All educated Americans today know that the ruler of pre-WWI Imperial Germany was Kaiser Wilhelm, and such information is presented in virtually all modern historical texts. However, this appears to merely represent a residue of wartime anti-German propaganda.
Prior to the outbreak of war, the American media seems to have almost always referred to Germany’s monarch as “Emperor William,” and the gradual name-shift to “Kaiser Wilhelm” both during and after the war was presumably intended to heighten the impression that he constituted a dangerous and alien foreign enemy, rather than Queen Victoria’s eldest grandchild. A little browsing in the Google nGram system seems to confirm this impression.
The explains the strange anomaly of this word selection. After all, American history books always refer to Frederick the Great rather than Friedrich der Grosse, Henry IV of France rather than Henri IV, and Peter the Great rather than Pyotr the Great.
A small sample of a dozen pre-WWI usage references, across a range of prominent American periodicals:
- “Emperor William as an Art Patron”, The Literary Digest, January 4, 1902, p. 8
- “Distrust of Emperor William”, The Literary Digest, August 30, 1902, p. 262
- “President Roosevelt and Emperor William”, The Literary Digest, July 25, 1903, p. 114
- “Emperor William Angers the English”, The Literary Digest, January 16, 1904, p. 89
- “Impressions of the German Emperor”, The Century Magazine, February 1905, pp. 483-501
- “Emperor William”, The Outlook, December 23, 1905, pp. 1010-1020
- “Emperor William’s Telegrams”, The Literary Digest, June 30, 1906, p. 979
- “The United States and the War Cloud in Europe”, McClure’s Magazine, June 1910, pp. 222-225
- “The Sixty Palaces of the German Emperor”, Munsey’s Magazine, January 1911, pp. 474-487
- “Monarchical Versus Red Socialism in Germany”, Scribners, April 1912, p. 449-453
- “Germany as a Sea Power”, The Century Magazine, July 1912, p. 398-407
- “Germany’s ‘Peace Lord'”, The Literary Digest, July 12, 1913, p. 47