20th century and is considered by many to be the best shortstop that has ever played.
Robert Wagner, born in Germany, was US Senator for New York from 1927 to 1949.  His son Robert was later Mayor of New York.
Robert Wagner was a popular American TV actor of the 1970's and 80's.

Select Wagners Today
  • 1,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 60,000 in America (most numerous in Pennsylvania) 
  • 16,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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