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

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


Where They Came From: Lithuanian immigrants came mainly from the cities of Kaunas and Vilnius and from the rural Neman Valley.

Why They Left: Poland and Russia began competing for the neighboring land of Lithuania in the 1820s. The dispute culminated in the Poles' November Revolution of 1830 and the Russo-Polish war of 1831. The defeat of the Poles sent several hundred political refugees to the West, including the first Lithuanian immigrants in the U.S. In 1850 Lithuanian immigration began in earnest; a great famine sent peasants and laborers streaming into the U.S. A second insurrection against Russia in 1863 was suppressed and followed by bitter persecution; another famine followed four years later. Worsening economic conditions and czarist political repression were to remain the chief reasons for immigration. In 1949, Russian reannexation was the motive that again brought a flood of Lithuanians to America.

Where They Settled: Those who arrived after the famines of 1867-1868 headed for New England farms or were recruited by railroad company agents in Pennsylvania. From western Pennsylvania, the Lithuanians moved on to West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

Numbers: By 1899, 275,000 Lithuanians had come to the U.S. Between 1899 and 1914, 252,294 entered, but the influx fell off abruptly with the outbreak of W.W. I. When the Lithuanian republic was established in 1918, more than 30,000 chose to return to their native land. However, under the Displaced Persons Act, some 36,000 Lithuanians emigrated to the U.S. between 1949 and 1953. The current Lithuanian-American population is 1,650,000. With 25,000 living in its Marquette Park area, Chicago has a Lithuanian-speaking population that ranks second only to Vilnius, Lithuania's capital.

Their Story in America: Lithuanian peasants fleeing economic disaster in their native country arrived in the U.S. at a time when phenomenal amounts of human grist were needed for the industrial mills. They labored on the railroads and in the coal mines, foundries, shoe factories, and slaughterhouses. The first generation was generally lower working-class, devoutly Catholic, and slow to assimilate. Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, published in 1906, is the horrific account of a Lithuanian peasant family's struggle to survive in the Chicago stockyards. Lithuanians established extensive religious, cultural, and fraternal organizations, perhaps because the opportunity to do this was severely denied them in their homeland. The first Lithuanian newspaper in the U.S. appeared in 1879, and today a large number of U.S. radio broadcasts and newspapers keep the Lithuanian language and culture alive.

Famous Lithuanian Americans: Professional football players Johnny Unitas and Dick Butkus; actor Charles Bronson; underground filmmaker Jonas Mekas; Bruce Bielaski, director of the FBI from 1912 to 1919; Simas Kudirka, a Lithuanian seaman who attempted defection from his Soviet ship off the coast of Massachusetts in 1970, was extradited to the Soviet Union, imprisoned in Siberia, and finally granted U.S. citizenship in 1974 after it was discovered that his mother had been born in New York City.

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