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

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


Where They Came From: The first wave of Romanian immigration from what is now Romania began in the 1880s and came primarily from the agricultural provinces of Transylvania, Bukovina, and Banat, which were then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and were transferred to Romanian national sovereignty only after W.W. I. Smaller numbers of immigrants came from the heartland of Romania, near the Black Sea, and from Greek Macedonia.

Why They Left: The sudden surge of Romanian emigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries resulted from overpopulation coupled with the steady consolidation of small, semifeudal landholdings worked by peasants into larger farms that required a smaller labor force. A growing class of propertyless laborers was thus created at a time and place where no industry existed to absorb them. Between 1900 and 1907, at the height of emigration, around 94% of the emigrants were landless peasants and farmhands. A series of crop failures after 1902 spurred the outflow.

Where They Settled: Of the Romanians who came to the U.S., nearly all found homes in the industrial Northeast and Midwest. Romanians came to rest in such small cities as Trenton, N.J.; Farrell, Pa.; East Chicago, Ind.; Aurora, Ill.; and Akron, Canton, and Warren, O. Just three states--New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio--absorbed more than half of the total Romanian immigration.

Numbers: Between 1880 and 1900, some 13,000 Romanians arrived in the U.S. During the next decade, a relative deluge of 37,000 arrived. Then immigration continued at a rate of about 7,000 per year until W.W.I. After 1924, U.S. immigration restrictions limited the number of Romanian entrants to 1,000 per year. It is estimated that there are today about 120,000 Americans of Romanian birth or extraction.

Their Story in America: The journey to America was seen by many Romanians as a short-term effort to "make a thousand and the fare," as a contemporary idiom put it; immigrants often sought only to earn enough money to pay off debts at home and perhaps buy a farm back in the hills of Transylvania. Thus, large numbers of immigrants entered the steel mills and ironworks that were proliferating around the turn of the century; the work was back-breaking, but the wages were high. Many Romanians did, in fact, return to their native country. Immigration statistics showed a decrease of more than 30,000 Romanians in the U.S. between 1930 and 1940.

During W.W.I, scores of Romanian organizations banded together successfully to urge Pres. Woodrow Wilson to press for the inclusion of Transylvania and other Austro-Hungarian territories in the Romanian nation after the war.

Today some 90% of Romanian Americans continue to live in cities. They belong mostly to the lower-middle class and tend to be employed as skilled factory workers and small entrepreneurs.

Famous Romanian Americans: Historian of religion and mythology Mircea Eliade; world champion bridge player Ely Culbertson; film director Jean Negulesco; artist Jacques Kapralik; violinist Franz Kneisel; Dr. George Emil Palade, who won the Nobel Prize for physiology and medicine in 1974.

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