Turnerism began in Germany in the early 1800s as a political, social, and physical culture movement. Turner is the German word for gymnast. German Turners began immigrating to the United States in the late 1840s. The first Turner society in the United States opened in Cincinnati, Ohio in November 1848.
During the nineteenth century the American Turners stressed German culture, freethinking, a liberal political viewpoint, and the importance of physical fitness. Today the Turners focus on physical fitness and social activities.
The national Turner organization, founded in 1850, has used various names over the years. Originally called Vereinigte Turnvereins Nordamerika (United Turner Societies of North America), it was later known as the Socialistische Turnerbund von Nordamerika (Socialist Turner Federation of North America), the Nordamerikanischer Turnerbund (the North American Turner Federation), the North American Gymnastic Union, the American Gymnastic Union, and the American Turnerbund. It adopted the current name of American Turners in 1938.