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

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


Where They Came From: Immigrants came from the rural areas of Slovakia, which is the name given to the eastern part of present-day Czechoslovakia.

Why They Left: The Slovaks were miserably poor, and there was widespread unemployment and inflation in their homeland in the 1880s. All the large estates were in the hands of Magyar landlords, and the system of taxation placed a heavy burden on the small landowners. When agents of the steamship companies and American labor contractors came to urge the peasants to emigrate, the prospect of employment in America lured them across the ocean.

In 1939, following the Nazi conquest, and again in 1948, after the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia, there was a new type of emigrant--the political refugee.

Where They Settled: The flood of Slovak immigrants who arrived from 1880 to 1920 settled in the mining and industrial regions of Pennsylvania and Ohio. In time, they moved on to the nearby industrial cities--Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Youngstown, Akron, Detroit, and New York. In 1974, half of the Slovakian American population still lived in Pennsylvania.

Numbers: There are no precise figures on Slovakian immigration between 1882 and 1899. Between 1899 and 1910, 337, 527 Slovaks entered the U.S. By 1920 the total had grown to 484,109. Since then, Czechs and Slovaks have been counted together.

Their Story in America: The Slovak immigrant of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was a miner or industrial worker. The average wage for an unskilled Slovak laborer was $1.40 for a 10-hour day. Most of them lived in depressing company houses. There were frequent labor strikes, often violent and bloody, in which Slovaks were usually involved, and consequently they were despised by native-born Americans. Used to migrating throughout Europe to work, many of them traveled back and forth across the ocean for several years before bringing their wives over and settling down in the U.S.

Gradually, as their economic lot improved, the Slovaks established their own communities, built churches and schools, and organized fraternal societies. More than among any other immigrant group, the second generation usually worked at the parental occupations. The young men could earn good wages in the mines and factories, and there was little inducement for them to pursue higher education.

Recent political refugees, through their scholarship, have contributed to America's knowledge of Czechoslovakia and Eastern Europe--a part of the world about which Americans previously knew little. With the growing interest in different ethnic cultures. Slovak folk art and folk music are beginning to gain recognition in the U.S.

Famous Slovakian Americans: Astronaut Eugene Cernan; jockey William John Hartack, winner of five Kentucky Derbies and elected to the National Jockeys of Hall of Fame; and football star Chuck Bednarik.

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