People, Races, Ethnicity in the U.S. Austrian Americans

About the Austrian Americans in the U.S. including where they are from, why they left, how many there are, famous Austrians and more.


Where They Came From: Austria, as we know it today, did not exist until 1918. Before then, for centuries, "Austria" had designated various geographical and political entities. The early 19th-century immigrants from what is now Austria were few in number and came from towns and cities throughout the country. Between 1918 and 1938, 70% of all Austrian immigrants came from the federal state of Burgenland, where good farmland was no longer available.

Why They Left: There were very few immigrants from Austria in the 18th century. A few Catholic missionaries came to the new colonies. In 1734-1735, over 100 Protestant families left the Catholic-dominated city of Salzburg and settled in Georgia. Following the failure of the revolution of 1848, political refugees sought asylum in the U.S.

It was 1870 before Austrian emigration became widespread. After the breakup of Austria's feudal economy, Austrian industry was unable to absorb the peasants seeking work in the cities. Many of these peasants came to America to find jobs. In 1938 a flood of political and intellectual refugees, most of them of Jewish origin, fled to the U.S. when the Nazis arrived.

Where They Settled: The early immigrants were clerks or metal smiths, who sought employment in towns and cities in New York and nearby states. The refugees of 1848 also settled in New York, as well as in Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Milwaukee--seldom in rural areas. In 1900 over 87% of all Austrians in the U.S. lived in the northeastern and north central states.

Numbers: In 1910 the U.S. Immigration Commission reported, "Austrian is not a race name and not used by the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization." Most Austrians were grouped with Germans, so the statistics are unreliable. The census counted 25,061 Austrian-born in 1860 and, in 1920, reported 575,627 first- and second-generation Austrians in the U.S. By 1960 the number had grown to 1,098,630.

Their Story in America: The early 19th-century Austrian immigrants had large families and little money, and it was difficult for them to find jobs. However, in the 1840s the United States was still a country that sympathized with revolutionaries, and the political refugees of 1848, who included a high percentage of trained intellectuals, were greeted as heroes and readily found work.

The immigrants who came between 1870 and W.W. I were, on the whole, industrious people who worked as domestic servants, miners, quarrymen, laborers, ironworkers, and merchants. In 1900 it was estimated that 99% of the Austrian Americans were literate, a remarkably high percentage.

Perhaps the greatest contribution of the Austrians to American life has been in the musical field. Since the 19th century, there have been Austrian conductors of symphony orchestras in large and small cities throughout the U.S.

Famous Austrian Americans: Architect John L. Smithmeyer, who designed the Library of Congress; scientist Frederic de Hoffman, whose mathematical calculations proved the feasibility of the hydrogen bomb; businessman John Daniel Hertz, founder of Hertz Drive-Ur-Self Corp.; author and artist Ludwig Bemelmans; movie actress Hedy Lamarr, and Tarzan star Johnny Weissmuller, who also won three gold medals swimming in the Olympics.

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