Italians began coming to America in large numbers during the late 19th century. Some Italians had arrived earlier. A few thousand Italian immigrants are noted in the immigration statistics before the 1870s. The most famous being the Capitol painter Constantino Brumedi who was a refugee of the failed 1848 Revolutions. Interestingly, Italian immigration was minor in the 1840s and did not increase during that tumultous decade. Really large-scale immigration only began after the Civil War in the 1870s. At first, America was not the principal country of destinatioin for Italiam immigrants, large numbers of whom went to South America. The great bulk of Italians arrived in America 1884-1920. An estimated 4.1 million Italians reached America during this period. Only 12,000 Italians entered America in the 1860s, but this ibcreased to 55,000 in the 1870s and over 300,000 in the 1880s. Immigration approached 700,000 in the 1890s. The peak of Italian immigration occurred during 1901-10 when over 2 million Italians came to America. This would have been equalled or exceeded in 1911-1920 had it not been for Worlkd War I.
The nature of emmigration to America changed dramatically over time. At first most of the immigrants were young men, mostly 18-40 years of age. Many had no intention of making their lives in America. Rather their goal was to get a job, earn some money and then return to Italy where the money they earned would allow them to buy land or a shop. The high level of returnees complicates immigration data. This gradully changed. By the turn of the 20th century the immigrants included more women and children, often the family that earlier male immigrants who decided to make America their home could now afford to bring to America. And more importantly, child and women immigrants were much more likely to remain in America.
Some Italians had arrived earlier. A few thousbabd Italian immigrants are noted in the immigration statistics before the 1870s. The most famous being the Capitol painter Constantino Brumedi who was a refugee of the failed 1848 Revolutions. Interestingly, Italian immigration was minor in the 1840s and did not increase during that tumultous decade.
Only 9,000 Italian immigrants were reported in the 1850s. It is not entirely clear to us why immigration from Italy was still so limited in the 1850s. But in fact this was the general pattern in Europe. Large numbers of Irish had emigrated because of the Potato Famine. And there was substantial German immigration. Most of the rest of immigrants came from the Protestant countries of northwest Europe. Immigration from southern Europe was minimal. Some of the Italian immigrnts were disidents and revolutionaries deported by various Italian states. [Daniels, p. 192.]
Modern Italy finally emerged as an independent country in the 1860s. I am not sure to what extent Italian unification affected emigration, if at all. Italian immigration to the United States was still minor in the 1860s. Only 12,000 Italians entered America in the 1860s, little changed from the 1850s. There were, however, enouhh Italins in New York to form the Garibaldi Brigade which fought in the Union Army. It was primarily Italian, but other nationalities including Hungarians also joined. The Civil War may have been a factor impeding immigration. Potential immigrants may have been disuaded by the fact that they might be drafted into the two armies fighting the War. This woud have meant the Federal Army as the Federal Navy blockade on the Condederacy made it difficult to reach southern ports. While immigratuin was very limited, imprivements in naval construction (iron hulls, screw propellrs, ect.) were laying the foundation for making trans-oceanic more reliable and less expensive.
Itlian immigration reached 300,000 in the 1880s. Deteriorating ecomomic conditions by the 1880s were an important factor. As were the increasingly effective marketing efforts of the steamship lines. The great bulk of Italians arrived in America 1884-1920. An estimated 4.1 million Italians reached America during this period. Until the wave of Hispanic immigration following the 1960s immigration reform, no other ethnic group entered the United States in so short a time in such large numbers. [Daniels, p. 188.]
Italian immigration continud to increase in the 1870s. The number of immigrants approached 700,000 in the 1890s. A factor here was the number who had immigratd in the 1870s and 80s. Italians desiring to immigrate now had individuals from their village or even family members that they could turn to when they first arrived in America, making the venture a little less daunting. The lynching of Italian-Americans in New Orleans caused an international incident (1891).
The peak of Italian immigration occurred during 1901-10 when over 2 million Italians came to America. An important development in the 1900s was the fact that the United states became an increasingly important destination for Italian immigrants. [Daniels, p. 188.] We are not entirely sure why the destination of Italian emigration changed by the 1900s. We suspect that is was primarily the success of Italian immigrants in America compared to the eperience in South America, but we have no actual data on this. The level of Italian immigration is very high. But it does not match the Americans of Italian Americans in the national census. This is because a very large number of Italians, especially single men, who returned to Italy, often with their savings after working for several years. There is no statistical data on this. Scholars hve estimated that returns may have totaled anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of the immigrants who entered the United States. [Archdeacon] Becuse no real data exists. We are ubsure how this may have fluctuated over time. The gender composition of Italian immigrtion gradully changed. By the turn of the 20th century the immigrants included more women and children, often the family that earlier male immigrants who decided to make America their home could now afford to bring to America. And more importantly, child and women immigrants were much more likely to remain in America.
The record level of Italian immigration reported in the 1910s would have been equalled or exceeded in 1911-1920 had it not been for World War I. American immigration laws did not change, but trans-Atlantic ocean travel was disrupted by the hostilities. Even so more than 1.1 million Italians entered the United states in the 1910s. Italy entered the War on the Allied side (1915). I am not sure if the Italian Government changed emigration policies during the War.
New American immigration laws put an end to large scale-migration in the 1920s. The relatively low-levels of immigration was regulated by national quotas. The largest quotas were guven to the countries of norther Europe. Thus Italian immigration fell to low levels. Italians by this time had acquired the image of political radicals, in part because of their prominance in the Anarchist movement. Anarchisrts in Italy had killed the King. And many promimnant Anarchists were Italians. A number were caught up in the Palmer Raids and Red hysteria that followed World War and the Russian Revolution. The two most famous of course were Niccolo Sacco (1891-1927) and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (188-1927). They were a fish peddler and shoemaker covicted of a robbery and murder (1920). Books have been written about their guilt or innosence. This is difficult to assess, what is quite certain is tht they did not receive a fair trial. They were finally executed despite widespread internationl protests (1927).
Archdeacon, Thomas J. Becoming American: An Ethnic History (New York, 1983).
Daniels, Roger. Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in Americam Life (Princeton, N.J: HarperPerennia, 1991), 515p.
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