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

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


Where They Came From: Estonians came from the cities of Tartu and Tallinn and from Estonia's agricultural hinterland.

Why They Left: The first wave of Estonian immigration occurred after the abortive Russian revolution of 1905, when many Estonians were forced to fleet the country. Most of the Estonians who came to the U.S. after 1945 arrived from refugee camps in Germany, where they had gathered to escape the Russian reoccupation of their homeland.

Where They Settled: Estonians accompanied Swedish settlers to present-day Maryland early in the 1600s and also accompanied early Russian settlers to Alaska and northern California. Since the start of the 20th century, Estonian immigration has focused on New York City, Chicago, New Jersey, Connecticut, and California. Other Estonian Americans live in farming communities in the Midwest, mainly in Wisconsin and Minnesota, and in the Pacific Northwest.

Numbers: From 1721 until 1918, Estonia was a province of Russia, and Estonian immigrants were simply considered Russians. During Estonia's brief period of independence, from 1918 to 1940, and during W.W. II, 3,100 Estonians immigrated to the U.S. After the war, a total of 14,000 refugees arrived here. The 1960 census listed 19,900 first-and second-generation Estonians in the U.S.

Their Story in America: Nearly all Estonian immigrants after the 1905 revolution were committed radicals; many of them eventually became active in the American Communist party. The post-W.W. II immigrants, however, were from the opposite end of the political spectrum. They were fiercely anticommunist and arrived in America with a distinct sense of mission: to preserve Estonian culture in forced exile and to struggle for the restoration of Estonian independence. The Estonian World Council was founded in New York in 1954, and set as its prime goal the coordination of worldwide efforts to liberate Estonia from Soviet rule.

Despite an extraordinary number of Estonian ethnic organizations (one for every 65 Estonian Americans), and despite the innovation of Estonian consciousness-raising groups for the young, the Estonians may soon disappear as a distinct ethnic group. A 1969 study determined that 66% of one large Estonian-American community had married non-Estonians.

Famous Estonian Americans: Architect Louis Kahn; historian Hermann Eduard Von Holst; composer Vladimir Padwa; concertmaster Ivan Romanenko; biologist Elmar Leppik; and painter Andrew George Winter.

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