People, Races, Ethnicity in the U.S. Polish Americans Part 1

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


Where They Came From: Before the period of mass migration beginning in 1870, most Polish immigrants came from urban areas, notably Warsaw, Lodz, and Krakow. After 1870, the vast majority of immigrants came from the rural areas of the provinces of Katowice, Krakow, and Rzeszow in the south of Poland; Lublin and Bialystok in the east; Warswa, Bydgoszcz, and Lodz in the center; and Poznan in the west.

Why They Left: Although many young men left Poland to evade imprisonment or death as revolutionaries, the mass exodus after 1870 was primarily due to economic reasons.

Polish farmers suffered from overpopulation on land subdivided into extremely small lots and barely existed under conditions of extreme poverty. There was little industry; wages were low and taxes were high. As one Pole told an interviewer in Chicago: "I was only an ordinary workman ...but life in the United States was so much better than what I left in Poland.... In the old country I had hardly ever eaten meat. My mother used to split matches to make two out of one."

The Poles brought with them a passionate love of freedom and an overwhelming desire to own land--impossible to satisfy in their native country.

Where They Settled: During their massive immigrations of the 19th century, the majority of Polish immigrants worked as common laborers in factories, steel mills, and mines located in the cities and towns clustered around the Great Lakes. In 1890, 80% of the country's total Polish population lived in the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Most of the descendants of these early immigrants are still living in these areas today. More Poles live in Chicago than in any other city in the world, including Warsaw. Other sizable Polish-American populations are in Detroit, New York City, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Milwaukee, and Cleveland.

Numbers: From 1870 to 1900, almost a million Poles came to the U.S. The tide crested in 1912, when 175,000 arrived. The 1920 census reported 3 million citizens of Polish descent. The Polish American Journal has estimated that there are now 7 million Polish Americans in the U.S. Recently, a more conservative U.S. Census Bureau survey found only 4 million Americans whose families originally came from Poland.

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