America Immigration: The Austrian-Hungarian Empire

Figure 1.--Austria-Hungary was a multi-ethnic empire. After Italy, Austria-Hungary, was the second largest source of U.S. immigration during the late 19th and early 20th century. Few of thise immigrants, however, were Austrrian or Hungarian. This family was Slovakian. Source: National Park Service. Statute of Liberty National Momument.

The largest number of European emmigrants entered the United States during the period between the Civil War (1861-65) and World War I (1914-18). This almost precisely is the same period as covered by the history of the Austro-Hungarian Empire After Austria's defeat in the Austro-Prussian War (1866), Prussia in effect expelled Austria from Germany. Austria then moved to create a new political structure with the non-German lands under its domain. Bismarck was somewhat ambilient about combinging Prussia with the German states and was not interested in Austri's non-German possessions with the exception of Polish areas. Prussia itself has Polish areas. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was a poly-glot combination of many national and ethnic groups. We will address emmigration from the Empire by the individual national groups. Here U.S. Census data somewhat complicates our assessment as immigrants were normally classified as coming from Austria or Hungary, although language is a helpful clue of actual nationality. Another factor is many immigrants from Austria-Hungary did not have a strong national idenity. This was not the case of the Poles, but is the case of some other nationalities within the Empire. Individuals had to apply for permission to emmigrate. Government officials appear to have place no significant restrictions to emmigration. One exception was youths of military age who were obligated to complete their required military service.


Here I am not sure. We know that Germans emigrated to America in large numbers from other German states. We believe that emigration friom Austria was fairly limited. This could, however, reflect the relatively small size and population of Austria itself.


Croatia is on of the European countries from which emmigrants have flowed through much of recent history. There was a major wave of immigration with the Turkish conquest (l6th century). About 0.5 million people emigrated from Croatia during the late 19th century up to the start of World War I. This seems a large number and we can not yet confirm this, especially as many of the immigrants came to America. American data suggests much smaller numbers. Even so, Croatia is not a large country and emmigration did represent an not inconsequential part of the population. A major reason reason for the emmigration was economic conditions and this in part affected annual fluctuations. Another factor was the desire to avoid military service. This was part of the reason that most of the emmigrants to America were men.


Most Czech immigrants entered the United States before World War I while what became Cechoslovakia after World War I and is now the Czech Republic was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Czechs like other subjects of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire had to get permission to emmigrate. but except for youths of military age there were no significant restrictions placed on emmigration. A major point of departure for Czechs was the German port of Bremen. A substantial number along with German emmigrants entered at the port of Galveston and settled in Texas. A substantial numbers of Jews were included among these Czech emmigrants.


Hungarian immigration was fairly limited. We are not entirely sure why. One factor presumably is that Hungarians were pasrt of the ruling clsss in the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy. Curiously Hungarians were among the Europeans most likely to return home. About 60 percent of Hungarian immigrants returned. Again we are not sure just why this was.


Judiasm is of course a religion and not a region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Jews need to be considerd differently in part because many Jews considerThey themselves a part from the national communities in which they lived and many local people also viewed them differently. This was particularly complicated in the Audtro-Hungarian Empire in which a foreign ruling class governed a multiplicity of ethnically and linguistically diverse peoples aspiring for their own national identity. Many Jews identified with the Empire more than the locally dominant ethnic group. This was in part because the laws of the Empire protected Jews in many ways. As a result, we nelieve that realtively few Austrian-Hungarian Jews emigrated to America, in sharp contrast to the large numbers emigrating from the Russian Empire.


Significant Slovak immigration to the United States, like that of other central and Eastern European countries, began in 1870s. Slovakia at the time was a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Empire was a dual monarchy with the Austrians sharing power with the Hungarians. Other nationalities had few rights. Slovakia was administered by Hungary. Slovaks like other subjects of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire had to get permission to emmigrate. but except for youths of military age there were no significant restrictions placed on emigration. There are no precise details on Slovak immigration because U.S. immigration officials recorded the Austro-Hungarian Empire as the country of origin and not the specific ethnicity. It is believed that about 0.5 million Slovaks entered the United States in the late-19th and early 20h centuries. This was a not unimportant number of people for the United Stastes, it was a very significant number of people from such a small province. Men were the most likely to emmigrate, again the general pattern. About two thirds of the immigrants were men. And they mostly came from rural areas of Slovakia. A very large number were illiterate, primarily because Hungarian authorities did not encourafe school attendance which they belieced, probany correctly, would cause a greater degree of ethnic identity.



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Created: 7:22 PM 8/28/2006
Last updated: 7:22 PM 8/28/2006