Between the late 1870’s and the outbreak of World War I in 1914, American’s Industrial Revolution fueled the most rigorous period of immigration in American history. Many millions of people, mostly from Southern and Eastern Europe came to America. Most were poor, didn’t speak English and almost all were strangers to America to society and culture. These were the “New Immigrants”, and they swelled to existing American cities, while also forming new cities in the process. The forces of immigration and urbanization would combine with industrialization to transform a once rural and agrarian nation into its modern form.
Before the time of industrialization, what is now called the United States, this nation was an agrarian society. Most of the people were Protestant, English-speaking, Anglo-Saxons from Northern and Western Europe. Many of them came to the United States because of political persecution, overpopulation, overused land, and shortage of jobs due to industrialization in Europe. Many of these “old immigrants” Thought that the United States would be a good place to escape these elements and start over. Industries were concentrated in the Northeast and railroads were the only “big business”. But once more and more “Big Businesses” began to pop-up, a larger workforce was needed. That is were the “New Immigrants” came into the picture.
Many of the “new immigrants” came to America for the same reasons as the “old immigrants- to escape religious and political persecution, and for a chance to start over again. Countries such as Italy, Ireland, Poland, Austria, Hungary, Russia, Greece, Romania, Croatia, and were represented in the immigration to the United States. These people came in the ten’s of millions. Before the Civil War, fifty percent of immigrants were from England, and the other forty percent were from Ireland. After the war and until 1890, almost ten million people, mainly from England, Wales, Ireland, Germany, and Scandinavia, came to the United States. Finally, between 1890 and 1914, more than 15 million immigrants came to the United States ( “Immigration”). The Irish came to escape the “potato famine”, and religious persecution. Russian Jews came to escape religious persecution also.
These immigrants were important to industrialization in the United States. Because these immigrants were willing to work in unsanitary work conditions, and with little pay, American industries were able to hire more of these types of workers. Although they were unskilled, I type of jobs they would have them do were once that didn’t require little to no knowledge. Because these families were so poor, everyone had to work. Since there were no child labor laws, children were sent to work in coal mines, and silk mills. Women also had to work- mostly in textiles factories or as seamstresses ( “Becoming
American: An Ethnic History”).
This was one of the reasons why the “old immigrants” disliked the “new immigrant”. These self proclaimed “Americans” resented the “newcomers” mostly because they were different from them and it threatened their idealist, perfect society. These new people dressed differently, ate different foods, had different religious beliefs, spoke different languages, and just plain looked different. Just as with the Native Americans, they wanted to change anything that wasn’t “American”.
Many “new immigrants” lived in tenements when they first came here. Tenements were five to six story buildings with twenty or more families. Between the years of the 1840’s the population of New York increased 60 percent ( “The Tenements as History and Housing”), so this type of housing was essential in to the lives of these immigrants. This type of housing was very unhealthy to live in however. The Council of Hygiene and Public Health reported, “It’s only because this rate if packing is somewhat diminished by intervening warehouses, factories, private dwellings, and other classes of buildings that the entire tenement-house population is not devastated by the domestic pestilence and infectious epidemics that arise from overcrowding and uncleannessSuch concentration and packing of a population has probably never been equaled in any city as may be found in particular localities in New York.”( The Tenement as History and Housing)
Immigration to America made a lasting indentation on society today. The immigrants that entered our country from the mid-19th century until the start of World War II, gave our country the diversity that we are famous for now. They have given us diversity of religions, such as Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim. These immigrants also gave us the diversity of cuisine here in America, and many successful businesses, such as Bank of America and Steinway Pianos.
To give you an idea of how these immigrants felt when they came to this country, think about the Hispanic immigrants from Mexico. Many of these people speak little, if no, English. Many are unskilled workers, but will do any type of job for close to nothing. Many live in crowded, unsanitary live conditions. Look at how American’s today treat these Mexican immigrants. Many people resent them because they do hard labor for cheap, and they are overpopulating our cities. They different from us, “Native Americans” in a lot of ways, from theirs clothes down to the foods they eat. Now that the “new immigrants” of the 19th century have become “old immigrants”, they have forgotten this is how their families in the United States got started. Just like the immigrants of the 19th century, these “new immigrants” will have a huge impact on the making the United States more diverse, and living up to the name of “The Land of Equal Opportunity”.
1. “Immigration”, http://www.historychannel.com/perl/print_book.pl?ID=35243
2. Archadeacon, T.J., 1983, Becoming American: An Ethnic History. The Free Press
3. Limmer, R and Dolkart, A., “The Tenements as History and Housing”., http://www.thirteen.org/tenement/eagle.html
4. Bodnar, J., 1985,. The Transplanted: A History of Immigrants in Urban
America. Indiana University Press.